This easy pasta salad recipe will knock your socks off! It’s so healthy, full of flavor, and just absolutely gorgeous!
This pasta salad recipe has been a loooong time coming. I’ve been wanting to share it for a couple of years now – I can’t wait to finally get this easy recipe in your hands!
This is a highly requested recipe among family & friends every time I make it (which is fairly often during the warmer-weather months) because it has SO much flavor, it’s really filling, and with alllll those veggies & protein in there, it’s so good for you. It really is a healthy twist on a classic pasta salad recipe.
Here’s what you’ll love about this easy pasta salad recipe:
- There’s SO much flavor in here. Lots of fresh ingredients and flavors. (Just look at all that color!)
- Makes a great side dish OR main dish. It’s “salad-y” enough to be a nutritious side dish for a spring or summer potluck, but it’s also plenty hearty enough to be a main dish. I’ve made it for both purposes!
- Perfect for a crowd. With so many different ingredients in here, this will easily feed 8-10 people as a main dish, and even more as a side.
- Makes delicious leftovers! If your crowd doesn’t eat all of it, you can easily store the remainder in your fridge and eat on it for a few days. It’s perfect for leftover lunches or for making ahead of time.
- Super healthy and packed with nutrition. With all the fresh vegetables and lean protein, it’s a healthy AND hearty meal.
It really is the perfect pasta salad.
Here’s everything in it:
- Fresh tomatoes: I prefer using cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, but you can use whatever ripe tomatoes you have on hand
- Sweet red peppers & yellow peppers – or use red bell peppers. All the same!
- Pepperoncini peppers: These will give it a little bit of a bite, but with everything else mixed in, the spice definitely doesn’t overwhelm the salad
- Kalamata olives: I love these because they’re extra salty and flavorful, but you can use black olives if you’d prefer
- 1 lb box of pasta: I usually use bowtie, but you really can use any type of pasta you’d like: rotini pasta, penne, macaroni, farfalle, etc. I just always prefer pasta with shorter noodles vs. spaghetti or fettucini.
- Frozen peas: Pour ’em straight out of the bag and into the salad! They’ll thaw within just a few minutes of being in the salad.
- Hard-boiled eggs: I make mine in the Instant Pot (super, super easy) while I’m prepping the other ingredients
- Feta cheese: Mmm-mmm for that deliciously salty bite
- Bacon pieces: You can use store-bought bacon pieces already cooked, or make your own. I’ve done both.
- Chopped avocado: For extra color and nutrition
- Shelled pistachios: Color, flavor, lean protein, and some texture!
- Canned garbanzo beans/chick peas: Lean protein and texture
- Homemade Italian dressing: Made with spices you probably already have on hand
However, this is definitely a rule-breaker’s recipe. You don’t have to follow all of these ingredients to a T – you can totally change some things up according to your personal preference. Feel free to leave any of these ingredients out and/or sub them for others. Use this pasta salad as an excuse to clean out the fridge & add “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” to it.
Tips for some of these ingredients:
- Although this does make fantastic leftovers, if you’re planning to make it ahead of time, wait to add the avocado until closer to serving time, just to prevent the avocados from getting too brown.
- Want an even quicker prep? Use your favorite store-bought Italian dressing instead of homemade.
- Feel free to add in different produce & flavors in here. Pretty much any summer produce would be delicious – zucchinis and squash, cut up into small pieces, would be a great addition!
The full recipe is at the bottom of the page, but I’ll walk you through the simple steps for making it.
Prep all of the ingredients
This is the longest step, simply because you’re going to be doing a bit of chopping in here, but it’s definitely not complicated!
Here are the 5 things to do:
- Cook the bacon. If you’re not using packaged bacon pieces, preheat the oven to 400 to cook the bacon (or, if you prefer, you can cook it in a skillet) – you’ll bake it for 15-20 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your bacon.
- Make the hard-boiled eggs. I always do this the easy way in the Instant Pot – it’s very “set-it-and-forget-it.” I add about 7-8 eggs in my Instant Pot on the rack, add 2 cups of water, and then cook them on high pressure for 5 minutes, 5 minute natural release, and then 5 minutes in a bowl of ice water before peeling.
- Cook the pasta. Make it in a large pot of salted water – that’ll help maximize the flavor. Boil the pasta for a little longer than the package directions suggest – add about two minutes onto the cook time – this will help keep the noodles soft if you’re going to serve this up later or as leftovers. Pasta tends to get a lot firmer after it’s been refrigerated, so cooking the noodles beyond the typical al dente helps keep the pasta tender.
- Chop the fresh veggies. The tomatoes, peppers, and avocado (if you’re serving soon after you make the pasta; if not, wait to add the avocado) all need to be chopped.
- Make the homemade Italian dressing. Easy enough to put together from ingredients you probably already have on hand.
I do all of these pretty much at the same time since you don’t need to be hands-on which each of those steps the entire time.
Here are the stars of the show:
Look at all those bright flavors! So fresh & crisp! The frozen peas add some great crunch, color, and nutrition, and you’d never know they’re frozen.
Then, you add in some packaged/staple ingredients for more flavor.
The chickpeas/garbanzo beans help add some extra protein, and the pistachios: adding those was my husband’s idea one time we made this. We were trying to clean out some leftovers, so he added part of a bag of pistachios to the salad, and I’ve never made this without them since! Such a great addition!
Then, of course, bacon. Love me some bacon. Like I mentioned, you can use pre-packaged bacon pieces OR just cook raw bacon on the stovetop. If I’m going to cook bacon, I definitely prefer doing so on a sheet pan since I can get a more even bake that way, but it’s not a huge deal – however you’d prefer to prep your bacon is fine.
