Easy Italian pasta salad recipe has a tangy -sweet vinaigrette so it's perfect for summer parties, picnics, and keeping the kitchen cool! Black olives, rigatoni, purple onions, and Italian seasonings are the foundation - you just need to add your favorite ingredients - and I'm giving you ideas for 20 different variations!
For this recipe you'll need: cider vinegar, sugar, dried Italian seasoning mix, rigatoni, salt, black olives, purple onions Optional - shredded mozzarella, cherry tomatoes
Table of Contents
Everyone Loves Pasta Salad
When I owned the tea room this Italian pasta salad was the number one side dish on the menu. It was more popular than our hand cut French fries, more popular than the crispy tempura onion rings, and even more popular than the cut fruit with lavender creme fraiche.
Of course the reason for that is the same now as it was then -- this stuff is addictive!
How to Make the Best Italian Pasta Salad
Although this pasta salad is quick and easy you'll want to allow enough time for it to sit overnight in the fridge.
During that time the pasta soaks up the simple vinaigrette so that every bite is bursting with flavor. Don't skimp on this step or try to cut it short -- you can't get the same flavor.
Just before serving check it to see if you need to add a little more of the vinaigrette mixture - sometimes the pasta soaks up so much that it's a little dry.
I measure the Italian seasoning by the handful for this. It sounds like a lot but you'll have to trust me on this. Just do it. My hands hold about 3 tablespoons of seasoning so that's the measurement I'm using. You can use more or less depending on your own tastes.
Why Use Rigatoni?
So, yeah. I get it. Who ever heard of rigatoni in pasta salad?
The thing is those big tubes of chewy pasta soak up the dressing. Tiny pieces of purple onion, herbs, and olives play hide and seek in the interiors of the tubes so that you get a surprise flavor blast in every bite. Will it be onion? Olive?
You won't know until you take a bite. You can substitute rotini pasta or something else but just try it my way at least once, please?
This pasta salad is the perfect potluck recipe. It dresses up al fresco dinners on the deck. It graciously accepts your leftover ham, chicken, or other leftovers. I know I can't get through summer without it.
Vary Your Pasta Salad with These Additional Ingredients
- Cooked diced chicken
- Cooked diced ham
- Cooked shrimp
- Cooked Italian Sausage (mild or hot)
- Crispy bacon
- Shredded Mozzarella
- Smoked provolone
- Halved cherry tomatoes
- Diced green peppers
- Fresh parsley or thyme or oregano or ...
- Shredded carrots
- Kalamata olives
- Chopped fresh basil
More Fresh Summer Recipes
I get it. Summer recipes need to be quick, easy, and something that won't heat up the kitchen past the searing 2000F it is already. Don't worry - remember I live in Texas - I've got you with these easy summer side dishes!
- BBQ Macaroni Salad is just like the creamy classic with the addition of a burst of bbq flavor.
- Macaroni Salad has always been a summer classic. This is the original Hellman's recipe that my mom made.
- Creamy Cucumbers in Sour Cream is such a refreshing dish on the hottest of days. I like to take the leftovers to make sandwiches with.
- Cauliflower Salad tastes a bit like tabbouleh but without the carbs.
- Pea Salad has a spot at almost every potluck I've ever been to! Creamy dressing, sweet peas, Cheddar cheese, and salty bacon. What's not to like?
- Cowboy Caviar is a fancy name for black eyed pea salad! Some people use it as a dip for chips.
- Roasted Sweet Potato Salad is a unique twist on the classic potato salad. A little sweet, a little spicy, a lot yummy.
I'm loving the look of this Panzanella Salad from Marisa Stewart!
You May Need
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Easy Italian Pasta Salad Recipe
This is seriously one of my favorites. Experiment with different types and shapes of pasta to make it exactly as you like it. I love it made with tortellini! I think it tastes best at room temperature but it can be served cold as well.
If you love this recipe please give it 5 stars!
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- 2 pounds rigatoni
- 1 purple onion, coarsely chopped (red onion, purple onion - it's the same)
- 28 ounces ripe black olives, drained and sliced
- 3 tablespoons Italian seasoning, rub it between your palms as you add it to the dish - it will have more flavor.
- 1 cup cider vinegar
- 1 cup sugar, don't be afraid to use more or less to taste
- salt, to taste
- Cook the rigatoni until over done. Yep. Overdone. Nope. I am not kidding. Do not try this with a la dente pasta it won't work. It needs to be very cooked, but still hold it's shape.
- Pour the vinegar and sugar mixture over the hot pasta.
- Dump the handful of herbs on it.
- Mix thoroughly and let cool.
- Add the onion and black olives and mix well.
- Cover and chill overnight.
- Stir gently before serving - you may need to add a little more of the vinegar sugar mixture.