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This easy tri color pasta salad is made with rotini, Genoa salami, fresh veggies, olives, and mozzarella cheese all tossed in a homemade Italian dressing. It’s the perfect side dish for potlucks and barbecues or to enjoy as an easy weeknight meal throughout the week.
When summer arrives, I’m all about quick and easy dishes that get me in and out of the kitchen fast. No thank you to recipes that involve the oven, right? This Italian pasta salad couldn’t be simpler. You only need 20 minutes to make it (plus an hour to chill) before grabbing a fork and digging in.
Enjoy it as a side dish or a main dish. Make a double batch at the beginning of the week and enjoy it on those busy weeknights when you just don’t have time to cook. Don’t worry—the flavor gets better the longer it sits.
And if you’re a fan of easy pasta salad recipes, you definitely don’t want to miss this Greek Pasta Salad that’s chock full of cherry tomatoes and feta cheese. Or how about our Tortellini Pesto Pasta Salad with fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, pesto, and cheese tortellini? Easy Caprese Pasta Salad is light, refreshing, and pairs perfectly with so many summer dishes.
But back to this pasta salad with rotini—it’s super yummy, and everyone will be asking for the easy recipe at your family gatherings. You’ll love how versatile it is as well. If you don’t have a certain type of meat, cheese, or veggie, it’s as easy as swapping out the ingredients for what you have in the fridge. It turns out delicious every time.
This section includes ingredient notes and substitution options. Get all measurements, ingredients, and instructions in the printable recipe card at the end of this post.
For the Pasta:
- Tri-color rotini— We used tri-color rotini, but feel free to use your favorite type of pasta. Shells, macaroni, bowtie, cavatappi, ziti, and penne all work nicely, too.
- Deli Genoa salami— Genoa salami is a soft salami that’s cured rather than smoked. It has a sharper, stronger flavor than hard salami because there are more spices, but you can use either Genoa or hard salami, whichever is your preference.
- Grape tomatoes— Grape tomatoes have a slightly harder skin than cherry tomatoes and are less watery. So if you’re going to transport your pasta salad, grape tomatoes are best. However, if you’re enjoying it at home, cherry tomatoes are a flavorful substitute. You could also just use diced tomatoes.
- Mozzarella cheese— We used block mozzarella cheese diced into small cubes for this pasta salad. Cubes of cheddar, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack or shredded cheese can be used in its place if you prefer.
- Green bell pepper — Bell peppers add crunch and freshness to this salad. Use yellow, orange, or red if you’d like.
- Red onion— When you need raw onion, the red onion is where it’s at. They’re typically milder than yellow and white onions and add pretty color to salads.
- Olives— We use both black olives and green olives with pimento in this recipe. If you’re not a fan of olives, leave them out entirely or substitute with canned beans like cannellini to make a heartier salad.
For the dressing:
- Olive oil— Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is best for salad dressings.
- Red wine vinegar— This is a great ingredient for salad dressing because it’s good for your heart and full of antioxidants!
- Dijon mustard— It’s smooth, salty, tangy, and will add wonderful flavor to the dressing.
- Garlic— Minced garlic is key for flavor in the dressing. Use a garlic press to make quick work of mincing the garlic cloves.
- Parmesan cheese— We love the salty, nutty flavor that Parmesan cheese adds to the dressing. You could also use Romano, Asiago, or Pecorino cheese.
- Sugar— Just a touch of sugar helps to balance out the acidity in the vinegar.
- Kosher salt and black pepper— To season it just right. Adjust to your taste preferences.
- Celery seed— This is a key ingredient in the dressing! It gives it a nice “backbone” of flavor. You could also use onion powder, dried oregano, or dried basil.
Equipment You’ll Need
You only need a few basic kitchen tools for making Italian pasta salad:
- Large pot
- Mixing bowls
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Plastic wrap
How to Make Pasta Salad with Homemade Dressing
This section shows you how to make the recipe with step-by-step photos and instructions. For the full printable recipe, see the recipe card below.
Step 1: Cook the rotini to al dente according to the package directions in a large pot of water. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop it from cooking. Place in a large bowl.
Step 2: Cut the deli salami into half inch cubes. Add to the bowl with the pasta along with the tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, bell pepper, red onion, black olives, and green olives. Set aside.
