Zesty pasta salad made with tricolor rotini and loaded with chopped vegetables, fresh mozzarella, and parmesan cheese, then topped with a simple homemade Italian dressing. This pasta salad is the perfect side dish for summer gatherings and barbecues!
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I make this pasta salad almost weekly during the summer months. It's the perfect cold side dish or lunch for hot days.
Ingredients and Substitutions
One of the greatest things about this Italian pasta salad is its versatility. You can easily adjust many of the ingredients to suit your preferences or your pantry.
- Pasta - I like to use tricolor rotini. The shape of the rotini is great for holding lots of delicious dressing, and the color is just pretty. Other great options include bowtie pasta or cavatappi
- Vegetables - For this pasta salad I use cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, red onion, and red bell pepper. You can easily use other raw vegetables such as broccoli, olives, carrots, or spinach. Just be sure to cut the vegetables into small, bite-sized pieces.
- Cheese - This recipe uses both fresh mozzarella pearls and freshly grated parmesan. Good swaps would be feta cheese, cubed pepper jack, or no cheese at all for a vegan pasta salad.
- Dressing - I used a homemade zesty Italian dressing but you can also use bottled dressing. Since most of the flavor in a pasta salad comes from the dressing, be sure to pick a dressing that you really like.
See the recipe card for quantities.
To get started, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions. Be careful not to overcook it. When the pasta is done cooking, drain and lightly rinse it under cool running water.
While the pasta cooks, prepare the dressing by whisking together all of the dressing ingredients.
Place the pasta in a large bowl. Add half of the dressing and then place the bowl in the fridge while you prepare the vegetables, or until the pasta is no longer warm.
Tip: Adding dressing while the pasta is still warm, allows the pasta to absorb more flavor from the dressing as it cools.
Once the pasta has cooled down, remove it from the fridge and stir in the sliced vegetables and mozzarella pearls.
Pour the remaining dressing over the pasta and vegetables and lightly stir.
Top the pasta salad with freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired and enjoy!
For more tips on making the perfect pasta salad be sure to check out this article that outlines some common problems.
How to store leftovers
Store this pasta salad covered, in the fridge for up to five days. Before serving from the fridge, be sure to give the salad a gentle stir so that any dressing that has settled onto the bottom will be redispersed.
In addition to the ingredient substitutions that I listed above, there are several other ways to change up this recipe. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Pesto pasta salad - Swap the dressing for pesto for a delicious twist.
- Add protein - Make this pasta salad a complete meal by adding some protein. Good options include cubed grilled chicken, salami, or chickpeas.
- Low Carb - For a delicious low-carb pasta salad swap the pasta with raw spiralized zucchini
Tricolor pasta is made with vegetables and has a very slightly different flavor compared to regular pasta. However, the vegetable content is negligible and most people primarily use tricolor pasta for its appearance.
Mushy pasta salad is likely a result of overcooking your pasta. When the pasta is finished cooking, immediately drain it and give it a light rinse under cool water to stop the cooking process.
If it's your vegetables that are mushy, then be sure that the pasta is completely cooled before adding them to the salad.
Zesty Pasta Salad
- 16 oz Tri-Color Rotini Pasta
- 1 cup Cherry Tomatoes halved
- 1 cup Mozzarella Pearls
- 2 cups Cucumber diced
- ½ cup Red Onion thinly sliced
- 1 cup Bell Pepper diced
- ¼ cup Parmesan Cheese freshly grated
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions, being sure not to overcook it. Drain and lightly rinse the cooked pasta, and then put it into a large bowl.16 oz Tri-Color Rotini Pasta
- While the pasta is cooking prepare the dressing. Combine all of the ingredients for the dressing in a medium bowl. Mix well.½ cup Olive Oil, ¼ cup White Wine Vinegar, 2 teaspoon Honey, 1 tablespoon Lemon Juice, 1 teaspoon Dried Oregano, 1 teaspoon Dried Basil, 1 teaspoon Dried Parsley, 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder, 1 teaspoon Onion Powder, 1 teaspoon Salt, ½ teaspoon Black Pepper
- Add half of the dressing to the cooked pasta. Stir to combine, then place the pasta and dressing in the fridge while you prepare the vegetables, or until it is no longer warm.
- Wash all of the vegetables. Halve the tomatoes. Slice the cucumber and bell pepper into bite-sized pieces. Thinly slice the onion.1 cup Cherry Tomatoes, 2 cups Cucumber, 1 cup Bell Pepper, ½ cup Red Onion
- When the pasta is completely chilled, add the prepared vegetables and mozzarella pearls. Stir to combine. Just before serving, stir in the remaining dressing and top the pasta salad with the grated parmesan.1 cup Mozzarella Pearls, ¼ cup Parmesan Cheese
Be sure to read the entire post for tips, tricks, and help troubleshooting.
The nutrition information listed here is only an estimate and is simply provided as a courtesy. It nor any other information within this post should constitute medical or nutritional advice. Be sure to read all packaging and ingredient labels for potential allergens. Optional ingredients are not included unless otherwise specified.