I always use protein-added pasta, but you really can use any pasta that you’d like.
Once you’ve got all of your ingredients prepped, you’re ready to add everything to a large bowl, add the dressing, and it’s ready to eat!
I have a feeling this is going to become your favorite pasta salad recipe!
Tips for making this pasta salad:
Make it vegetarian
Need a vegetarian pasta salad? No problem – just omit the bacon and you’re good to go!
Serve it at room temperature if you’re able
This is a cold pasta salad recipe, but the flavors come out more at room temp. So, if you’re able, remove it from the fridge and let it sit for a little while before you serve it. (Or, just serve it immediately after making it.)
Eat it for leftovers!
This is great the second day (or the day after!). Just store it in an airtight container in the fridge – it’ll keep well for 3-4 days.
Make it gluten-free if you need to
I haven’t tried it with gluten-free pasta, but if you’ve used gluten-free pasta before and the texture has been fine, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use it for this recipe if you needed a GF option.
Change up the ingredients
You can easily add even more ingredients in here if you want – sweet corn (straight from the freezer like I added the green beans), matchstick carrots, green bell peppers, fresh mozzarella, etc. are all great options of things to add!
Add pasta water to the homemade Italian dressing.
I learned this tip when I made this marinated vegetable pasta salad a while back, and it was brilliant! I’ve made my own pasta salad recipe for years and have never thought to save the pasta water, but it helps tremendously with keeping the pasta salad from drying out. Save some water after boiling the pasta and add it to the mason jar with the Italian dressing – about 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup. This helps make “more” dressing that you can then pour onto the salad the following day to add more flavor to it. The pasta & ingredients will soak up some of the dressing when it all sits in the fridge. Give it a splash of extra dressing before you serve it again as leftovers – it’ll help liven up the flavors and keep the pasta from tasting too dry.
This is just the best pasta salad! You & your fam are going to love it!
Make it for a:
- Main dish for spring or summer
- Picnic – perfect outdoor dining food!
- Perfect side dish to go along with a warm-weather potluck
- Batch of leftover lunches. This is a perfect meal prep meal!
For the Pasta Salad
- 1 16oz box pasta
- 6-8 pieces of cooked bacon (or 1/2-1 c of packaged cooked bacon pieces)
- 6-8 hard-boiled eggs, cut up in to bite-sized pieces
- 1 c chopped tomatoes
- 1-2 c chopped sweet peppers (red, yellow, orange peppers)
- 1/2 c sliced pepperoncinis
- 1 c peas (frozen or fresh)
- 1 c Feta cheese crumbles
- 1/2 c Kalamata olives
- 1 15oz can garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed
- 1/2 c shelled pistachios
Homemade Italian Dressing
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 1/8 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp dried parsley
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/4 c distilled white vinegar
- 2/3 c canola or vegetable oil
- 3/4-1 c pasta water (reserved from when you boiled the pasta)
- If you're using raw bacon (vs. packaged pre-cooked bacon pieces), cook the bacon - on the stovetop or in the oven - and set aside.
- In a large pot of salted water, boil the pasta according to package directions + add 2 minutes to the cook time. It hardens up after being stored in the fridge, so cooking it longer will help it stay soft. Drain the pasta, but make sure to reserve 3/4-1 c of pasta water for the salad dressing.
- Combine all of the salad ingredients into a large bowl & stir.
- Combine all of the salad dressing ingredients in a mason jar & shake. If you're serving the pasta salad immediately and don't plan to have leftovers, go ahead and use all of the dressing. If you're planning to serve it later, pour on about 1/2-3/4 of the dressing, and then reserve the rest to pour on just before serving.
- Serve as a main dish, side dish, or as yummy leftovers! It'll keep well in the fridge for 3-4 days in an airtight container. (It'll taste best if you have a little reserved dressing to pour onto it before eating it after it's been in the fridge.)
*If you're serving this as a main dish, it'll serve 6-8. If you're serving it as a side, though, it'll easily stretch to 10-12 servings.
Use any kind of "short" pasta
It really doesn't matter what you use, but any shorter pasta (like rotini, penne, or farfalle) is my preference vs. longer pastas like spaghetti or fettucini.
Add the avocados later if you're not serving immediately
Wait until closer to serving time before dicing up and adding the avocados, just to keep them fresh and from turning brown in the salad.
Use store-bought Italian dressing if you need to
The homemade dressing in here is DELISH, but you can definitely take a short-cut and use pre-made if you need to.
Make it vegetarian
Need a vegetarian pasta salad? No problem - just omit the bacon and you're good to go!
Serve it at room temperature if you're able
This is a cold pasta salad recipe, but the flavors come out more at room temp. So, if you're able, remove it from the fridge and let it sit for a little while before you serve it. (Or, just serve it immediately after making it.)
Eat it for leftovers!
This is great the second day (or the day after!). Just store it in an airtight container in the fridge - other than the avocados, it'll keep well for 3-4 days. The avocados won't be bad, they'll just won't be as fresh. We eat this as leftovers all the time!
Make it gluten-free if you need to
I haven't tried it with gluten-free pasta, but if you've used gluten-free pasta before and the texture has been fine, I don't see any reason why you couldn't use it for this recipe if you needed a GF option.
Change up the ingredients
You can easily add even more ingredients in here if you want - sweet corn (straight from the freezer like I added the green beans), matchstick carrots, green bell peppers, fresh mozzarella, etc. are all great options of things to add!