Enjoy these easy and zesty Italian pasta salad recipes that are absolutely delicious, especially during the hot summer months. Use these recipes for picnics, parties, or for your own family dinner.
Zesty Italian Pasta Salad Recipes
Every summer, I get cravings for cold pasta. There are so many wonderful ways to make pasta salads that there’s no reason to ever get tired of them. In fact, some pasta salad recipes even taste better the next day after they’ve marinated in their vinaigrette dressings.
Here are some tasty pasta salad recipes that can be used as a side dish or as the main meal.
What Makes an Italian Pasta Salad Zesty?
There are many ways to make a zesty pasta salad, in fact the options are almost limitless. However, to get that “zesty” taste, you need ingredients that when combined have a slightly tangy or spicy flavor.
When adding ingredients that make your salad more peppy or vibrant, you feel more energetic. These are feel-good flavors that excite the taste buds.
However, don’t overdo the zestiness in the dressing or it can be so tangy that it is not enjoyable. You’re better off slowly adding in the vinegar or other liquids that provide that zesty flavor. Give it a taste test and if you want to add more you can. Remember, you can always add more, but you can’t remove it once it’s in the dressing.
How to Create a Zesty Salad Dressing
All you need is a little know-how and you can quickly add some extra zing to your pasta salads.
For my own personal homemade zesty vinaigrette, I use a 1:1 ratio between the olive oil and the counterpart vinegar. Then any additional liquids such as mustard or lemon is 1/2 the ratio of the vinegar.
Place in a mason jar and shake to emulsify the dressing. Eventually the vinegar and oil will separate; just give it another shake.
One of my favorite vinaigrettes that I often use in my Italian summer salads is a blend of extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and dried oregano. You can check out this lemon oregano vinaigrette recipe for the full recipe.
Here are some basic components that you generally find in a flavor vinaigrette.
- Extra virgin olive oil. Always use extra virgin, and try to find one that is cold-pressed.
- Vinegar. I’ve used all sorts of vinegars, including red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, balsamic fig vinegar, and apple cider vinegar.
- Garlic. For a pasta salad, I recommend mincing a clove of garlic with a press and add it to the dressing jar. Garlic can be potent, so if you’re unsure if your friends or family like garlic, use a half clove.
- Herbs. Spruce up your dressing with some freshly chopped herbs such as oregano, basil, or other types of aromatic herb. If you don’t have any fresh herbs available, you can use dried herbs instead.
- Dijon mustard. Adding a dollop of Dijon mustard can give your homemade dressing more kick.
- Salt and black pepper. Salt will enhance the flavor, however it’s not necessary. I’d use only a tiny bit. Black pepper will definitely add a nice subtle kick, but again – don’t go overboard.
Tips for Making a Zesty Pasta Salad
Here are some tips for making a delicious pasta salad that offers that zing you’re looking for.
- Add some pepperoncini your pasta salad. This is one of my favorite ways to add zestiness to my salads when I don’t want to solely rely on my vinaigrette dressing. I buy them in a jar pre-sliced, and just toss them into my salad. If you don’t have pepperoncini, try some banana peppers.
- Toss in some Kalamata olives. You’ll notice in many of my recipes, I use these olives. They offer the wonderful flavor that any zesty salad would want – whether it’s an Italian pasta salad or even Greek!
- Avoid thick types of pasta. I recommend small pasta shapes such as penne, rotini, bow ties, or other similar shape and size for your pasta salad. These can be easily pierced with a fork which is nice for hot summer day cookouts and barbecues. You saw in my list of salads, that I sometimes use fun shapes such as stuffed tortellini, ravioli, and even angel hair!
- Cook until the pasta is done. This is not a time when you want your pasta al dente. Cook the pasta until it’s done and run it under cold water to cool. Ultimately this is your choice, but al-dente pasta is best when served warm and with pasta sauce. In this case, make the pasta easy to chew – don’t under cook it.
Storing Your Italian Pasta Salad
Your pasta salad can be easily stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days. I don’t recommend freezing your pasta as the texture will change too much.
You can make your pasta salad the day before. Place in a large bowl and cover. It is best to allow the pasta to marinate in the dressing. Remove it from the fridge and let it get to room temperature.
What Goes with Italian Pasta Salad
Here are some ideas for what to serve with your new Italian zesty pasta salad.
Enjoy fresh homemade authentic Italian bread with your pasta salad!
Serve your pasta salad with some healthy eggplant cutlets! They are delicious and are perfect for a summer side dish!
I love having pasta with some fried zucchini. They go great together and this is a great way to use up your zucchini!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of Italian zesty pasta salad recipes. Don’t be shy – get creative and experiment. If you have any tips you’d like to share, let me know in the comments below!