Heather is happiest when taking a beautiful photo, creating something in her kitchen, or elbows-deep in a DIY project.
Pasta Salad With Italian Dressing
Growing up, I didn't quite care for cold pasta salad with Italian dressing. I think it might have been the olives that turned me off. However, sometime during my college years, I had such a love affair with Italian pasta salad. I was working part-time at a popular bakery chain, and their cold pasta salads were to die for (they still are).
Long after I graduated college and no longer worked at the bakery, I would crave cold Italian pasta salad. I tried replicating the salad at home and came pretty close to perfection. My husband doesn't like black olives OR tomatoes, so over the years my cold pasta salad recipes have definitely evolved.
A Year-Round Favorite Recipe
To create this recipe, I use pastas and fresh vegetables that we both love as well as our favorite mayonnaise and Italian salad dressing. This recipe is such a staple in my home and has been a lifesaver time and time again. The ingredients are easy to come by and always in my kitchen. I also love to prepare things a day ahead when possible—especially this recipe because it tastes the best when chilled overnight.
This dish couldn't get any easier or more delicious. I make this dish all year long, but it truly hits the spot during the hot summer months. While my mom's classic tuna fish and elbow macaroni salad is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods, this pasta salad definitely makes it to the list as well.
What Kind of Pasta Should I Use?
Most Italian pasta salads are prepared using tri-color rotini pasta. I like to use whatever pasta I have on hand. Oftentimes, I enjoy mixing two different kinds of pasta together to give my finished dish more variety in both appearance and taste.
One of my favorite kinds of pasta is farfalle pasta. Farfalle, pronounced far-FALL-lay, means "Butterfly" in Italian. It is also commonly called "bow-tie pasta." I always use the Barilla brand of farfalle (Barilla number 65), and I also love to use mini farfalle (Barilla number 364) in soup recipes.
Zucchini and Spinach Rotini
For this recipe, I mixed two Barilla pastas together: spinach zucchini rotini and farfalle. The spinach and zucchini rotini pasta does not have a Barilla pasta number on the box like the others do, but the box is easy to spot as long as your grocery store carries it.
I like mixing these two pastas together because the veggie blend rotini gives my pasta salads more flavor and also adds extra color. The Barilla veggie pastas also contain a full serving of vegetables per a 3.5-ounce portion. I used half of a one-pound box of farfalle and a little more than half of a box of the veggie blend rotini (the latter box is only 12 ounces instead of a full pound). To get a full 16 ounces of pasta for this dish, you may have to eyeball it like I usually do.
What Is Queso Fresco?
Queso fresco, or "fresh sheese" in Spanish, is one of my favorite kinds of cheese. It is a soft Mexican cheese, traditionally served shredded and melted atop warm entrees. It is made from fresh cow milk or a combination of both cow and goat milk. It's light and mild, which makes it perfect for pairing with summer vegetables and salads—like this cold pasta salad recipe.
I love to snack on it as is, and I'm always looking for new ways to incorporate queso fresco into my favorite dishes. My favorite brand is made by El Mexicano, and it runs between $3.00–$4.00 for a 10-ounce wheel at my local grocery store.
- 1 cup Italian salad dressing
- 1 small cucumber, quartered and sliced
- 5 ounces queso fresco, cut into cubes
- 2 carrots, shredded
- 16 ounces pasta
- 1/4 cup Miracle Whip
- 1 tablespoon minced onion
- 1 teaspoon parsley flakes
- Boil pasta in salted water per directions on box. (Skip to step two while waiting for water to boil and also while waiting for pasta to cook.) Drain pasta thoroughly.
- Wash and prepare vegetables. Peel, quarter, and slice cucumbers. Peel and shred carrots. Dice cheese into small cubes.
- In glass or metal bowl with lid, combine cooked pasta, Italian dressing, and Miracle Whip. Stir until pasta is evenly coated.
- Add parsley and onion to pasta and stir until seasonings are evenly distributed.
- Add shredded carrots and then cucumbers, stirring well between each new addition. Add cheese last, gently folding in.
- Place lid on bowl and refrigerate for approximately 3 hours before serving.
Rate This Recipe!
Making a Good Salad Great
It's true that adding the ingredients in the order listed in any given recipe's instructions can make or break a dish. While there isn't a lot of science behind this dish and it's quite easy to prepare, adding the ingredients in the order I listed will make life much easier, I promise. Find out why in the following tips.
Tips for Making a Great Pasta Salad
- Prep time for this dish can go quickly if you properly utilize the time it takes the water to boil and the time needed to cook the pasta. I like to do my vegetable and cheese prep during that time.
