This cold antipasto pasta salad recipe with shells, mini pepperoni, freshly shaved Italian cheese, and a delicious homemade Balsamic and Italian dressing is a fantastic, quick, and flavorful Italian pasta salad.
Medium-sized shell pasta, crunchy peppers, and sliced olives, make up a delicious Italian side salad that serves a large crowd and goes amazing with a cookout.
Why you will love this Easy Shell Pasta Salad.
Flavorful Twist – Most pasta salads have traditional or old-fashioned creamy macaroni noodles. And while I am a huge fan of those, not everything needs mayo and boiled eggs to be delicious! This antipasto salad is a twist on a pasta side while also being colorful and flavorful.
Easy to Alter – I love the big macaroni shells because they easily catch all that dressing, but feel free to use twisted noodles, rotini, or even cheese-filled tortellini for a full taste.
It goes with everything! This salad goes with nearly everything from boneless skinless chicken breast to a quarter-pounder beef hamburger! Plus, pasta salads make the most delicious leftovers ever.
Recipe Prep Makes all the Difference!
The biggest part of this recipe is making and cooling the pasta and after that, simple prep. One thing I will point out, which goes with most pasta salads, is that giving the salad time to get cold makes all the difference in flavor.
So while you do not have to make this recipe days ahead, giving the salad an hour or two to chill before serving is a big plus.
- Medium pasta shells – I prefer shelled pasta, although really any type of pasta would do in a pinch. For example, macaroni noodles could easily turn into an Italian Macaroni Salad.
- Mini pepperoni – If you cannot find mini pepperoni, simply grab a large bag of pepperoni and quarter the pieces.
- Shaved Asiago or blended cheese: There really is no flavor replacement for freshly shaved cheeses.
- black olives
- Bell pepper
- Tomato – Roma tomatoes work the best; however, you can also halve or quarter cherry tomatoes.
- fresh parsley
Salad Dressing Ingredients
These are the ingredients you will need for homemade Italian dressing. This dressing isn’t a creamy dressing for the mixture, but rather one of my favorite recipes for pasta salads that keeps the pasta mixture light.
- olive oil – While it may be tempting, do not replace Olive Oil with any other random oils.
- balsamic vinegar
- Envelope Italian dressing (dry)
- oregano (dried)
- grated Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper
Pasta Salad Cheese Options:
There are a great many kinds of cheese that work super well when it comes to Antipasti cold side salads.
- Shaved Asiago or Parmesan work super well, but there are also beautiful and tasty blends available.
- If you can find “Tuscan Blend (typically in the bagged cold section of cheeses), it includes Shaved Parmesan, Romano, and Asiago Cheese, which is perfect.
- You can use shaved or shredded fresh Parmesan cheese, whatever you have available.
How to Make an Antipasto Pasta Salad
- Before you get started, you need to boil, drain, rinse, and cool your pasta shells by running cold water over them according to package instructions.
- However, make sure the noodles are completely drained. They should not be hot or full of water when you assemble this salad.
- Once your pasta is ready, move on to the next step.
- Add prepared and cold pasta, mini pepperoni, olives, chopped pepper, chopped tomato, parsley, and cheese in a large mixing bowl and mix well.
Prep Homemade Italian Balsamic Dressing
- Combine oil, balsamic, dressing, oregano, and cheese in a separate, smaller bowl.
- Mix the dressing well and pour it onto the pasta bowl mixture.
- Mix all ingredients well to coat, and season pasta evenly with salt and pepper.
- Let pasta salad set in the fridge for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so flavors can mingle.
Substitute for Italian Dressing
It’s a salad dressing and recipe mix and is DELICIOUS. If you have that, it’s great to substitute or to change up the overall flavors of the salad. Additionally, you could easily use an Italian dressing bottle, which often comes in many flavor profiles.
What if my pasta salad turns out dry? How do I revive it?
No worries! Just drizzle in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, a little at a time, and give it a good mix before serving. It’ll perk right back up!
Is shell pasta salad friendly for KETO or low-carb diets?
Hmm, the regular pasta used in this dish isn’t the best buddy for a restrictive diet. But hey, there are loads of pasta substitutes out there, so go ahead and get creative!
- Whole Wheat Pasta: If you’re looking for a healthier twist on traditional pasta, whole wheat pasta offers more fiber and nutrients. The flavor is slightly nuttier, and the texture can be chewier.
- Lentil Pasta: Made from lentil flour, this substitute is rich in protein and fiber. It’s a great gluten-free option with a more robust flavor, and it comes in various shapes like penne and rotini.
- Chickpea Pasta: Also high in protein and fiber, chickpea pasta is another gluten-free alternative with a slightly earthy taste.
What proteins are a hit with this side dish?
I’m a big fan of grilled chicken in fresh salads – it’s tasty and stands strong with all the flavors. If you’re racing against time, snag a store-bought rotisserie chicken and shred it. And don’t forget; you can also toss in some prosciutto or salami along with the pepperoni. Yum!
Can I whip up this antipasto salad ahead of time?
Absolutely! In fact, I think all pasta salads taste better when made ahead.
Planning a cookout or party? Prepare it the day before, keep it snug in an airtight container, and then fluff and serve it on the big day. If it feels a tad dry, just a splash of extra dressing or olive oil and a stir will do the trick!
Flavorful Pasta Salad Variations
A multitude of ingredients can easily be added (or subtracted) for a cold pasta salad side that you will love every bite of! Common ideas added to Italian shell pasta salad are:
- Green Olives
- Mozzarella Balls
- Sliced Peppered Bacon
- Grilled Chicken Breast
- Roasted Red Pepper & Goat Cheese
- Fresh Basil
- Sun Dried Tomatoes
- Feta Cheese
Related Pasta Salad Recipes
- Ranch Pasta Salad
- Old fashioned and time honored classic Tuna Pasta Salad is a great throwback to a recipe from your youth.
- Fresh and filling, Bowtie Pesto Pasta is a unique pasta salad recipe that complements chicken and burgers both.
- Greek Salad with Feta has all the filling flavors of Greek cuisine.
- Italian Panzanella Salad is considered a bread salad and the focus on those golden brown crunchy carbs.
- Nothing says fresh more than this Strawberry Caprese Salad Recipe.
- Cucumber Radish Dill Salad is one of the more common side dishes that are healthy and vibrant.
- My grandmothers Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad recipe
- Pea Pasta Salad is fan favorite pea salad with a little umph.
- BLT Pasta Salad combines the great taste of bacon, lettuce and tomato from a sandwich into a salad.
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