Ultimate Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is a classic summer recipe, and a must at all potlucks!  This Mediterranean pasta salad has sweet heirloom cherry tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, mild red onions, salty feta crumbles, briny capers, and is tossed in the most amazing homemade red wine vinegar and herb dressing.

Throwing a summer bbq?  Try my Potluck Potato Salad, Freezer Pickles, Brown Sugar Baked Beans, Smoked Ribs, or Coffee-Rubbed Burgers.

Always a crowd-pleaser, this Pasta Salad has won first place in several potluck contests.  Summer vegetables, tender pasta, salty cheese, and a mouthwatering zesty dressing! #pastasalad #potluck #bbq #italian #greek #mediterranean #pasta, #salad #makeaheadrecipe #easyrecipe


Pasta salads are such an iconic summer food… in fact, at just about every cookout this summer, you’ll probably see a bowl of pasta salad.

Everyone loves the complex flavors, and they’re the ultimate thing to BRING to a cookout, because you can make them up ahead of time.

That being said, some pasta salads are… well… pretty boring!  A handful of shredded cheese, mushy pasta, arbitrary vegetable, and some bottled dressing… sound familiar?

Pouring homemade dressing onto pasta salad

I bet it does… we’ve all had it before.  Except pasta salad can actually be amazing when done right!

In fact, several readers have emailed me to let me know that this exact recipe won 1st place in a potluck dish contest!

This is the one pasta salad recipe that you NEED.  It’s mayo-free so you don’t need to worry about it spoiling out in the heat, and the flavors of that homemade dressing are just insane!!


Basic pasta salad has 4 main components; pasta, vegetables, cheese/meat, and dressing.  Here are my tips to truly make the best pasta salad ever!


I prefer short cut pasta for pasta salad, for ease of eating.  For this recipe I usually go with bowtie pasta or rotini, but any short cut variety will do.

I’ve seen pasta salad made with longer pasta noodles, like linguine, but I find it’s harder to serve and eat that way.


Vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers are in season during the summer months, so they’ll likely be fresh and beautiful.  I love to add some red onion to the dish as well, to add a sharp savory flavor.

If you don’t like the bite of raw red onion, you can soak the red onion slices in cold water for 10-15 minutes, and then drain well.  This will tame the flavor considerably.


This recipe is a vegetarian one, but you could easily add some sliced pepperoni or salami to bump up the protein.

I love to add a bold cheese to really pump up the flavor!  Feta, Parmesan, sharp cheddar, etc.


I know it may seem like an unnecessary step, since a bottle of Italian dressing is so convenient, but homemade truly is the way to go.

Making a dressing takes just minutes, and I promise you, tastes 100x better than anything from a bottle.

Ingredients for pasta salad in bowl


  • THE PASTA – cook the pasta JUST to al dente, possibly even a little shy of al dente if you like more of a bite to your pasta.  Mushy pasta doesn’t make for a very appetizing pasta salad.
  • THE DRESSING – looking for a great marinade for chicken or pork?  The dressing for this salad is PERFECT as a marinade!


  • PROTEIN – to make this pasta salad recipe non-vegetarian, try adding some mini slices of pepperoni, or salami!
  • DIFFERENT CHEESES – instead of Feta, try using some shredded Parmesan, tiny cubes of cheddar, etc.
  • DIFFERENT VEGGIES – zucchini, olives, bell peppers, etc are great additions to this pasta salad.  Use what’s looking fresh and amazing at the store!
  • CREAMY – whisk a few tablespoons of mayonnaise into your homemade dressing to make this a creamier pasta salad.

Serving pasta salad from bowl


Pasta salad recipes are the most popular thing to bring to a party or potluck.  Not only are they always a favorite, they’re also the perfect make-ahead recipe!

In fact, this recipe tastes BETTER if made ahead of time.  I usually make mine 4-6 hours before eating it, but 1-2 days ahead works just as well.

Pro Tip: Make a little extra dressing and toss the made ahead pasta salad with it before serving.  It will make the salad taste freshly made and prevent any dryness.


Leftovers should be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

I love to add some leftover grilled chicken (or shredded rotisserie chicken – whatever you have on hand) to the leftover pasta salad for an easy lunch idea!



Recipe originally published in 2016 and has been updated in 2020 with additional information

Always a crowd-pleaser, this pasta salad has won first place in several potluck contests.  Summer vegetables, tender pasta, salty cheese, and a mouthwatering zesty dressing! #pastasalad #potluck #bbq #italian #greek #mediterranean #pasta, #salad #makeaheadrecipe #easyrecipe

Best Potluck Pasta Salad

Homemade pasta salad that's perfect for any potluck or backyard bbq!
5 from 21 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Servings 8 -10 servings
Calories 263



  • 1 box uncooked short-cut pasta (I used farfalle - but rotini or penne work as well), 16oz
  • 2/3 cup sliced red onions
  • 1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes - halved (regular cherry or grape tomatoes work as well)
  • 1 cup diced cucumbers
  • 1/4 cup pickled capers - jarred
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese


  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 1/2 tsp lemon juice - freshly squeezed if possible
  • 2 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp fresh minced oregano
  • 2 tsp fresh minced parsley
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper - to taste


  • Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil over HIGH heat. Salt the water with about a tablespoon of salt. Add pasta and cook until just al dente (according to package instructions).
  • Drain pasta and toss with a light drizzle of olive oil. Set aside to cool slightly.
  • While pasta is cooling, chop tomatoes, cucumber, and red onion. Set aside in a large mixing bowl and add capers to the bowl.
  • Add dressing ingredients, except for olive oil, to a bowl and whisk to combine. While whisking, slowly pour in the olive oil, and continue whisking until completely combined. Taste and adjust salt and pepper accordingly.
  • Add the cooked pasta and crumbled feta cheese to the large bowl with the vegetables. Pour dressing over the top and toss to combine.
  • Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours, up to 2 days.
  • Serve cold or at room temperature, and enjoy!