- Using a glass or metal bowl for this dish is a good idea because plastic containers can retain oils (like those in the salad dressing), making them useless for preparing other dishes (such as whipping creams and meringues). I like to use a stainless steel bowl with a cover because the bowl gets very cold in the refrigerator (and it won't hang on to any lingering oil residues).
- For all of my cold pasta salads, I use my favorite Italian dressing, which is Zesty Italian "Anything Dressing" by Kraft. While traditional recipes call for oil and vinegar, this is a quick and easy way to get the same effect and flavor while adding other flavors as well.
- While I love to mix pasta flavors and shapes, it's important to pay attention to the cook times as they can vary. For example, the veggie blend rotini is ready in about 8 minutes while the farfalle takes a full 12 minutes. Only boil together for the full time if both pastas require the same boil times. Otherwise, one of your pastas may get OVERcooked.
- Use fresh onion if you have it, but minced onion works great, too. After chilling for 3 or more hours, the minced onion will come back to life and look like freshly cut onions thanks to all of the wet ingredients in this dish.
- To ensure the pasta is evenly coated with the pasta salad dressing, add it first. Stir and stir until there aren't any secret pockets of dressing or mayo. The Italian dressing and Miracle Whip mix nicely together and easily coat the pasta when it is still just a little bit warm and when they don't have to compete with the other larger ingredients.
- To ensure the spices are evenly distributed throughout the entire pasta, add those second and stir well.
- Since the vegetables and cheese (especially) are a little more fragile, add those later since they don't require a lot of mixing.
- If I'm making this pasta in a hurry and need it ready in time for dinner, my very first step will be putting the bowl in the frig. A cold bowl will help my pasta and other non-cold ingredients cool down more quickly.
- This pasta dish needs at least 3 hours to fully chill, but longer if possible. I like to do mine the night before so the flavors can fully come together.
Adjusting the Taste
- Taste test a spoonful before refrigerating to see if anything tastes off and adjust as necessary.
- Taste test a spoonful before serving. Sometimes my salad may need a little more Italian dressing or a little more Miracle Whip after chilling.
This is one of my favorite ways to prepare and eat pasta—especially if I have plain leftover pasta from other meals. This dish is easy to customize and easy to fall in love with. Adding different vegetable and cheese combinations will yield a new and different dish each time. Have fun coming up with your own recipes and starting your own comfort food traditions. What vegetables would you put in your pasta salad?
Lana Adler from California on October 20, 2015:
Beautiful hub! I'm especially impressed with your cover image. Gorgeous!
Barbara Purvis Hunter from Florida on October 20, 2015:
I am grocery shopping tomorrow to make a pasta salad---it looks so good. The last pasta salad I made I added some black eyed peas with corn for a change and it was good.
Keep sharing your great recipes and I will keep trying them.
Have a great week.
I am sharing this one.
OSBERT JOEL C from CHENNAI on October 20, 2015:
Congrats on HOTD. Well presented.
Ana Maria Orantes from Miami Florida on October 20, 2015:
Congratulations miss Heather. I like your hub. I am looking foward for the delicious dinner; I am going to have in the future when I try your recipy.Have a wondergul day. Thank you for sharing your hub.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 20, 2015:
Congratulations for HOTD!
Your recipe is very well presented with clear instructions and pictures. The combination of ingredients is interesting and I would love to try this one.
Thank you for sharing!
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on October 20, 2015:
Congrats on HOTD, Heather, since I've read this hub awhile ago.
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on March 04, 2015:
Great recipe. Perfect for a spring salad. I would love to try this someday soon this spring season. Voted up!
Vivian Sudhir from Madurai, India on June 22, 2014:
Lovely recipe, makes me hungry. Nice article.
thefedorows from the Midwest on April 08, 2014:
Your pictures are beautiful! What a great hub!
Heather (author) from Arizona on February 09, 2014:
@VVanNess-- Thanks for the great comment! The whole process definitely isn't as quick as I would like it to be on some days, but I do enjoy every minute of it. I'm glad you enjoyed this Hub. On a similar journey, I started adding shredded carrot to everything, putting apples in my salads, and drinking two fresh fruit and Ensure smoothies a day. Thanks again :)
Victoria Van Ness from Fountain, CO on February 07, 2014:
You must spend a great deal of time and care working on your recipes. I love this very fresh salad. Trying to get pregnant, I've been looking for new creative ways to eat my fruits and veggies. This looks so delicious! Thank you for the amazing recipe!
