Balsamic Pasta Salad: the perfect summer salad! Perfect for light dinners, BBQ side dishes, picnics, and more.
Made with easy-to-find ingredients and ready in a snap!
Table of contents
- Why you'll LOVE this pasta salad with balsamic dressing:
- Ingredient substitutions:
- How to make balsamic pasta salad:
- Recipe pro-tips:
- Making the pasta salad ahead of time:
- Additional mix-ins:
- Making this salad gluten-free and/or vegan
- Storage directions:
- Tools needed to make this recipe:
- More summer salad recipes:
Today's recipe is a summer-approved pasta salad! Almost every summer picnic or barbecue needs a great pasta salad, and this one will not disappoint! In fact, I've been making this salad for all my get togethers so far this summer and it's received rave reviews each time.
Full of fresh ingredients and coming together in a snap (no hard to find ingredients or complicated steps here!), this salad packs a fresh and flavorful punch.
This salad is also a great one to make in advance. The balsamic dressing is not only flavorful, but also keeps the pasta moist -- meaning, you can make this salad up to 24 hours ahead of time. Less time slaving in the kitchen and more time enjoying the outdoors with friends!
- Pasta - I used fusilli for this recipe but any medium-sized pasta shape like bow ties or shells will work well for this pasta.
- Balsamic dressing - because it's summer and we could all use some convenience and extra time to be outside, we'll be relying on pre-made dressing and just snazzing it up with seasonings and a secret ingredient. Since the balsamic is such an important ingredient, buy your favorite brand of dressing. It will make a big difference in the flavor of the salad!
- Sun dried tomatoes in oil - my secret ingredient! They add dimension to the dressing and pops of flavor to the salad! Make sure to buy the tomatoes packed in oil. That oil will contribute so much flavor to the dressing.
- Dried basil & thyme - use herbs that have a good expiration date for the best flavor.
- Baby tomatoes - the perfect addition to almost any Italian inspired salad!
- Sweet red pepper - adds some crunch and sweetness.
- Cucumber - refreshing, crisp, and adds some green to the salad!
- Fresh mozzarella - add a satisfying savory dimension to the recipe with fresh cheese. Bonus: mozzarella goes amazing with balsamic dressing!
- Sliced black olives - I'm not sure any pasta salad is complete without at least one type of olive. For this one, we'll be using classic sliced olives. Easy to find and the perfect complement to the other flavors!
Using homemade balsamic dressing:
If you're not into bottled dressings or would just rather use a homemade balsamic vinaigrette, you most certainly can. If you're looking for a recipe, this balsamic dressing recipe has incredible reviews and would be delicious on this salad.
Save this pasta salad with balsamic vinaigrette recipe for later on Pinterest:
- Fresh herbs: this salad can also be made with 2-3 tablespoons fresh sliced basil leaves and 1 teaspoon fresh thyme.
- Tomatoes: chopped fresh Roma or beefsteak tomatoes can substitute for the cherry tomatoes.
- Mozzarella cheese: 1 ½ cups shredded part skim mozzarella can substitute for the fresh cheese. If doing so, you may also want to stir in ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese into the balsamic dressing for extra flavor!
How to make balsamic pasta salad:
For the complete recipe and measurements, scroll to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and rinse with cold water until cool to the touch.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the balsamic dressing, sun dried tomatoes in oil, seasonings, and garlic until combined.
- Add the pasta, chopped vegetables, and fresh mozzarella cheese to the dressing mixture. Gently fold in until combined.
- Serve immediately or, for best flavor, refrigerate the pasta salad for 1-2 hours before serving. This will help the flavors marinate.
- Chill the pasta before tossing it with the dressing. This way, you can serve the pasta salad cold sooner, rather than having to give it additional time to cool.
- If you have time, let the pasta and veggies marinate refrigerated in the dressing for 1-2 hours before serving. This will give the pasta time to absorb the dressing, providing the best flavor.
- Use sun dried tomatoes in oil (not dry-packed sun dried tomatoes). The sun dried tomato oil is key to taking the dressing to the next level.
Making the pasta salad ahead of time:
Though this salad can be eaten immediately after being prepared, it will have the best flavor if it is made ahead of time. When the pasta has time to marinate in the vinaigrette, it absorbs more of the flavors and seasonings, making it extra delicious.
For best success, make the balsamic vinaigrette pasta salad at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours ahead of time.
This recipe is ultra tasty as-is, but feel free to mix it up according to your tastes or what's in the kitchen. Here are some of my favorite mix-ins:
- Garbanzo beans: adds extra heartiness and plant-based protein
- Grated parmesan cheese: whisk ¼ cup into the dressing mix for an extra flavor dimension.
- Salami: cubed salami will add an extra Italian flair to the salad.
- Arugula: add a bit of bite and extra greens by folding in 2 cups of arugula before serving the salad.
- Grilled chicken: stir cubed grilled chicken into the salad for extra protein and staying-power.
Making this salad gluten-free and/or vegan
This salad can very easily be adapted to many dietary preferences.
To make it gluten-free, use a gluten-free pasta (I love quinoa or garbanzo bean pasta) and double check the balsamic dressing ingredient list to make sure the dressing doesn't contain any gluten ingredients.
To make the salad vegan, simply omit the fresh mozzarella. If you'd like to mix in some vegan or nut-milk shredded mozzarella cheese or ¼ cup nut-milk grated parmesan cheese, you can do that as well.
Leftovers keep covered in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. They do not freeze well.
Tools needed to make this recipe:
More summer salad recipes:
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