How to Make Pasta Salad

How to Make Pasta Salad Plus My Favorite Easy Pasta Salad Recipe

Not sure how to make pasta salad? Really it's easy, especially when you know a couple of simple tips. The best part is that you can put just about anything in a pasta salad, making it versatile as well.

A nice, cool pasta salad is a wonderful idea for a meal on a hot, summer's day, and it makes a great side dish any time of the year. Have a potluck to attend? Make up a batch of pasta salad and you'll be good to go. Have company coming? Double the recipe or just add more veggies and you'll be able to feed a crowd.

To get started, gather your ingredients. You'll need a box of your favorite pasta (colorful rotini is a good choice) and a nice, big pot to cook it in. Then you'll need plenty of vegetables (tomatoes, green pepper, broccoli, etc.), your favorite cheese and, to make the salad a meal, meat such as pepperoni slices, cubes of ham, or cut-up bacon. To dress the salad, a flavorful bottled dressing is an easy solution. Or make your own homemade dressing to taste.

First, follow the directions on the pasta box to cook the pasta just the right length of time. The rotini I use and you see in the salad pictured here says to cook 7 to 8 minutes. Since I wouldn't be cooking the pasta any additional time, as I would if I used it in a casserole, I chose 8 minutes and set the timer as soon as I stirred the dry pasta into my pan of boiling water.

TIP: Make sure the water is boiling rapidly before you add the pasta then return it to a rapid boil to cook the pasta properly. This will help keep the pasta pieces from getting starchy and sticking together. 

When the timer goes off, quickly test the pasta to be sure it cuts easily with a fork. Make sure it doesn't overcook and get soggy. Have a colander ready in the sink. Remove the pasta pot from the water and carefully pour it into the colander. Immediately run cold water over the pasta for a minute or two to cool it and keep it from overcooking from residual heat. Keep the colander moving under the water, then turn off the water and shake the colander some more to remove as much water as possible. Set the colander aside to let it thoroughly drain.

In the meantime, prepare the add-ins for the salad. Chop or dice the fresh vegetables such as bell peppers (green, yellow, red, or a mixture), green (spring) onions if using, and tomatoes (I know, technically they're a fruit). I like to halve grape or cherry tomatoes but if all you have is a large tomato, cut it in half and squeeze out the seeds, then cut into chunks. Artichoke hearts, sliced black or green olives, and fresh broccoli are all good choices as well. You might want to add grated carrots or finely diced celery to add color and crunch.

Cube the cheese using a long, sharp knife on a cutting board.  If using feta, simply crumble it with a fork. Add plenty. (I do love feta cheese in pasta salad!)

TIP: Make the cheese cubes about 1/4-inch in size as smaller cubes will be easier to distribute throughout the salad.

If using, add the pepperoni slices (cut them in half first), diced ham, or bacon pieces.  Have leftover chicken or roast beef? Dice that and toss it right into the bowl.

TIP: Use kitchen scissors to cut pre-cooked bacon into small pieces.

Now that you have a bowlful of delicious, fresh, colorful vegetables, cheese, and meaty protein, add the drained pasta to the bowl and get ready to dress your pasta salad. The simplest choice is a bottle of your favorite store-bought Italian or Greek dressing. Try to avoid dressings with corn syrup and stick with ingredients that you can read. Of course the best choice would be homemade. My personal favorite is Kraft Greek Vinaigrette with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Feta Cheese. Love this on green salads as well as pasta salads.

How much dressing should you use? Obviously it depends on how much salad you've made, but plan on at least 8 ounces. Gently stir the dressing through the salad until the ingredients are well distributed. Taste to check the dressing and add more if necessary. Since the pasta will absorb some of the dressing while it's chilling, save some to add shortly before serving. I prefer to err on the "not quite enough" side and add more later.

Pasta salad is best when chilled, covered, for at least a couple of hours. Making it in the morning to serve in the late afternoon or evening works best for me. Again, give the salad a taste test before serving and add more dressing if necessary.

So, to summarize, here's my standard pasta salad recipe with the ingredients that I prefer, as shown in the picture. Substitute, add, or subtract as desired and as your family's tastes dictate. The method remains the same.

Susan's Pizza Pasta Salad

1 12-ounce box Barilla Rotini Pasta

1 container grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 green bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup sliced black olives
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
about half of a 6-ounce package sliced pepperoni, slices cut in half

1 16-ounce bottle Kraft Greek Vinaigrette with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Feta Cheese dressing (I use about half or a little more) or your favorite bottled or homemade salad dressing

Cook pasta as directed on package for no more than 8 minutes. Drain in a colander under cold running water. Let drain while preparing the add-ins: tomatoes, bell pepper, olives, cheese, and pepperoni. Place the add-ins in a large bowl.

Add well-drained pasta to the bowl. Pour in about half a cup of dressing and gently combine until the ingredients are well distributed. Taste and add another half-cup or so of dressing if needed. Cover bowl and chill at least 2 hours (4 to 6 hours is better).

Serves probably 8 people as a side dish or 4 as a meal. Good with crusty bread and a glass of red wine. 

So, how do you make pasta salad? What ingredients did I forget to mention? I'd love to know your favorites so I can try them myself! Feel free to leave a comment below, and don't forget to pin and share so you can find this recipe again.


  1. Susan, It looks delicious, I'm all in for the bacon and pepperoni is a must. Thanks

    1. Oh, yeh, nothing says you can't double up and use both! Sounds good, Sam. Thanks for commenting - and enjoy your pasta salad!

  2. I love pasta salad, too though I will admit that I haven't made any this year, yet.

  3. Pasta salad is a great summertime dish. As you know, our temperatures climb into triple digits here, so cool foods are exactly what we need. I like pasta salad, and I find this recipe particularly to my liking. Thanks Susan!

    1. Thanks, Nancy! Glad the recipe sounds like something you would like. During our summers I like to have a big bowl of pasta salad in the refrigerator, ready to spoon out for lunch or a side dish. Even with just two of us, it doesn't last long!

  4. Oh yum, can I say that I love pasta salad and all the varieties and variations? Well I will, I love Pasta Salad, thanks Susan Deppner for posting this.

    1. Happy to give your taste buds a reminder of what they might be missing if you haven't made pasta salad in a while, Grammie O!

  5. I must make a pasta salad now this weekend after reading your post! YUM!!!!

    1. I know what you mean, Susan. I've been hungry for pasta salad for some time and working with this post really makes my mouth water!


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