This easy Antipasto Pasta Salad is loaded with flavor offering different textures along with several variations of acidity which brighten the dish along with the palate. Paired with my simple vinaigrette, it’s a hearty salad that’s a meal in itself.
Cookouts are full with giant bowls of pasta salad for 2 reasons: first they are easy to make and can be made ahead, and second because there are so many variations, the possibilities are endless. Sometimes there is more pasta than salad resulting in a flavorless side. This Antipasto Pasta Salad has ½ pound of pasta and loads of tasty ingredients including briny flavorful olives, pepperoncini, mozzarella, and salami. It’s all coated with a simple dressing of oil and vinegar with a little salt and pepper – a true Italian dressing. People will actually want to eat this pasta salad whereas many run from them.
The pasta used is important. Although the pasta is cooked “al dente” – having a bite – it will soften the longer it sits in a dressing. Makes sense, right? Using a farfalle pasta is a good choice because the middle is bunched up to form the shape making it a hefty stronger pasta. Rotini is a good choice for most pasta salads because it has the spiral rings which grabs and holds the dressing. If using, cook a little under al dente otherwise it will be a little too fragile for this salad. Choose a pasta that can stand up to a hearty dish such as this one.
Another recommended pasta is ricotta cavatelli. First, it’s made with cheese which is simply awesome because it adds flavor. Second, it can hold its own in a dressing. You can find it in the frozen section of the market. You can buy it fresh at some markets but the frozen is more readily available.
Whichever pasta you use, do not overcook it. The big mistake people make when making pasta is cooking it too long resulting in a soft noodle which is good for nothing. I describe the proper way in my How To Cook Pasta post.
Using fresh baby spinach is perfect. You may feel the texture and volume it contributes will be too much, but once it is mixed with the other ingredients, it will wilt and be perfect.
Italian or Greek olives are added as they are readily available. I like to purchase pitted Kalamata olives whenever I can eliminating the need for awkwardly removing them when eating, or worse, biting into a pit. Use whichever is your favorite but use an olive that is soaking in brine and not the canned black ones which are not recommended for this dish.
Pepperoncini – whether whole, sliced, or chopped – is a must to brighten flavor and awaken your palate. The acid it contributes is a must.
I buy fresh mozzarella and chop them or slice them in good size pieces. I love the soft texture and mild flavor it brings. The brine from the olives and pepperoncini gets absorb in the sponge-like texture of the cheese and makes it wonderful. If you don’t have or want mozzarella, use provolone which is another favorite of mine. Heck, use both!
If you are lucky enough to have cherry or grape tomatoes growing in your garden then use them. I prefer cherry or grape tomatoes for two reasons. One, they don’t have to be sliced, rather thrown in with the rest of ingredients. Two, since they aren’t sliced, they won’t break down in the salad and creating excess liquid. Not very appealing when the tomatoes break into pieces and separate from their skins.
Marinated artichokes are another contributor to adding flavor because they’re in an acidic herbed marinade. When using, drain the artichokes or use a fork to remove from jar. The marinade clinging to the artichoke only adds more flavor to the salad. Roughly chop them. Save that marinade in the jar and use to coat roasted vegetables or salads.
Salami has always been one of my favorite deli meats. When I buy it, I have it sliced very thin – almost shredded. With the salami sliced thin, it melts into the dish bringing flavor without the bulky or stringy texture. I roughly chop the thin slices then toss it in the salad.
The best pasta salad I’ve ever had was at a potluck gathering at an Italian function hall. All the food was fresh and made from scratch. I had some pasta salad and couldn’t stop eating it. I shouldn’t have been surprised that the dressing was simply good olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. In fact, that is a true Italian dressing. Depending on the Italian making the dressing, sometimes pepper isn’t added. You can check out my Americanized Italian Dressing post for another version of “Italian” dressing.
Give this Antipasto Pasta Salad a try at your next gathering and enjoy the combination of flavors and different textures. It’s definitely not a boring pasta salad.
- ½ pound farfalle, plain or ricotta cavatelli, or pasta of choice, cooked al dente
- ½ pound fresh baby spinach
- ½ cup pitted Kalamata or Italian olives, whole or chopped
- ½ cup mild or hot pepperoncini (about 10), seeded and sliced
- ½ pound fresh mozzarella or provolone, cubed
- 1 pint sweet cherry or grape tomatoes
- 1(6 ounce) jar marinated artichokes, drained and chopped
- ¼ pound thinly sliced Genoa salami, roughly chopped
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt, or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon pepper, optional
- Combine all the salad ingredients in large bowl.
- Whisk dressing ingredients together and add enough to cover salad. Toss to combine.
- Can be served right away or be made ahead. If making ahead, you can place the dressing on the bottle of serving bowl and layer ingredients on top with the pasta and spinach being the last ones to add. That will prevent the spinach from wilting and the pasta from getting too soft.
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