Why this Recipe for Italian Pasta Salad?
Using homemade dressing versus pouring on a commercial salad dressing is what makes this Italian Pasta Salad taste light, fresh, and worth keeping around for leftovers.
During the summer months I like to keep some version of a chilled pasta or grain salad in the refrigerator at all times. It just makes composing a complete meal much easier, and frees me up to enjoy the nice weather. I was surprised when this particular Italian Pasta Salad recipe was not only devoured by my toddler, but that he even requests it!
Before you start cooking
Here are a few helpful tips for making this Italian Pasta Salad Recipe.
- If you are planning on serving this same day, slice the tomatoes in half so their natural juices and blend with the dressing. I would recommend making the Italian Pasta Salad at least 30 minutes ahead of time. Doing so allows the dressing time to infuse into every bite.
- If this Italian Pasta Salad is going to be made more than a half day in advance of serving, do not slice the tomatoes. Or find the smallest cherry tomato possible and keep them whole. When sliced too early, the tomatoes become mealy from the dressing.
- Cooking the pasta just past al dente and shocking to cool under cold water is preferable. I will set a timer for 9 minutes once I place the pasta in salted boiling water and then check it. Do your best to fully dry the pasta before mixing with the dressing.
- If the pasta is over cooked or not cooled quickly, your Italian Pasta Salad can tend to be mushy and totally unappetizing.
Choosing your Ingredients for Italian Pasta Salad
Macaroni Noodles are my preferred pasta shape to use, but feel free to get creative. I will often substitute Cavatappi or even Cheese Tortellini, the kind you find in the refrigerated section at the grocery store. Surprisingly, the more Artisanal Dried Pastas, are not desirable in a Chilled Pasta Salad application.
This Italian Pasta Salad Recipe calls for both Fresh Mozzarella and Parmesan Cheese. Choosing the right cheese does matter and makes a world of difference. For Mozzarella, choosing a Fresh Variety is definitely preferable.
My choice would be to go with Celingini, which is the tiny balls of fresh mozzarella typically found in a plastic tub at the grocery store. When halved, these make the perfect size bite for an Italian Pasta Salad. If your store’s cheese section does not have have Celingini, often you will still typically be able to find Fresh Mozzarella in some form. If this is the case, cut your Fresh Mozzarella into about 1/2 inch or 1 cm cubes.
The Parmesan Cheese I would recommend for making this Italian Pasta Salad should be of high quality. Either buy a wedge of good Parmesan cheese and grate it yourself, or you can usually find a good quality grated Parmesan in the gourmet cheese cooler. You do not want to use the Powdered Parmesan Cheese you find in the green container.
When making an Italian Pasta Salad choosing the right Tomato is important. Unless it is Tomato season, I will often choose a cherry or grape tomato. I do this because I know they will be consistent. As mentioned above, I do recommend slicing you tomatoes in half if you are serving this same day. But, making sure to time when you slice your tomatoes matters. Adding Tomatoes 30 minutes prior to serving is the optimal timing in my opinion.
If it is Tomato Season, go wild. This Italian Pasta Salad can be a great platform for showcasing Tomatoes. I suggest you find the very best tomatoes you can and dice them the same size as your cheese.
Good ways to source really good tomatoes are Farmers Markets, Community Produce Collectives, or by starting a Garden. Many grocery stores are even starting to carry Heirloom Tomatoes during the late summer.
I would not recommend using Beefsteak, Roma, or any larger tomatoes that are out of season for this recipe. Since this Italian Pasta Salad Recipe is so simple, using quality ingredients is going to determine the outcome.
There are vast differences in Olive Oils. For the purposes of making an Italian Pasta Salad, a mid priced Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $10-$20 a bottle, will work perfectly.
Try to avoid Olive Oils that say Light or Blended on the label for this recipe. But, if you do own a really high quality Olive Oil, say over $30 a bottle. A light drizzle to finish your Pasta Salad can be a nice touch. There is no need for a high end Olive Oil for the dressing though.
Much like the other ingredients in this Italian Pasta Salad, using good quality fresh herbs is important. Basically, avoid using dried herbs or any herbs that have started to wilt or change color.
Fresh Basil really shines in this recipe, but you only need to use a little bit. If you do not have a Culinary Herb Garden started, you would be surprised how much money you can save and the amazing quality you can get with very little effort. My Free Beginner’s Culinary Herb Garden Guide, answers many of the questions you may have if you are interested in starting your own.
Items you will need to make this Italian Pasta Salad Recipe
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Recipe Cards for Italian Pasta Salad
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Italian Pasta Salad Recipe
- 8 oz Macaroni Pasta, Dry Weight
- 8 oz Fresh Mozzarella, 1/2 inch dice
- 8 oz Tomatoes, Cherry or Grape
- 1/4 cup Olive Oil
- 3 Tbsp Mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp White Wine Vinegar
- 2 Tbsp Honey
- Fresh Lemon Juice, about 1 Lemon
- Lemon Zest, about 1/4 of a lemon
- Parmesan Cheese, Freshly Grated
- Chopped Fresh Parsley
- Fresh Basil
- Kosher Salt, plus 2 Tbsp for Pasta Water
- Black Pepper
- Red Chile Flakes
- optional 1 Tbsp Balsamic Glaze for garnish
- In a stock pot bring 1.5 gallons of water with 2 tbsp of Kosher salt to a boil. Add 8 ounces of Dried Pasta and Cook for 7-10 Minutes or until just past Al Dente. Then strain pasta using a colander and shock with cold water. Leave pasta in strainer to remove excess water.
- While Pasta is cooking wash and cut cherry tomatoes in half*. Cut Fresh Mozzarella into 1/2 inch pieces. Cheese and Tomatoes should be about the same size.
- In a large mixing bowl combine and whisk together: Olive Oil, Mayonnaise, Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Lemon Zest, Parmesan Cheese, Chopped Parsley, Basil, Salt, Pepper, and Chile Flakes. Mix Well.
- Add cooked pasta, tomatoes, and fresh Mozzarella to the mixing bowl with the dressing and gently stir. Place in Refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to serving. Optional: drizzle with Balsamic Glaze as garnish when serving.
- Store Italian Pasta Salad refrigerated for up to 4 days.
*If not serving within a few hours, do not add tomatoes until serving or skip slicing tomatoes in half.