Italian Pasta Salad
Grilled chicken marinated in creamy Italian dressing then tossed with juicy tomatoes, roasted red peppers, red onions, briny olives, and more dressing, this colorful and delicious Italian-inspired pasta will be your favorite go-to dish all summer long.
The inspiration for this pasta salad started with teenage love. Well, maybe not so much teenage love but definitely teenage hunger. One day after school, while I and my high school boyfriend Troy were hanging out and playing video games—I’m sure we were probably supposed to be studying—we got a little hungry. There wasn't that much but there was pasta, some frozen veggies, Italian dressing, and iceberg lettuce. What came next was a great pasta salad. Troy decided to make some pasta, throw in some green beans, corn, and iceberg lettuce, mixed it together with an Italian dressing/mayo combo, and an after-school snack was done. Now it may have been I was super hungry but that salad seemed like the best pasta salad EVER. Since my high school days, I’ve made the salad my own over the years with a few changes.
Make Creamy Italian Salad Dressing
Now the high school version of this salad was with a store-bought Italian dressing I’ve developed a wonderful creamy Italian dressing that is BOMB and the perfect complement to this salad. It’s super easy and can be whisked, shaken in a jar, or blended in your food processor. Check out out the goodies inside:
Red or white wine vinegar- for extra zing, use red.
Mayonnaise- mayo is what makes this dressing creamy. You can also use yogurt—which will be slightly more tart— or you can nix the creaminess altogether and have more of a vinaigrette. It will still be delicious
Marinated roasted red peppers- You’ll find these in your condiment aisle and in my opinion are a must-have for your pantry. They give this dressing a bit of smoky-sweet flavor
A hint of sweetener
How to Make This Italian Pasta Salad
This is the perfect summer salad because there’s very little cooking. You can grill the chicken outside or on the stovetop but if you don’t want chicken the only cooking you’re doing is boiling the water for pasta. Here’s how to make this BOMB-est (is that a word?) pasta salad ever:
All dressed up. Blend or whisk your creamy Italian dressing first to get the party started.
Take about a third of the dressing and marinate the chicken tenders in it for 15 minutes or overnight. After marinating, grill chicken on your grill, grill pan, or skillet over medium-high heat. Grill the chicken until cooked through. Cool.
Pasta, pasta! Short-cut pasta is best for this salad so use either rotini or radiator. Cook your pasta al dente and don’t forget to salt your water.
While the pasta boils, prep the tomatoes, red onion, olives, and peppers.
Drain the pasta and run cold water over it to cool it quickly.
Let’s Toss & Chill! Toss pasta with all the yummy goodness that you've prepped. Add arugula and basil right before serving. You can eat this pasta salad right away— I definitely have— but it’s even better when you let it sit in the fridge, let the flavor sit and develop, and chill about 30 minutes.
ITALIAN PASTA SALAD
Creamy Italian Dressing
⅓ cup + 2 tablespoons of red or white wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1/4 + 2 tablespoons of mayo (optional)
3 cloves garlic powder
2 tablespoons roasted red peppers, diced
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1½-2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
Salt to taste
1 lb pasta, cooked according to package and cooled
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup olives, pitted (I like using a mix of good quality canned black and green olives)
¼ of red onion, diced
¼ cup marinated roasted red peppers (jar), diced
1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped
1 pound chicken tenders, grilled (optional)
1 cup fresh arugula (optional)
Whisk or blend together the dressing ingredients in a bowl or food processor.
In a bowl, toss the chicken with 1/3 of the dressing. Let sit for 15 minutes or marinate up to overnight. Grill chicken on your grill, grill pan, or skillet over medium-high heat. Grill the chicken until cooked through, turning halfway through cooking, about 8-10 minutes.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and cool.
Add the cooled pasta, chicken, onions, peppers, olives, tomatoes, basil, and arugula to a large salad bowl. Pour over the remaining dressing and toss well to combine. You can eat it right away or let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This is a “sittin’ salad” so the longer it sits, the more the flavors marry.
If making ahead, add the arugula right before serving.