This cold antipasto pasta salad recipe with shells, mini pepperonis, 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, sliced olives and mini pepperoni 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 consist of 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.
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, and this goes with most pasta salads, is that giving the salad time to get cold makes all the difference in flavors.
So while you do not have to make this recipe days ahead of time, giving the salad an hour or two to chill before serving is a big plus.
Scroll to the bottom for a printable version of this post, including all measurements and instructions, so you can follow along in your kitchen without being on your phone.
These are the ingredients you will need for the actual salad. This recipe is easy to alter so if this is missing your favorite Italian ingredient, do not be afraid to add to it!
- 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 this into an Italian Macaroni Salad.
- mini pepperoni – If you cannot find mini pepperoni, simple 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 Italian homemade dressing. This dressing isn’t a creamy dressing for the mixture but rather one of my favorite recipes for pasta salads that keep 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
What Kind of Cheese to Use
There is a great deal 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.
Substitute for Italian Dressing
The last time I went to the store to make this salad, I had a hard time finding dry Italian dressing and grabbed some Garlic and Herb Dry seasoning (by brand Good Seasons). It’s in a little envelope.
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.
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, hopped tomato, parsley and cheese in a large mixing bowl and mix well.
Prep Homemade Dressing
- In a separate smaller bowl, combine oil, balsamic, dressing, oregano and cheese.
- Mix dressing well and pour onto pasta bowl mixture.
- Mix all ingredients well to evenly coat and season pasta with salt and pepper.
- Let pasta salad set in the fridge for for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so flavors can mingle.
Add 1-2 tablespoons (a bit at a time) of additional olive oil and mix well prior to serving.
The type of pasta used in this dish isn’t that great for a restrictive diet. There is a great deal many pasta substitutes on the market, so feel free to experiment.
Grilled chicken is my favorite for all fresh salads if you have time. It’s flavorful and holds up well against the flavors. If you are in a pinch and need something quick, just purchase a store-bought rotisserie chicken and shred it. Along with the pepperoni already in the pasta, try prosciutto or salami.
All pasta salads should be made ahead of time in my opinion. If prepping for a cookout or party, make the day before, in an airtight container, and then fluff and serve day of. If salad is dry at all (and pasta dishes can get dry) then just stir with a tiny bit of extra dressing or a spritz of olive oil and stir.
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
- Ranch Pasta Salad
- Tuna Pasta Salad
- Bowtie Pesto Pasta
- Greek Salad with Feta
- Italian Panzanella Salad
- Strawberry Caprese Salad
- Cucumber Radish Dill Salad
- Old Fashioned Macaroni Salad
- Pea Pasta Salad
- BLT Pasta Salad
Connect with Us!
Shell Pasta Salad
- 8 ounces shell pasta - cooked, drained and cooled
- 2/3 cup mini pepperoni
- 1/2 cup shaved asiago cheese
- 1/2 cup sliced black olives
- 1 bell pepper - chopped
- 1 large tomato - or 2 small, chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 package dry Italian dressing
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- 1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper
- To begin, boil, drain, and cool your pasta shells prior to salad assembly.
- Add pasta, pepperoni, olives, pepper, tomato, parsley and cheese in a large mixing bowl and mix well.
- In a separate, smaller bowl, combine oil, balsamic, dressing, oregano and cheese.
- Mix dressing ingredients well and pour onto pasta bowl mixture.
- Mix all ingredients evenly coat and season pasta with salt and pepper.
- Let salad set for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so flavors can mingle.
- Or you can refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
- Stir before serving and if necessary or dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of oil and mix well to revitalize the pasta.