Gluten-Free Zesty Italian Pasta Salad is the meal prep recipe that keeps on giving. It makes enough to feed six, doesn’t need to be reheated to be enjoyed, and only gets better with time. We’ve packed it full of veggies and flavorful bits of salami to keep every bite interesting and the homemade Italian dressing is a gamechanger if we do say so ourselves.
Potluck not required
If you think you need an invite to a potluck or party as an excuse to make this gluten-free Zesty Italian Pasta Salad, then think again! Sure, it’s great for parties, potlucks, and meal trains but it’s also a great low-cook, light summer meal. It’s packed with veggies for flavor, vitamins, and crunch and studded with peppery salami and mild mozzarella cheese for fat and protein to keep you satisfied and it has the most amazing homemade Italian dressing made almost entirely with pantry staples. So go ahead, keep the cooking to a minimum and make this pasta salad instead.
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Zesty Italian Pasta Salad Ingredients
For the Salad:
- Pasta – You can use any type of pasta, in any shape for this salad. We like this gluten-free pasta from Thrive Market because it stays soft when chilled.
- Bell pepper – Any color will work so use what you like best or what you have on hand. Jarred roasted red bell pepper will also work.
- Cherry or Grape tomatoes – Sun-dried tomatoes in oil (or dehydrated sun-dried tomatoes that have been soaked and drained) would also work if fresh tomatoes aren’t available.
- Zucchini or Yellow squash – No need to peel the squash before dicing, leaving the skin intact adds color and flavor. Cucumber can be used in a pinch.
- Red onion – No red onion? Opt for a shallot, sliced green onions, or a yellow onion instead.
- Hard salami – Any hard salami will work so use the one you like best. This can also be left out for a vegetarian option.
- Fresh mozzarella – We used small, cherry-sized balls of fresh mozzarella (or ‘ciliegine’ size) but you can use any size and cut it into bite-sized pieces. If you don’t have fresh mozzarella, you can substitute cubed part-skim mozzarella.
- Chopped Parsley – Fresh parsley gives the dish a bright and slightly peppery taste but you can leave it out if you don’t have any on hand.
- Fresh Basil – You could substitute a pinch of dried basil for fresh but it won’t have quite the same effect (Got leftover fresh basil? Make our Dairy-Free Basil Walnut Pesto – it’s freezer-friendly!)
For the Dressing:
- Olive oil – Because the oil is the star of the dressing, use the best quality oil you can source. We’re big fans of this olive oil made with a delicious blend of Tunisian and Spanish olives.
- Apple cider vinegar – May substitute red wine vinegar or even white vinegar.
- Lemon juice – Freshly squeezed lemon juice is the way to go but bottled lemon juice will work in a pinch if it means saving you a trip to the store.
- Dried Italian seasoning – One of our most favorite shortcuts ever – many spices in one bottle.
- Dijon mustard – Dijon mustard lends the dressing a zippy little punch while also working as an emulsifier
- Garlic – ½ tsp garlic powder can be used in place of fresh garlic
- Salt and Pepper
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How to Make Zesty Italian Pasta Salad
- Step 1: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta to al dente (usually 9-11 minutes depending on the pasta you are using). Remove pasta from heat, drain, rinse well, and set aside to cool.
- Step 2: While the pasta cooks, slice and dice the veggies, salami, mozzarella, and herbs according to the recipe. Transfer everything to a large bowl and set aside.
- Step 3: Make the home Italian dressing as directed in the recipe (more details on that below).
- Step 4: Add drained and cooled pasta to the bowl with the veggies, salami, and cheese. Pour dressing over the pasta mixture and gently toss to combine.
How to Make Homemade Italian Dressing
- Step 1: Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid (or a small bowl) and shake or whisk well to combine.
- You can also blend the dressing ingredients for a more emulsified dressing that won’t separate when chilled if you plan to make this dish ahead or just want some really great Italian dressing on-hand in the fridge for another day
- Step 2: Store any unused dressing in a jar or other container with a tight-fitting lid for up to 1 week.
