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Easy Homemade Pasta Salad (Classic version)

Pasta salad
Photos for this recipe are from Erin Hungsberg (IG: erin_hungsberg)

Arguably one of the most classic side dishes of all time is homemade pasta salad. This perfect side combines pasta with veggies, meat, cheese, and a tangy dressing. Believe me when I say that this light and refreshing recipe brings everyone back for seconds. Plus, it’s incredibly easy to make and doesn’t require any complicated ingredients, so it’s a great choice for busy weeknights and last-minute BBQs.

This cold pasta salad recipe is the perfect side dish with everything grilled, from sandwiches like this Chopped chicken bacon ranch sub to steaks like Ribeye steak with cowboy butter and Grilled chicken drumsticks with Alabama white sauce.

Why you need to make this recipe

  • Simple and quick: An easy pasta salad recipe like this one can be ready in just 30 minutes. All you need to do is boil the noodles, chop up some veggies, and mix everything with a tangy yet creamy dressing. It’s the perfect go-to meal when you’re short on time but still want to serve a hearty side.
  • Make-ahead meal: Batch cooking is all the rage these days, and this easy Italian pasta salad recipe fits right in. You can make a big batch ahead of time and store it in the fridge for up to four days. It’s an ideal meal prep option if you want light, grab-and-go meals.
  • Versatile: Mix and match the salad ingredients to make this recipe your own. Add in some cooked chicken or bacon, replace the Italian dressing with ranch or Greek yogurt, or switch up the veggies with your faves!
  • Effortlessly flavorful: A lot of people think that pasta salad is bland, but this recipe proves otherwise. The cooked pasta and fresh veggies are tossed with some meat and cheese cubes, and all the amazing flavors are brought to life by a mixture of zesty Italian dressing and ranch dressing.

Ingredients you need to make homemade pasta salad

Bow tie pasta or garden rotini 

Roma tomatoes

Cucumber

Salami

Sharp cheddar cheese

Red onion

Italian dressing

Ranch

Salt and pepper

ingredients needed for pasta salad

How to make homemade pasta salad

The entire process of making homemade pasta salad goes by so fast that you won’t even feel like you are cooking!

Start by cooking the pasta to al dente according to the package directions. While that’s boiling, chop up all the ingredients from dicing the red onions, slicing the cucumbers and tomatoes to cubing the cheese.

For the dressing, simply combine your favorite Italian dressing from the grocery store with ranch dressing. This will give you a creamy and tangy dressing that’s super easy to make and perfect for this dish.

When making the pasta salad, don’t rinse the pasta with cold water after boiling as it will wash away all the starch that will help the dressing cling to the pasta. Add the dressing directly to the hot pasta which will absorb it and give you a much better flavor in each bite.

ingredients for pasta salad

Let the pasta-dressing mixture cool in the refrigerator for about an hour, allowing the flavors to meld.

Once the pasta has cooled, add in all the chopped veggies, cheese, and meat. Mix in additional dressing if needed to get the best results. Then add a few shakes of salt and black pepper, and give everything a good stir.

Pasta salad

Variations

  • Homemade dressing: Make a homemade Italian dressing by mixing olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, basil, parsley, and garlic powder.
  • Protein: Add some grilled chicken, shrimp, crispy bacon, diced ham, or hard-boiled eggs to make this dish more filling.
  • Pasta: I’m using garden rotini in this recipe, but you can use any bite-sized pasta like fusilli, penne, or bow tie pasta. Make sure to use a pasta shape with curls, holes, or ridges to hold the dressing better.
  • Cheese: Keep it classic with mozzarella, add in some parmesan cheese, or try something different like feta cheese to mimic a Greek pasta salad.
  • Mix-ins: Complete this classic pasta salad with your favorite mix-ins like black olives, red bell pepper, bacon, or pine nuts.

FAQs

How do you keep pasta salad moist?

Pasta salads can be tricky to make because the pasta tends to soak up the dressing and become dry over time. The best way to keep pasta salad moist is to use a generous amount of dressing and toss the pasta with it while it’s still warm. This step will help the dressing stick to the pasta better and trap the moisture inside as it cools.

What makes pasta salad taste bitter?

A pasta salad that tastes bitter is usually the result of adding too much vinegar and acidic ingredients, especially when not balanced with enough sweetness. To avoid this, use a light hand when adding acidic ingredients and add just enough to give the salad a nice tangy flavor without overpowering it.

Should you rinse pasta before making pasta salad?

Unlike other pasta dishes, rinsing the pasta after boiling is not recommended when making pasta salad. Rinsing removes the starch that helps the dressing stick to the pasta, something that is not ideal when making a cold dish. Instead, drain the pasta, add in a portion of the dressing, and let the mixture cool in the fridge.

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Easy Homemade Pasta Salad (Classic version)

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Easy Homemade Pasta Salad made with a creamy and tangy dressing. The perfect side dish that will keep your guests coming back for seconds!

  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x

Ingredients

Scale
  • 12 ozs tri colored rotini 
  • 1/4 cup of diced Roma tomatoes 
  • 1/4 cup of cucumbers diced (and seeded)
  • 1/4 cup thick cut salami 
  • 1/4 cup diced sharp cheddar cheese 
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion 
  • 1/2 cup Italian dressing 
  • 1/4 cup ranch dressing 
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Instructions

  1. Prep ingredients by dicing salami, cucumbers, salami, red onion and cheese. Dice into small bite size pieces and set aside. 
  2. Boil rotini according to box instructions and drain but do not rinse. 
  3. Mix together Italian dressing and ranch dressing in a bowl or measuring cup. 
  4. Once the rotini has been drained, pour the dressing mix into the pasta and stir together to combine. 
  5. Refrigerate the pasta for one hour and then add the remaining diced  ingredients with the pasta and stir again to combine. Add additional Italian dressing if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  • Author: Jordan Hanger
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Category: Side
  • Cuisine: American

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