Serve cold or hot, this Italian pasta salad is the perfect side dish, and can be topped with grilled chicken for a complete meal. This is an easy pasta salad recipe perfect to make on a busy weeknight, or to take to a summer party.
Creamy delicious Italian pasta salad recipe loaded with all the classic favorites like tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, and of course pasta! Make it a meal or a side. This is one pasta salad recipe your whole family will love. It is quick and easy to toss together. And it is unique, this cold pasta salad is not a pasta salad made with Italian dressing, rather with a creamy alfredo and pesto mixture for a fun take on a classic cold pasta salad. This is a potluck favorite and with only a few simple ingredients, it is a hostess favorite too!
I am a recent convert to the amazingness of pasta salads. Both as someone trying to prepare a dish everyone will enjoy, and as the person eating it.
This rainbow macaroni salad was my first foray into the world of pasta salad, and then I started making fun variations for my kid’s lunch boxes, to accompany smoked meats like these insane ribs, and more.
And Italian Pasta Salad, with all the deliciousness of garden fresh tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, and of course fresh and fragrant basil make it one of my favorites. This particular italian pasta salad recipe is almost like it is a hot pasta dish, and can be served warm, with the difference being it is just as good as a cold pasta salad.
How do you make a good pasta salad?
Pasta salad recipes can sometimes be catch all recipes, where you throw in everything but the kitchen sink. And honestly, making an easy cold pasta salad with the odds and ends in your fridge is a great way to use up whatever is in your crisper. But this particular Italian Pasta Salad takes a little bit more finesse. The ingredients combine together to create and amazing flavor, and the sauce is simple but impactful.
A good pasta salad will have flavors that play off each other and a variety of textures to add to the overall experience. It will use the right pasta choice for the sauce and accompanying ingredients, and be simple to assemble.
What do you put in your pasta salad?
The main players:
- Garden fresh tomatoes– Okay, they don’t actually have to be garden fresh, but let’s face it, ripe, fresh tomatoes, right off the vine pack a powerful flavor punch you can’t beat. I use grape tomatoes in different colors for a visual impact. So if you can get them fresh and flavorful do it. One little trick when selecting tomatoes at the store is to simply let your nose guide you. Can you smell the flavor? If you can’t, chances are you won’t be able to taste it either.
- Crunchy Cucumbers– You could also use zucchini here. The idea is to add a little texture and crunch so the whole bite isn’t soft. It also adds some freshness.
- Mozzarella cheese– For this italian pasta salad, fresh mozzarella is best. I used the pearls, and cut them in half so they would be a great part of a bite, but not the whole bite. The fresh creaminess is an amazing addition.
- Basill– I am the first to admit when it comes to basil I am biased. I love it. I love the scent, the taste, all of it. I even buy basil candles to burn in my house. I grow basil in my herb garden. I love it. But don’t worry, I keep it under control in this cold pasta salad. Enough to taste it and enjoy it, but not overpower the rest of the ingredients.
- Pasta– When it comes to pasta salad, selecting the right pasta is really important. Pasta has different shapes and ridges to accommodate different sauces and uses. Penne is the pasta of choices for this Italian pasta salad recipe. The ridges help sauce cling to it, and it is a light and fun pasta for this summery meal.
- The sauce– Many italian pasta salad recipes are made with Italian dressing. And while that can be a nice way to make an Italian pasta salad, this simple salad uses jarred pesto and alfredo sauce, which makes it an easy to toss together option for busy nights with a fun creamy twist. Of course, you can always make your own pesto or alfredo if you don’t want the jarred version. This homemade basil pesto is awesome!
How do you make a cold pasta salad?
The key to cold pasta salad is making it ahead. This gives you a chance to cool the pasta, but it also gives the flavors a chance to meld. The trick is making it ahead enough that you get those benefits without things getting soggy.
For the best pasta salad, make the noodles ahead, but don’t stir in the fresh tomatoes until just before serving. The tomatoes often have liquid in them (seeds, etc.) and can make things soggy. So, instead, make your penne and toss it with a little olive oil, then assemble just before serving.
I love that if I have a party or get together I can prep ahead, but still have a fresh tasting, delicious pasta salad with minimal effort. You can literally toss it together 5 minutes before serving.
This recipe is delicious served with:
- Zesty marinated chicken
- Chipotle Pesto Chicken Skewers
- BBQ Basil Pesto Grilled Chicken
- Spinach Tomato Pesto Chicken
Italian Pasta Salad
- 16 ounce package penne pasta cooked according to package directions
- 2 cups grape tomatoes halved
- 1 cup fresh mozzarella cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 cup English cucumber sliced
- 3/4 cup prepared Alfredo sauce
- 1/4 cup prepared basil pesto
- 2 Tbs fresh basil for garnish
- Prepare pasta according to package directions, and set aside to cool if serving as a cold pasta salad. You can toss with a little olive oil to keep noodles from sticking together.
- Slice cucumbers, tomatoes, and mozzarella into bite sized pieces.
- When noodles are cooled, and you are ready to serve, toss pasta, tomatoes, cucumbers, mozzarella, Alfredo, and pesto together, until pasta is well coated and everything is mixed.
- Garnish with fresh basil and enjoy.
Serve hot or cold, to serve cold, it is best to wait to add tomatoes until just before serving as they can cause the pasta salad to get soggy.
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