For best flavor, if making more than several hours ahead of time, make extra of the dressing and toss 1/4 cup of the extra dressing with the pasta before serving.
Author The Chunky Chef
Tried this recipe?Mention @the_chunky_chef or tag #thechunkychef!





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Recipe Rating

44 comments on “Ultimate Pasta Salad”

  1. The party is Saturday. Can I make my pasta salad today, Wednesday?

  2. Really like how you explain the recipe. Love to cook and you people really help me do that now I don’t suck at cooking. Thank you

  3. This is so delicious ! I had to make this twice in one day because it was that good . I made it once for a birthday party and then my husband asked me to make it for dinner . I actually enjoyed it sitting overnight in the fridge and right off the stove warm the same. So good ! I just added some chili flakes for some heat
    Thank you for this yummy recipe 

  4. I love everything about this salad! So good and delish!

  5. I love your recipes. I have yet to find one that isn’t delicious. Thank you so much. Hugs, Jenny

  6. This is a summertime staple in my home! Love the balance of flavors; can’t wait to enjoy this all season long!

  7. This will be a sure hit at my house!! Looks so refreshing!

  8. I LOVE pasta salad! This looks incredibly delicious!!!

  9. These Pasta salads are mouth watering!

  10. This looks so delicious and I love all the colors! It’s wonderful! Thanks!

  11. I’m Just new to your site, and the recipes look great. A nice rounded grouping of everything.
    Just wondering though if you ever provide the complete nutritional information for the recipes. My husband is on a restricted sodium diet, so I have to be careful about that. It’s not just a matter of leaving out the salt in a recipe, as many natural foods ie: celery, tomatoes, asparagus etc., so that is part of the total sodium count. I use no salt canned tomatoes, kidney beans etc. so that helps lower the sodium when regular cans are called for, but this sodium thing is tricky.

    Thankyou for putting forward such a great web site for all of us to enjoy !!!

    • Restricted diets are definitely tricky, however as I’m not a nutritionist, I don’t provide full nutritional information for my recipes (wouldn’t want to potentially and unknowingly pass along incorrect information). Your best bet would be to copy the ingredients into your favorite online nutritional calculator.

  12. Winner, winner! I added roasted red peppers and kalamata olives. Used a shaker bottle (with a shaker ball and screw on/off lid). EVERYBODY loved this!

  13. EVERYBODY LOVED THIS! I took liberty of adding red peppers (once fresh, and once roasted) and kalamata olives. These additions took it over the top! I followed dressing directions to a tee…put all ingredients in a blender bottle with a shaker ball (for protein shakes). It blended, stores, travels, and serves easily. I’ve already shared this recipe with a dozen people! Thanks for a keeper!

  14. Thank you for this. My kids loved it! I added some veggies and Mr. Bingham seasoning and it turned out delicious. 

  15. Yummy, the salad dressing is splendid! 

  16. Made this for a pig pickin and it was a huge hit! Will make this again and again!

  17. I made this pasta salad for a pig picking, and it was the hit of the party! A keeper!!!

  18. This is such a great pasta salad!

  19. This is so picture-perfect! YUM!!! I love this delicious version!!!

  20. Looks fabulous! Those combinations of flavors are amazing and so easy to make, looking forward to trying this!

  21. My kinda Salad! this looks delicious!

  22. Such a great pasta salad!! I love the flavors!!

  23. Everyone needs a good, go-to pasta dish. I bet I make a different pasta dish that we eat at dinner and supper every week during the summer. I’ll have to add this to the list!

  24. The salad looks like a really yummy recipe! Anything pasta salad is a WIN in my life. 🙂

  25. Love pasta salad! I’ve never added bell peppers; that’s a great idea!

  26. What a great recipe for pasta salad! This will be perfect for our annual football party!

  27. Mmm, this looks delicious! All of the veggies mixed in are a great, flavorful touch. Can’t wait to try this! Thanks so much for sharing the recipe!

  28. This salad looks like it’s packed full of flavor! I’m making it for our next picnic! Delicious!

  29. I am weirdly not a feta fan.. but I would substitute parmesan cheese and dig in!!

  30. I could eat this Mediterranean Pasta Salad all day!

  31. I love salads like this! You can have them with dinner and then you have lunch all week!

  32. Microwaved scrambled eggs? 😀 I didn’t know that could even be done! And this looks sooo much better than the typical pasta salad!

  33. Totally making this salad this summer! Yum!

  34. The colors of this salad are absolutely gorgeous.