The flavors and ingredients of an antipasto platter inspired this pasta salad. Cooled rotini pasta is tossed with a red wine vinaigrette. Then you add lots of tomatoes, beans, banana peppers, fresh mozzarella, kalamata olives, and salami. Chilling the salad a few hours before serving gives the pasta time to absorb all the flavors.
This is the style pasta salad I grew up eating. I think it wasn’t well into adulthood that I tried a mayonnaise-style macaroni salad. When you make a batch, be sure to cool the pasta before tossing it with the vinaigrette. If you use hot pasta, the texture can turn mushy.
Antipasto Pasta Salad Ingredients and Substitutions.
- Rotini Pasta. The corkscrew shape holds onto the dressing. This means the dressing doesn’t pool in the bottom of the bowl. Use regular or tri-color rotini. If you can’t find rotini, mini-shells are a good substitute.
- Red Wine Vinaigrette. Use bottled or homemade red wine vinaigrette. Or your favorite Italian-style dressing.
- Grape tomatoes. This pasta salad is filled with grape tomatoes. Slicing them in half prevents them from bursting when you bite into one.
- Great Northern Beans. Rinse beans before adding them to the salad. Great Northern beans are small and tender. Any white bean works.
- Pearl Mozzarella. These mini fresh mozzarella balls have a delicate flavor and soft texture. Substitute them with either small mozzarella balls (cut those in half) or diced fresh mozzarella. To make cutting fresh mozzarella easier freeze it for about 30 minutes before cutting.
- Banana Peppers. You can add banana pepper rings or chop them. Substitute with pepperoncini.
- Kalamata olives. Use sliced kalamata olives for a briny flavor. Sliced black olives add a milder flavor.
- Red Onion. Red onions onion is slightly milder than yellow onions. But both can be used.
- Salami. A little chopped hard salami is optional. If you’d like to keep this salad meat-free, omit it.
- Herbs. If you’re using bottled dressing, taste the salad after mixing. Add additional basil and oregano as needed.
How to Make Antipasto Pasta Salad.
- Prep the ingredients. Before cooking the pasta, prep all your ingredients. This way, they’re ready to add to the pasta salad.
- Cook the Pasta. What’s a pasta salad without pasta? (Salad, I guess!) Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt it and add the pasta. Cook until tender. You want to cook it past al dente. If the pasta is undercooked in the center, it gets crunchy when cooled.
- Cool the Pasta. This might be the most important step when making pasta salad. After cooking, drain the pasta and immediately rinse it with cold water. This stops the cooking. If you skipped step one and aren’t ready to use your pasta away, toss it with a little oil and spread it on a sheet pan until you’re ready to use.
- Toss the pasta with Dressing. Toss the cooled pasta with the dressing. If the pasta is slightly warm, it absorbs the dressing nicely. You don’t want the pasta to be hot or it will get mushy.
- Add the other ingredients. Stir in the remaining ingredients.
- Taste and adjust. Give the pasta salad a taste. Add additional herbs or black pepper if needed.
- Chill. Pasta salad tastes best after it chills. This gives the pasta time to absorb the flavors. Chill it for a few hours or overnight.
- Add more dressing. After chilling, the pasta absorbs the dressing. If needed, add more dressing.
What’s the Difference Between Antipasto and Pasta Salad?
Antipasto is a first course of an Italian meal. The contents vary by region but it’s usually a platter of cured meats, cheeses, pickled vegetables, and olives.
Pasta salad, as the name implies, is made with cooled pasta and a variety of other ingredients. There’s no one way to make a pasta salad. The origins of cold pasta salad are unclear. However, it’s become a popular American dish.
This recipe was inspired by the pasta salads I ate growing up. My grandparents were all Italian immigrants. And their tables were always full of uniquely Italian-American foods, including pasta salads like this one.
Antipasto Pasta Salad
The flavors and ingredients of an antipasto platter inspired this pasta salad. Cooled rotini pasta is tossed with a red wine vinaigrette. Then add tomatoes, beans, banana peppers, fresh mozzarella, kalamata olives, and salami. It's best to prep all the ingredients before cooking the pasta. This way, you’re ready to stir everything together when the pasta is ready. Plan to chill the pasta salad a few hours before serving. This gives the pasta time to absorb all the flavors.
- 12 ounces tri-color rotini
- 1 cup red wine vinaigrette, bottled or homemade, more as needed
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced
- 1 (15-ounce) can great northern beans, rinsed
- 8 ounces pearl mozzarella
- 4 ounces hard salami, sliced
- ½ cup banana peppers, roughly chopped
- ½ cup sliced kalamata olives
- ½ medium red onion (diced about 1/2 cup)
- fresh or dried basil, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Red Wine Vinaigrette
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously, use about two teaspoons of salt. Cook pasta until tender.
Drain pasta and rinse with cold water until cool. If you’re not ready to make the salad right away, toss the pasta with two tablespoons oil and spread onto a sheet pan.
Toss the pasta with the vinaigrette. Stir gently to combine. Add remaining ingredients. Stir to combine. Taste. Add basil and black pepper to taste.
Cover and chill for two hours or overnight. Before serving, stir the salad. Add more dressing if needed.
To make the Red Wine Vinaigrette
Whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt. This dressing separates. Whisk together right before pouring over pasta.