Healthy Pasta Salad
Dear taste buds, prepare yourselves for the flavor sensation that is this Healthy Pasta Salad! It’s loaded with artichoke hearts, basil, tomatoes, black olives and a big bright and bold garlic and red wine vinegar dressing to make it pop!
Table of contents
- What’s To Love About This Healthy Pasta Salad
- Ingredient Notes
- How To Make Healthy Pasta Salad With Italian Dressing
- Make-Ahead Tips
- What To Serve With Italian Pasta Salad
- Variations To Try
- FAQs and Expert Tips
- More Of My Favorite Healthy Pasta Salads
It’s the newest recipe to make the BEST OF list here on Healthy Seasonal Recipes, and I cannot wait for you all to try it and let me know what you think.
With only a week away from the unofficial start of summer, I knew I had to get this Italian Pasta Salad into your hot little hands, my friends, because you’re gonna consider it your new favorite pasta salad recipe.
What’s To Love About This Healthy Pasta Salad
- Creamy Dressing Vs Oil and Vinegar Dressing: I am not saying I don’t like pasta salad with creamy mayonnaise dressing (I usually cut the mayo with Greek Yogurt, like in this Healthy Macaroni Salad with Cheddar or my Healthy Pasta Salad with Peas and Ham.) But there is something so refreshing about a pasta salad with an oil and vinegar-based dressing instead. The red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil really add a bright acidity that goes well with so many other cookout fare.
- It’s Vegan: Because mayonnaise and Greek yogurt aren’t vegan, many pasta salads are off-limits for plant-based picnics. But this healthy pasta salad is completely vegan!
- Rounds Out The Menu: If you are planning a meal where there will be vegetarian, vegan and meat eaters this pasta salad is a great one to add to the menu. It can serve as a vegetarian or vegan main course or the perfect side dish to go with grilled meats or poultry.
- It’s Easy! I like to make the Italian Dressing from scratch, and it’s really easy to do it right into the bowl where the pasta salad will be mixed. This saves a dish!
- So Flavorful: This Italian Dressing is quite bold. But remember it’s the main flavoring for an entire batch of pasta, plus all the veggies. So it’s quite strong for a reason.
- Great For Picnics, Backyard Barbecues and Potlocks: Mayonnaise also has a bad rep for going bad when it is left out in the sun at barbecues and picnics, so that isn’t as much of a factor with this pasta salad recipe.
- Sub In Bottled Italian Dressing: If you have a store-bought Italian dressing you like, you may certainly sub 1 cup of it in, but I would recommend adding a little bit more garlic, a splash of vinegar and a pinch of salt to it. The pasta needs the extra boost of flavor.
Which Pasta Is Best For Pasta Salad
I like the fusilli in this recipe because I love the way the oil and vinegar-based Italian dressing clings to all that surface area! It really makes it so much more flavorful. Just make sure not to overcook the pasta. For the best texture, I usually cook pasta a little longer than al dente but keep within the range on the package instructions.
I did test this with brown rice pasta, for a gluten-free option. I didn’t love how the pasta was a little limp in appearance when it was cooked according to the package instructions. But we all agreed that we liked the flavor and texture of it.
For more fiber, you can use whole-wheat pasta. Just make sure to cook it all the way because whole-grain pasta is not great when it is cooked al dente.
We used a combination canned quartered artichoke hearts, jarred roasted red peppers, scallions or green onions, cherry tomatoes. Feel free to use marinated artichoke hearts for more flavor. And red onion is a great alternative to the green onion.
Olives and Basil
If you can find Italian black olives, those are preferable. But if not Greek olives are a good substitute. Do not use ripe California black olives as they are too mild for this recipe.
I also used a heavy hand with the fresh basil for a big pop of flavor. Make sure to wash it and spin it dry before chopping it. For the best flavor, add the basil just before serving.
Ingredients For The Dressing
The dressing is a classic vinaigrette with extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, dried Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.
Dressing Ratios: Use a little bit more oil than vinegar, so as to make the dressing not too tart. Remember that salt and vinegar balance each other, so use the full amount of salt if your diet can allow. If you are on a lower sodium diet, and need to drop the salt, use less vinegar too.
How To Make Healthy Pasta Salad With Italian Dressing
Step 1: Cook the Pasta:
This recipe only takes about 15 minutes of actual prep work. Much of the start to finish time is waiting for the pasta water to boil and allowing the pasta to cool. So getting that pot of water on at the very beginning should be the first step.
Step 2: Make Italian Dressing
While you’re bringing that pot of water up to a boil and while it is cooking, you can get your dressing made. Simply whisk the oil, vinegar, garlic, dijon mustard, salt and pepper in a large bowl. At this point, you can also prep the veggies.
Step 3: Add the Hot Drained Pasta To the Italian Dressing
The key to maximum flavor is to add the pasta to the oil and vinegar dressing when it is still hot. No need to rinse the pasta once it is drained, the dressing will coat the pasta so it won’t stick together. The hot pasta will absorb the dressing as it cools, and impart overall delicious Italian dressing flavor.
Step 4: Add the Veggies to the Cooled Pasta
After the pasta has cooled with the dressing for about 20 minutes, you can add in the artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, olives, basil and scallions.