- Step 3: Enjoy it on your next salad or use it as a marinade for chicken, pork, or beef.
Wondering how to choose high-quality red meat? Check out this post to help you cut through the confusion when it comes to terms on package labels and choose the best quality for your budget.
Tips for Prepping Ahead
If you plan to eat this pasta salad within 2 days, feel free to prepare it as directed. The basil will lose its color after a day or so and the salami will get a little softer but it’s not a deal-breaker if serve-and-enjoy convenience is what you’re after or you want to pack this Zesty Italian Pasta Salad for lunch.
However, if you’re just looking to do a little work up front to make assembly nearly effortless later in the week, then here are a few of our suggestions for doing so.
- Make the pasta up to 2 days in advance. Toss with a bit of olive oil before storing in the fridge until ready to use
- Prep the bell pepper, onion, and zucchini up to 3 days in advance and store in a covered container in the fridge.
- Slice salami and halve mozzarella balls (or cut into bite-sized pieces) up to 3 days in advance and store separately in the fridge until ready to use.
- Prepare the homemade Italian dressing and store for up to 1 week in the fridge in a jar with a lid.
- Chop the parsley and store in a container with lid for up to 3 days. Wait until you’re ready to combine the salad and dressing before chopping the fresh basil to keep it from turning brown.
How to Store Zesty Italian Pasta Salad
No matter what you choose to use to store your pasta salad, you’ll want to be sure it’s a container that won’t leak and that you can seal or put a lid on. Here are a few of our favorites for storing food:
- Glass meal prep containers – Divided containers with 2 compartments are great if you want to include a portion of salad plus a side of protein or fruit.
- Jars with lids – Mason jars are great for portioning out salads and they make your fridge look Pinterest-worthy. We love these reusable plastic jar lids for everything you can put in a jar. And for dressings and sauces, these flip-top lids are a must-have!
- Silicone bags – The great thing about silicone bags is that they can be re-used, are dishwasher-safe and don’t absorb odors. We LOVE these stand-up bags from Stasher for their 56-ounce capacity and the fact that they stand up minimizing any risk of leakage.
Looking for guidance with meal planning? Check out Real Plans, a highly customizable online meal planning service that includes over 300 of our very own recipes.
Other Healthy Pasta Salad Recipes You’ll Love
Stay tuned for more healthy pasta salad recipes coming to the blog this week!
In the meantime, why not check out these other grain-based salad recipes?
For the Salad:
- 8 ounces pasta of choice, cooked al dente and drained
- 1 medium yellow bell pepper, diced small
- 1 pint (10-11 ounces) cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 medium zucchini, diced small
- ½ small red onion, very thinly sliced
- 3 ounces hard salami, cut into matchsticks
- 6 ounces fresh mozzarella*, cubed (or halved if using ‘ciliegine’ size)
- ½ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1 small bunch fresh basil, chopped or finely sliced
- ½ cup sliced pepperoncini peppers (optional)
For the Dressing:
- ½ cup olive oil
- 3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- Juice ½ lemon, ~1 Tbsp.
- 1 ½ tsp. dried Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ½ tsp. salt + more to taste
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- ½ tsp. honey (optional)
*Omit for dairy-free and replace with additional veggies, as desired
- Serving Size: 1 ⅔ cups
- Calories: 405
- Sugar: 2g
- Sodium: 385mg
- Fat: 23g
- Saturated Fat: 7g
- Carbohydrates: 41g
- Fiber: 4g
- Protein: 15g
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About Jessica Beacom
Jessica is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist living in Boulder, CO with her hubby and two daughters. She’s been described as a ‘real food evangelist’ and loves sharing her knowledge with others to help them break free of the diet mentality and find their own food freedom. In her spare time she enjoys CrossFit, telemark skiing, mountain biking, teaching herself how to play the banjo and camping out under the stars.