When I think of summer potlucks in Texas, my Mom’s Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing immediately comes to mind!  It’s full of fresh bell peppers, thinly sliced red onion, grated Parmesan cheese and can be made with a simple bottle of store-bought dressing. It’s always a huge hit at picnics and potlucks and is super easy to prep ahead of time!

A glass bowl is full of a pasta salad with Italian dressing and Parmesan cheese and a wooden spoon for serving.

Before I ever liked vegetables, I remember sneaking bites of this Italian dressing pasta salad from the refrigerator. My Mom would seem oblivious, but now, as a wiser adult I know for a fact she KNEW I was the culprit.

My mom would chop the bell peppers and onion very fine, and somehow my picky taste buds did not seem to mind.

And I wasn’t the only one who agreed that this was hands down the BEST pasta salad.

Every potluck, summer party, or church function (our wonderful Baptist church had a LOT of those!) this pasta salad was one of the first dishes to be devoured.

Tips to Make it as Good as My Mom Does

  • The quality of Italian dressing matters. Since the entire dish will be seasoned with this one dressing, you want to make sure you buy a really high-quality one that you like the taste of. (The Olive Garden brand is delicious!) You can make your own from scratch (which I now do!) You can find my favorite Italian dressing recipe here.
  • Thinly sliced vegetables are key. This ensures you get just a tiny bit in every bite. Take it another step and soak the red onions in ice water for 10-15 minutes to cut down on their pungency.
  • Prep this at least 4 hours ahead of time. This will give you enough time to allow all of the dressing to soak into the pasta.
Pasta, onions, peppers, spinach, italian dressing, and Parmesan cheese are the ingredients for this pasta salad recipe.
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  • Don’t use all of the dressing at once. It’s best if you give the salad a good refresh of dressing just before serving. If you toss it in it at the beginning, the pasta will absorb all of it and you won’t have that silky mouthfeel on the noodles.
  • Penne, rotini, and fusilli are all great pastas to use. Avoid pasta that is really small or very long, such as spaghetti or linguine.
  • If using gluten-free pasta, opt for a quinoa or rice-based brand. Corn variteies tend to break down more easily and don’t hold up as well after being refrigerated for extended amounts of time.
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How to Make Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing

Below you’ll find the simple steps to make this Italian Dressing Pasta Salad recipe. Jump to recipe for the printable instructions.

1. Cook the pasta to al dente.

In a large pot, cook the pasta according to package directions. Be sure to watch the timer as you don’t want to leave the noodles in too long or they will get soft and mushy. Be sure to take a bite of them before draining to make sure they’re cooked to your liking.

Drain in a colander and make sure to rinse under cold water to remove any of the starchy outer coating from the pasta. This will keep the pasta from clumping together.

Rotini pasta is cooked and strained.

2. Toss with Italian dressing.

Once the pasta is at room temperature, toss IMMEDIATELY with ¾ cup of the dressing.

Gently stir until coated. Be sure the dressing is in all the nooks and crannies. The longer the pasta sits without any sauce, the more likely it is to stick together.

Also don’t use all of the dressing. The pasta will soak some up while chilling, so save a little to add at the end.

Italian dressing is poured onto cooked fusilli pasta in a glass bowl.

3. Combine with onions and peppers.

Add veggies, cheese, salt and pepper to taste, but leave out the spinach. Mix until all ingredients are well combined.

You can also mix in the remaining Italian dressing and spinach leaves if you would like to serve it immediately without chilling.

For the best flavor, refrigerate this easy pasta salad recipe for 1-2 hours, or until chilled. Just before serving pour in the additional ¼ cup of Italian dressing and mix in spinach leaves. Serve with an additional sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Meal Prep and Storage

  • To Prep-Ahead: Make a big batch of this salad but keep the spinach and ¼ cup of dressing separate. Mix in just before serving. Please note, some gluten-free pasta will get harder after being refrigerated for 48 hours.
  • To Store: Keep this cold pasta salad in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.
  • To Freeze: It is not recommended to freeze leftovers as the pasta will become quite soggy and lose its texture.

FAQs

Can I cook pasta ahead of time for pasta salad?

Yes, but cook no more than 12 hours in advance. Also, make sure to toss it with the dressing so it does not dry out.

What is the best store bought dressing for pasta salad?

Whichever one that you like the taste of! For an Italian dressing, the Olive Garden brand is the best.

Should you rinse pasta before making pasta salad?

It is not necessary, but it will prevent the pasta from sticking together.

Should I make pasta salad the night before?

This is best when made 2-3 hours before eating or, at most, the night before.

How do you keep pasta salad moist?

Add in only ¾ of the amount of dressing that the recipe calls for. Save the remaining ¼ to add in just before serving.

What to Serve with Pasta Salad

This pasta salad goes great with many other summer side and main dishes:

More Pasta Salad Recipes

You can never have too many pasta salad recipes! Try these other flavors to mix things up:

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5 from 3 votes

Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing

When I think of summer potlucks in Texas, my Mom's Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing immediately comes to mind!  It's full of fresh bell peppers, thinly sliced red onion, grated Parmesan cheese and can be made with a simple bottle of store-bought dressing.
A close-up pictures of noodles, spinach, and peppers is shown for this recipe.
Yield 8 servings
Prep 20 minutes
Cook 10 minutes
Total 30 minutes
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Ingredients 

  • 12 oz. rotini pasta or fusilli
  • 1 cup Italian dressing store-bought or homemade
  • 1 red bell pepper thinly cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 green bell pepper thinly cut into 1-inch slices
  • ½ red onion thinly cut into 1-inch slices
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼-½ tsp. salt plus more to taste
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper plus more to taste
  • 3 cups baby spinach

Instructions 

  • Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain in a colander and rinse under cool running water.
    12 oz. rotini pasta
  • Once pasta is cooled to room temperature, combine it with ¾ cup of Italian dressing in a large bowl. Toss until well coated. Reserve the remaining dressing in the refrigerator.
    1 cup Italian dressing
  • Add bell peppers, onion, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Toss until all ingredients are well combined.* Refrigerate pasta salad for 2-4 hours, or until chilled.
    1 red bell pepper, 1 green bell pepper, ½ red onion, ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, ¼-½ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • Just before serving pour in reserved ¼ cup of Italian dressing and mix in spinach leaves. Serve with an additional sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, if desired.
    3 cups baby spinach
Last step! If you make this, please leave a review letting us know how it was!

Tap stars to rate!

5 from 3 votes

Notes

Recipe Tips
  1. The quality of Italian dressing matters. Since it seasons the entire dish, use a high-quality one. You can also make your own—my favorite recipe is here.
  2. Thinly sliced vegetables are key for even distribution in every bite. Soak red onions in ice water for 10-15 minutes to reduce their pungency.
  3. Prep this at least 4 hours ahead to let the dressing soak into the pasta.
  4. Don’t use all the dressing at once. Refresh the salad with more dressing just before serving to maintain a silky texture.
  5. Penne, rotini, and fusilli are ideal. Avoid very small or long pasta like spaghetti or linguine.
  6. For gluten-free options, choose quinoa or rice-based pasta, as corn varieties tend to break down after refrigeration.

Nutrition

Calories: 360kcal, Carbohydrates: 49g, Protein: 11g, Fat: 13g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 11mg, Sodium: 822mg, Potassium: 238mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 3165IU, Vitamin C: 53.4mg, Calcium: 166mg, Iron: 1.6mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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