A delicious pasta salad is the perfect side dish for any barbecue or potluck. This recipe uses the familiar favorite, olive garden dressing, to give it a burst of flavor in every bite. It will not only compliment your main dish but have people coming back for seconds!
Mistakes to avoid when making pasta salad
- Overcooking your noodles-causing a mushy pasta salad that is falling apart
- Undercooking your noodles-you want the crunch to come from the veggies, not the pasta
- Not seasoning the water for cooking the noodles-salt it generously to give the noodles the best flavor
- Waiting to toss the pasta with the dressing until it has cooled-the warm pasta will soak up the flavors of the dressing easier than cold pasta
- Making your pasta salad too far in advance – unfortunately pasta salad does not last that long, don’t make it too soon or you’ll have a soggy unappetizing mess.
- Choosing the wrong pasta-you want a small noodle with lot’s of nooks and crannies to hold onto the dressing
How to make a zesty pasta salad
Here are the basic instructions, be sure sure to read past all of the instructions for all of my tips to make the best pasta salad!
tricolor rotini pasta
olive garden dressing
zesty Italian dressing mix
Medium to large pot
Jar or container (for mixing dressing)
Boil your water in a pot on high heat. While it is heating up, prepare your dressing.
Mix 1 1/4 cup of olive garden dressing with 2 teaspoons of Italian dressing mix, salt and pepper. Shake well and store in the fridge while you chop the vegetables.
Peel your onion and cucumber. Dice the onion, cucumber, and tomatoes.
When the pasta is done cooking, drain well to remove as much water as possible.
Transfer pasta to a dish and top with veggies, and parmesan cheese.
Add dressing and gently toss to coat.
Cover and refrigerate at least one hour to allow the pasta to cool and all of the flavors to have marinated together. Toss before serving.
You might enjoy adding other types of veggies such as olives or pepperoncini peppers.
Try adding fresh mozzarella cheese instead of parmesean.
If you want your pasta salad to have a protein, try adding chopped pepperoni.
What kind of pasta is best for pasta salad?
In reality you could use any pasta, but there some pasta will yield a much better final dish than others. The best types of pasta to use for pasta salad is small noodles with nooks and crannies for the dressing to get trapped in. My favorite is the rotini pasta, but some other good options are:
- Shell (Conchiglie)
Should you let pasta cool before making pasta salad?
No, you would think that it would be better for the pasta to cool before adding the ingredients, right? I thought so too, but actually, it’s better to add the ingredients and the dressing especially, when the pasta is warm. This is because when the pasta is warm the dressing can soak into it more easily. This will help boost the flavor of every bite.
Is it OK to make pasta salad the day before?
Yes, pasta salad is a great dish to make the day before because you want it to have time to cool anyways. You don’t have to remember to heat it up before serving since it is a cold dish! I wouldn’t make it more than a day in advance though. After the pasta and veggies sit in the dressing for a long time everything begins to get a bit mushy.
How to cook noodles for pasta salad
When you fill your pot with water be sure to add a good amount of salt to your water. This is the first step of flavoring your pasta. You don’t want to skip this step.
Make sure that you bring your water to a boil before adding your pasta.
When cooking your pasta make sure you follow the recommended time on the box to get al dente noodles.
What is the best store dressing for pasta salad?
You could use any old Italian dressing for this recipe and it will do in a pinch, but your pasta salad will be superior if you choose to use Olive Garden dressing. As far as the Italian dressing dry mix, I have used a variety of brands and haven’t noticed that one brand is better than another. So take your pick, I’ll be over here getting the cheapest pack that’s on sale!
This is one of my very favorite summer time dishes. It pairs perfectly with any BBQ, but I tend to make the dish and enjoy a big bowl full for a meal. It can’t be too bad for me if it has veggies, right?
So what do you think? Will you give it a try? What toppings do you think would be a delicious addition?
If you make this I would love for you to share your experience with me! Leave a comment below or tag me over on instagram with a photo of your pasta salad! IG: @littletennesseehome
Do you enjoy easy Italian recipes?
Try out my simple prego copycat pasta sauce. It’s perfect for so many different dishes!
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Easy Olive Garden Dressing Pasta Salad
- Medium to large pot
- Cutting Board
- Jar or container (for mixing dressing)
- 16 oz tricolor rotini pasta
- 1 cup vine tomato
- 3/4 cup cucumber
- 1/2 cup red onion
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 1/4 cup olive garden dressing
- 2 t zesty Italian dressing mix
- 1/2 t salt
- 1/4 t pepper
- Boil your water in a pot on high heat. While it is heating up, prepare your dressing.
- Mix 1 1/4 cup of olive garden dressing with 2 teaspoons of Italian dressing mix, salt and pepper. Shake well and store in the fridge while you chop the vegetables.
- Peel your onion and cucumber. Dice the onion, cucumber, and tomatoes.
- When the pasta is done cooking, drain well to remove as much water as possible.
- Transfer pasta to a dish and top with veggies, and parmesan cheese.
- Add dressing and gently toss to coat.
- Cover and refrigerate at least one hour to allow the pasta to cool and all of the flavors to have marinated together. Toss before serving.