Heather (author) from Arizona on February 07, 2014:
@pstraubie48-- Thanks so much for stopping by and reading. I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do :)
@samikan-- Thanks for visiting and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed this Hub :)
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on January 27, 2014:
O, my, this looks so yummy. Lots of texture and amazing flavors too ...who could ask for more ?? Bookmarking to give this a try.
angels are on the way to you this morning. ps
samikan from online on January 26, 2014:
Great hub and amazing looking pasta, Great recipe ! I loved it. Lovely sharing .
Heather (author) from Arizona on January 24, 2014:
@CrisSp-- Thanks so much for sharing this recipe. I'm glad you stopped by and enjoyed this Hub! You'll have to stop back by and let me know how you liked the salad :)
@Christy Kirwan-- Aw, Thanks so much! I appreciate you taking time during your busy day to stop over and say so! Thanks again :)
CrisSp from Sky Is The Limit Adventure on January 20, 2014:
Great hub, great recipe! I am noting down all the ingredients now. :) Bookmarking and sharing.
Christy Kirwan from San Francisco on January 20, 2014:
Another winner, Heather! This looks absolutely scrumptious.
Heather (author) from Arizona on January 19, 2014:
@MsDora-- I love raw carrots in just about any dish. Thanks for stopping by and commenting today :)
@randomcreative-- Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed this Hub :)
@rebekahELLE-- Thanks for stopping by and sharing such a great comment. You always make my day! You'll have to let me know how you like it someday :)
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 19, 2014:
Another interesting recipe. The raw carrots is the redeeming item for me. Thank you for sharing.
Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on January 18, 2014:
This salad looks so delicious and refreshing! I agree that it's better without olives. Love all of your tips for making pasta salad. Thanks for sharing. :)
rebekahELLE from Tampa Bay on January 17, 2014:
Another addition to my recipe file from Heather Says. Sounds and looks amazing. I love this kind of food for lunch or to take to a potluck. Everyone loves a great, healthy salad. The care and attention to detail that you take in each of your hubs says so much about you as a person. Thanks for sharing your talent here at HP!
Heather (author) from Arizona on January 17, 2014:
@Glimmer Twin Fan-- Thanks for the visit and kind comments. I hope you can give this recipe a try. You'll have to let me know how it goes. Queso Fresco is amazing- I could eat it all day long. Thanks again :)
@Geniusknight-- Thanks for stopping by and commenting today. You'll have to come back and let me know how you liked it. A very Happy New Year to you as well :)
@Melinda Longoria-- Thanks for stopping by and sharing. Now I'm hungry thinking about tacos with queso fresco... :D You'll have to come back and let me know how you liked it. Thanks again :)
Heather (author) from Arizona on January 17, 2014:
@Patty Inglish-- Thanks so much for stopping by and the kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed this Hub :)
@purl3agony-- Thanks for the visit and comment. Adding cucumber freshens almost any dish up and I'm addicted to adding shredded carrots to anything I can. Thanks again :)
@Crystal Tatum-- Thanks for stopping by. I love adding cucumbers to tons of recipes or just snacking on slices. I'm glad you enjoyed this Hub. Thanks for the pin and share too :)
Claudia Mitchell on January 17, 2014:
I love salads like this Heather, any time of year. I really like your twist of the queso fresco. My daughter likes that cheese, and it's something I'm not familiar with. It just may get her to try this salad. Great photos and layout of the recipe too. Pinned for later use!
Nell from Netherlands on January 17, 2014:
Omg this is super delicious ! :) I am loving it.
Amazingly and deliciously presented makes me eat the whole hub. haha :D
Going to make them on Vday ! :D
Wish you a happy New Year ! :) Here a greeting http://bit.ly/18YXa61
Melinda Longoria MSM from Garland, Texas on January 17, 2014:
I would love this recipe! I'm always looking for ways to use queso fresco because we have a lot left over after tacos are served. Cucumbers are a great addition too! Thanks for sharing. Will have to make this one for sure.
Patty Inglish MS from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 17, 2014:
Delicious recipe and a perfect-looking Hub! Rated Up and several more.
Donna Herron from USA on January 17, 2014:
Great recipe! I love pasta salad - it's one of those things that actually tastes better the day *after* you make it. I've never thought to add some of the ingredients you mention here. Will have to give them a try! Thanks!!
Crystal Tatum from Georgia on January 16, 2014:
Great recipe. I never would have thought of cucumbers. Pinning and sharing.