Step 3: In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, parmesan, sugar, salt, pepper, and celery seed until combined. Pour dressing over pasta salad ingredients.
Step 4: Toss the ingredients together so everything is covered in the dressing. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least one hour before serving.
Toss the tri-color pasta salad again about 10 minutes before serving since some of the dressing sinks to the bottom. Also, pasta absorbs the dressing as it sits in the fridge. If you know you’ll have leftovers, double the dressing recipe (or reserve some if you like yours light on dressing) to toss with the pasta if needed.
Storage and Freezing
You can store leftover pasta salad in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Prep ahead: You can make this pasta salad a day or so in advance of when you’ll need it, and it’ll still be great. In fact, the flavors are even better once they all come together.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Give the pasta salad a good stir immediately before serving because some of the dressing may have settled on the bottom of the bowl.
- Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least one hour to let the flavors combine and the ingredients get cold. A couple of hours or overnight is even better.
- Remember to cook the pasta just to al dente and no more. The pasta will still soak up the liquid from the dressing as it sits in the fridge, so you have to avoid cooking it too long, which will make it mushy.
Additions and Variations
Try different meats. This tri color pasta salad would be just as delicious with pepperoni, diced ham, summer sausage, or hard salami.
Add more veggies. Want to incorporate more veggies into this dish? Some great choices are broccoli florets; fresh zucchini; red peppers; carrots; artichoke hearts; baby spinach; or pepperoncini.
Swap out the cheese. Use whatever cheese you have on hand—mozzarella pearls, Monterey Jack, Muenster, or pepper jack.
Use bottled dressing. If you’re short on time or just want to simplify things, you can use about a cup of your favorite bottled Italian salad dressing instead of the homemade dressing–I like to use Zesty Italian Dressing. Add a little more if needed.
Easy Italian Pasta Salad FAQ
I do not recommend freezing this Italian pasta salad recipe. Freezing will alter the texture and taste of the ingredients.
Yes, absolutely! This tri color pasta salad recipe is the perfect make-ahead dish. Make it a day or so ahead of time, remembering to whip up some extra dressing to add as needed right before serving.
Any short pasta you like works great! I used tri-color rotini because it’s colorful and has lots of crevices to grab on to the dressing, but cavatappi, penne, elbow macaroni, and shell pasta are all good choices, too.
No, tri-color rotini tastes the same as regular rotini. It just adds a nice visual effect to your salads and pasta dishes. Feel free to use regular rotini if that’s what you prefer.
More Summer Picnic Recipes
- Strawberry Fluff Salad – This dessert salad is a total favorite for picnics. It’s sweet, fluffy, light, and refreshing. It’ll be a hit at your Memorial Day or 4th of July cookouts.
- Chicken Salad With Grapes and Pecans – This isn’t your ordinary chicken salad. The grapes are a great addition that provide crunch and fresh bursts of fruity flavor. The nuts help create texture that’s delightful on sandwiches or eaten alone or in lettuce cups.
- Heirloom Tomato Salad – When your garden is overflowing with tomatoes, come back to this amazing tomato salad recipe.
- Old Fashioned Potato Salad – It just isn’t a picnic or barbecue without a good potato salad to serve on the side. This one is creamy and classic—the perfect accompaniment to meat, burgers, and hot dogs.
- Egg Salad Sandwiches – What is it about an egg salad sandwich that’s so comforting? We paired our egg salad with bacon for a nice meaty crunch on our sandwiches.
Tri Color Pasta Salad with Homemade Dressing
For the Pasta:
- 12 ounces tri-color rotini
- 4 ounces deli Genoa salami cut into ¼ inch slices
- 1 pint grape tomatoes cut in half
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese block small diced
- 1 cup small-diced green bell pepper
- ¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
- ¼ cup canned sliced black olives drained
- ¼ cup canned sliced green olives with pimento drained
For the dressing:
- ¾ cup olive oil
- ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 2 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon celery seed
- Cook the rotini per the directions on the back of the box to al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop it from cooking, drain well. Place in a large bowl.
- Cut the deli salami into half-inch cubes. Add to the bowl with the pasta along with the tomatoes, mozzarella, bell pepper, red onion, black olives, and green olives; set aside.
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, parmesan, sugar, salt, pepper, and celery seed until combined.
- Pour the dressing into the bowl and toss the ingredients together so everything is covered in the dressing. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least one hour before serving.