- The dressing for this healthy pasta salad can be made up to 5 days in advance. Store it in a jar in the refrigerator. It will become solid in the fridge, just bring it up to room temperature and whisk it in a large mixing bowl before adding the hot pasta to it.
- The entire recipe can be prepared through step three up to twelve hours in advance. Keep covered with plastic wrap or store in a large airtight container in the refrigerator.
- All the veggies, except the tomatoes, can be cut and stored separately in covered containers in the fridge up to 12 hours ahead.
- Another option would be to prepare start to finish but omit the tomatoes and basil up to 12 hours ahead. Add them to the cold pasta salad right before serving.
What To Serve With Italian Pasta Salad
- Marinate and Grill Your Favorite Protein. I love making a batch of My Favorite Garlic Marinade and using it for whichever meat looks good or is on sale. The flavors of the garlic and herbs mimic those in the pasta salad dressing, and would make a nice compliment. The marinade works with chicken, fish, tofu or pork.
- Pair with Grilled Kebabs. These Rosemary Shrimp and Tomato Kebabs are a summery grilling treat that would go great with the basil and olives in this pasta salad. For a vegetarian option our Mushroom Kebabs are another option.
- Grilled Steak. This Tomato Herb Flank Steak is a great recipe for entertaining and folks always compliment it when I serve it.
- Panzanella. Another Italian salad I love is Panzanella, and this Panzanella Salad is so colorful. It would be an easy make-ahead side to serve as well.
- Italian Inspired Pork Chop Dinner. This Italian Pasta Salad would round out the rest of the meal with this Pork Chops with Arugula Salad.
- For a Vegan Summer Cookout, you could also serve this with Grilled Zucchini and Grilled Eggplant.
- For a Vegetarian Weeknight Dinner make these easy Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers with Italian flavors.
Variations To Try
- If you want to add a bit of protein to this salad you can add chopped cooked chicken or chickpeas with the veggies.
- Adding fresh mozzarella to this healthy pasta salad would be really yummy. Drain an 8-ounce container of small pearl or caliegine-sized balls and stir them in with the veggies.
- Add a small amount of diced pepperoni or salami, cut into strips.
- Use fresh bell peppers instead of roasted bell peppers.
- Add toasted pine nuts for a nutty crunch and flavor.
- Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of Basil Pesto to the dressing.
- Add a half cup of finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano (cut back on the added salt by 1/2 teaspoon.)
- Add a pinch of red pepper flakes or chopped pepperoncini peppers to the salad for a little spicy heat.
FAQs and Expert Tips
Some pasta salads are unhealthy because they contain a large ratio of fatty high-calorie dressing mixed with pasta made with refined flour. They contain little to no vegetables and are lacking in nutrient-dense ingredients. Pasta salads that have a relatively large amount of nutritious vegetables added, whole grain pasta and olive oil-based flavorful dressings can be a part of a healthy diet.
Most classic pasta salads, made with a mayonnaise-based dressing, are 300 to 400 calories per serving. This healthy pasta salad has 239 calories per 1 cup serving.
Pasta salad is a general classification of summer salad typified by cooked pasta tossed with dressing, vegetables and sometimes meats and cheeses. These dressings can be either oil and vinegar or vinaigrette dressings or creamy dressings with mayonnaise or dairy. Macaroni salad is a specific type of pasta salad made with macaroni noodles or elbow pasta and usually is tossed with a creamy dressing made with mayonnaise. Pasta salad and macaroni salad are commonly served as a side dish for summer barbecues, cookouts and picnics.
More Of My Favorite Healthy Pasta Salads
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Happy Cooking! ~KatiePrint
This easy and Healthy Pasta Salad recipe with Italian-inspired ingredients is so good! It’s loaded with artichoke hearts, basil, tomatoes, black olives and a big bright and zesty garlic and red wine vinegar dressing to make it pop! There is no cheese or meats, so it is vegan and vegetarian friendly too.
1 16-ounce box fusilli (gluten-free if desired)
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup best quality extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried Italian Seasoning
1 ½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 14-ounce can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1 12-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
1 cup chopped scallions
1 cup cherry tomatoes, red and/or yellow, halved
½ cup black olives, pitted and chopped
½ cup chopped fresh basil
- Cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente, about 12 minutes.
- While pasta cooks, whisk garlic, oil, vinegar, mustard, Italian Seasoning, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
- Drain pasta, and immediately add it to the dressing. Toss to coat. Let cool, tossing once or twice, at least 20 minutes. To make ahead, cover and refrigerate up to 12 hours.
- Stir artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, scallions, tomatoes, olives and basil into the pasta. Serve immediately or chill.
- The dressing can be made up to 5 days in advance. Store it in a jar in the refrigerator. It will become solid in the fridge, just bring it up to room temperature and whisk it in a large mixing bowl before adding the hot pasta to it.
- The entire recipe can be prepared through step three up to twelve hours in advance.
- If you cannot find dry Italian Seasoning, substitute 1/2 teaspoon dry oregano and 1/2 teaspoon dry basil
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 12 minu
- Category: Side Dish
- Method: Stove Top
- Cuisine: Italian
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Calories: 239
- Fat: 10 grams
- Carbohydrates: 31
- Fiber: 3 g
- Protein: 6 g
Keywords: italian pasta salad,healthy pasta salad,healthy italian pasta salad,italian pasta salad without meat