When it comes to pasta salad, the sky’s the limit as to the variety of flavors and ingredients that you can add, but when you’re not eating gluten and dairy, most pasta salads are off limits. Not anymore! This Italian Pasta Salad is gluten free and dairy free, but trust me (no, trust my husband who ate 3 bowls worth after I was finished photographing it!) when I say you won’t feel deprived after eating this salad.
Growing up in the Midwest, potlucks were a big part of life and there was ALWAYS some sort of pasta salad on the table. It was probably actually called “macaroni salad” because that was the pasta shape of choice for most people when I was growing up. And it was definitely drowning in mayonnaise and probably had ham, peas and shredded cheddar cheese mixed in as well. That was the most common pasta salad I remember as a kid.
Now, as our palates have expanded, and as grocery store shelves have more and more options of pasta shapes, pasta salads come in all shapes and sizes (or rather, in all flavors and varieties).
I think the thing (no, two things) I love most about pasta salad are…
- It’s a great type of salad to make for entertaining or even traveling because you can make it ahead, and the flavor gets even better as it chills for a while.
- You can basically put anything you want in a pasta salad. You can’t really “break” a pasta salad recipe, which means you can truly make it your own so that it tastes exactly how you want it to.
What special ingredients are in this Italian Pasta Salad?
Most of the ingredients in this Italian Pasta Salad are very common, but there are couple of ingredients that I want to call out so you know what you’re looking for.
Marinated Artichoke Hearts
Artichokes are a very common ingredient in Mediterranean cooking, but when it comes to cooking fresh artichokes, it takes a bit of time and skill. The great thing is that there are frozen, canned, and jarred versions of artichokes, making it much easier to incorporate artichokes in our cooking!
While frozen and canned artichokes work fine, I prefer to use marinated artichokes for salads. They tend to have a prettier color, and I like the flavor better, especially compared to canned artichokes. There are several brand options when it comes to marinated artichoke hearts.
Here is a photo of the brand I used in this salad.
Salami is a very common ingredient in an Italian pasta salad, and I definitely wanted to add salami to this salad. Salami is very easy to find, however, I recommend that you look for an “uncured” salami to use in this salad. This will mean there are no added nitrates or nitrites, and that makes it much healthier.
Here is a photo of the salami I used in this salad
Can pasta salad be made the day ahead?
Yes, this Italian Pasta Salad can be made the day ahead, and, in fact, making the salad at least several hours before you plan to serve it can help the flavors develop.
Because some of the ingredients will start to lose a bit of color the longer the salad is stored, I recommend serving the salad within 24 hours of making it. But, if you’re not worried about the color of the ingredients, you can store the salad in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
If you plan to make the salad ahead, don’t stir in the basil, parsley or pine nuts right away. The herbs will darken in the refrigerator and the pine nuts will soften. Stir those ingredients in just before serving.
How long can this salad set at a potluck and still be safe to eat?
Technically, this salad can set at room temperature for up to 2 hours before it is no longer considered safe to eat. However, harmful bacteria that can make you sick will develop more quickly if the salad warms up more quickly.
So, if the potluck is outside or you’re at an outdoor picnic or tailgate on a really hot day, the timing changes. The USDA recommends food be discarded after sitting out for more than 1 hour if it’s setting in a temperature of 90°F or higher.
Also, once the salad has been setting at room temperature for 2 hours, it needs to be thrown away. The salad will not cool back down quickly enough if put back in the refrigerator after setting out 2 hours.
This Italian Pasta Salad is going to be my new go-to salad to take to potlucks, parties, and tailgates. In fact, I’m making it again tonight for a tailgate tomorrow! Leave a comment below and tell me what you’d like to make this salad for.
Italian Pasta Salad
- 1/3 cup slivered red onion
- ¼ cup white wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
- 8 ounces gluten free rotini or other short pasta
- 1 medium red sweet pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- ¾ cup jarred, marinated quartered artichoke hearts, drained
- 4 ounces thinly sliced uncured salami, chopped
- ½ cup drained pitted green and/or kalamata olives, sliced
- 1 tablespoon olive juice (from either the green or kalamata olives)
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ cup chopped fresh basil and/or Italian (flat-leaparsley
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted (optional)
- In a medium bowl combine red onion, vinegar, and salt. Press down on the onions to make sure all are covered by the vinegar. Cover; let stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes or chill in the refrigerator up to 3 days.
- Meanwhile, cook rotini in boiling salted water until rotini is to desired doneness. Drain rotini; rinse with cold water to cool the pasta quickly. Drain well.
- In a large bowl combine drained pasta, the sweet pepper, tomatoes, artichokes, salami and olives (but not the juice). Use a fork or slotted spoon to transfer the red onion slivers from the vinegar mixture to the pasta mixture; reserve vinegar in the bowl.
- For vinaigrette, add olive juice, olive oil, garlic, and oregano to vinegar mixture in bowl. Whisk until well combined. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper. Pour vinaigrette over pasta salad. Stir until well combined. Serve right away or cover and chill up to 24 hours at this point.
- Just before serving, stir in basil and, if desired, pine nuts. If desired, garnish the top with extra freshly ground pepper.