We are entering one of the most important seasons of the year: potluck season. Grills will be lit, coolers packed, and plastic silverware upgraded to the status of fine china. I’m bringing my A-game and a giant bowl of this Italian Pasta Salad.
And by “A” game, I mean appetite.
This zesty Italian pasta salad recipe combines whole wheat noodles, turkey pepperoni, and pizza topping-inspired additions like crunchy bell peppers, tomatoes, and cheese.
- It’s kid-friendly (just call it “pizza pasta”), quick and easy to pull together, and versatile.
- You can make it gluten free (use gluten free pasta).
- You can skip the pepperoni for a vegetarian Italian pasta salad.
- And of course, you can swap out the veggies for other additions your family enjoys (olive skeptics, I hear you).
We spend summer weekends at the lake and, after years of tasting dozens of different potluck side dishes in action, I can say with certainty that this classic Italian pasta salad is the consistent crowd favorite (7 Layer Salad and Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad are also consistent winners).
Is Italian pasta salad and Potato Salad at the same potluck too many carbs?
I think not.
5 Star Review
“Really good wholesome pasta salad. It is helping us lighten things up while still having big flavor.”— Anne —
Traditional Italian pasta salad recipes often call for bottled Italian dressing and a slew of less-than-wholesome ingredients.
I decided to give the classic recipe an update by using fresh, healthy ingredients:
- An assortment of colorful crunchy veggies to pack in plenty of vitamins and minerals (this Italian Chopped Salad is also LOADED with bright colorful veggies).
- Lean turkey pepperoni to cut fat and calories.
- Whole wheat pasta (like in my BLT Pasta Salad) that keeps me full longer and loads up every serving with extra nutrients.
- An easy homemade Italian dressing that’s healthier and more flavorful than store-bought zesty Italian dressings that are often loaded with mystery ingredients.
How to Make Italian Pasta Salad
This lightened-up version of everyone’s favorite Italian pasta salad with turkey pepperoni, feta, and homemade zesty Italian dressing reminds me of a fabulous slice of pizza (as does this Italian Mac and Cheese), but in light, bright pasta salad form.
It is guaranteed to become your top-requested potluck contribution of the summer.
- Whole Wheat Pasta. For just about any pasta recipe, I always go for whole wheat pasta to sneak in a little extra fiber, iron, and key minerals.
- Turkey Pepperoni. My swap for classic pepperoni. It’s a leaner choice that makes this pasta salad healthier without sacrificing any of that essential salty/spicy pepperoni flavor. (It’s also my fav for these Zucchini Pizza Boats.)
- Broccoli. Adds lovely green color, crunch, and loads this dish with calcium, folate, iron, and vitamins A, B6, B12, D, E, and K.
- Bell Pepper. Choose any color you prefer—I usually use orange or yellow for some contrasting color.
- Cherry Tomato. These juicy little red jewels of sweetness are bursting with flavor and contribute healthy antioxidants, such as lycopene. (They’re also key to this flavorful Italian Antipasto Salad and my favorite Chicken Pasta Salad.)
- Red Onion. For a little zip, bite, and extra crunch.
- Black Olives. Amplify the Italian flavors of this dish and think you’re tucking in at your favorite Italian pizzeria.
- Feta. I love the salty bite and subtle tang feta lends this healthy pepperoni pasta salad recipe (and Italian Farro Salad too).
- Parsley. For a final finish of color and freshness.
How to make Italian Pasta Salad dressing
The dressing is really what takes this homemade Italian pasta salad to the next level.
Try this dressing once and I promise you’ll never buy a bottle of the premade stuff again.
- Ripe Tomato. My secret ingredient. A fresh tomato is grated right into the dressing infusing it with a bright tomato flavor that tastes like the epitome of summer. (For more tomato goodness, see these Grilled Pesto Chicken Skewers.)
- Red Wine Vinegar. For some vital acidity that balances all the flavors.
- Greek Yogurt. My healthy swap for mayo to keep the creaminess.
- Olive Oil. Choose a quality olive oil to infuse the dressing with even more robust Italian flavor.
- Dijon. Give the dressing a lovely spicy bite.
- Honey. For a touch of tantalizing sweetness.
- Garlic. Feel free to adjust the amount to suit your preference for garlic flavor.
- Herbs + Spices. A blend of dried oregano, basil, salt, and pepper brings the dressing to life.
- Cook the pasta and drain.
- Add the vegetables and cheese to the pasta.
- Top with pepperoni.
- Whisk together the homemade Italian dressing, pour over the pasta salad, and toss to coat. ENJOY!
- To Store. Leftovers will keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.
When storing this Italian pasta salad, you may notice that it will dry out a little over time. If you know you will be serving leftovers, consider making a little extra dressing, then storing the dressing separately. Just before serving, toss the extra dressing with the pasta to moisten it.
Pasta salad can be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss up to 4 hours before serving. Store in the refrigerator.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Mixing Bowls. For mixing the dressing and tossing together the finished pepperoni pasta salad.
- Microplane Grater. This one is my all-time favorite for grating literally anything.
- Cutting Board. An extra-large cutting board makes chopping a breeze.
Whether your next potluck is on a lake, in your backyard, or crowded around your coffee table, this healthy Italian pasta salad is sure to be a hit with guests.
Frequently Asked Questions
Not usually. However this healthy Italian pasta salad recipe, thanks to my healthy swaps, clocks in at under 200 calories, only 6 grams of fat, and a whopping 10 grams of protein per serving.
Yes! This Italian pasta salad with pepperoni is a fantastic make-ahead recipe for potlucks. Add the dressing within a few hours of serving.
Certainly! I know that some gluten free pasta varieties are better than others for storing and serving chilled. Before making a full batch, I would test a few of your favorite gluten free pastas to see which one holds up best in a pasta salad recipe like this one.
Italian Pasta Salad
For the Pepperoni Pasta Salad:
- 8 ounces uncooked whole wheat rotini fusilli, or similar pasta
- 1 1/2 cups broccoli florets cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes halved (or grape tomatoes)
- 1 small orange or yellow bell pepper cored and diced (or yellow bell pepper)
- 1/3 cup sliced turkey pepperoni quartered
- 1/4 cup diced red onion about 1/2 a small onion
- 2.5 ounces sliced black olives rinsed and drained (1 small can)
- 1/2 cup reduced-fat crumbled feta cheese
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley chopped
For the Italian Dressing:
- 1 small ripe tomato cut in half
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon non-fat plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Cook the pasta until al dente according to package directions. Drain and set aside to cool, then transfer to a large serving bowl.
- Add the vegetables and cheese to the bowl with the pasta: broccoli, tomatoes, bell pepper, red onion, black olives, feta cheese, and parsley.
- Top with the pepperoni.
- To prepare the Italian dressing, slice the tomato in half. Rub the inside edges (non-peel side) against a coarse grater over a small bowl. Grate all of the tomato's interior (juices and flesh) into the bowl, then discard the peel. Whisk in the remaining dressing ingredients until smooth. Pour dressing over the pasta bowl.
- Toss the pasta salad gently to combine. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
- TO MAKE AHEAD: Pasta Salad can be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss up to 4 hours before serving. Store in the refrigerator.
- TO STORE: Leftovers will keep for a few days in the refrigerator but may dry out a little. If you know you will be serving leftovers, consider making a little extra dressing, then storing the dressing separately. Just before serving, toss the extra dressing with the pasta to moisten it.
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