My antipasto pesto pasta salad is made with fresh mozzarella, flavorful Italian cold cuts, and tossed with creamy pesto. I love this easy pasta salad recipe because it is a great make-ahead cold side dish for any gathering, holiday, or potluck! Serve alongside your Christmas ham or roast.
I’m always on the hunt for a good recipe to bring to potlucks or gatherings that can be made in advance, and transported easily. Pasta salads are one of my favorite go-to recipes because they require minimal prep and can be served cold.
This antipasto pesto pasta salad is inspired by a recipe I found on Food Network for a Christmas Pasta Salad. I was hunting for an easy side dish for my Christmas gathering, but I wanted something seasonal.
An Easy Potluck Side Dish Recipe
This pasta salad takes the basic elements of a classic pasta salad, and elevates it to holiday-status by swapping out the Italian dressing or vinaigrette for pesto. The vibrant red and green colors make for a colorful addition to your holiday table and a year-round favorite.
Tips for Making the Perfect Pasta Salad:
- Use rotini pasta (tri-color is fine, but I used regular rotini so that the color of the pesto stands out). The crevices in the swirls hold the flavor perfectly! Feel free to use whole wheat or your favorite gluten free pasta.
- Don’t overcook the pasta – it will become mushy.
- Use fresh, homemade pesto or quality store bought pesto in a jar.
- Don’t be afraid to add more pesto or olive oil before serving. The pasta soaks up the flavor, so you might need to add more olive oil or pesto before serving to give it an extra boost!
- When you go to the deli, ask for a single-thick slice of salami, ham, or your favorite Italian cold cut. This cuts down on cost, waste, and allows you to have the perfect thick slice!
- Leftover ham goes great in the pasta salad.
- If you’re making the pasta salad in advance, I suggest waiting to slice and add the cherry tomatoes so they stay fresh. There is nothing worse than a mushy tomato!
How far in advance can I make this recipe?
This recipe is perfect to make the day before. It takes a few minutes to dice up your meats, cheese, and vegetables. Toss it together at night, and let the flavors soak up. The pasta salad is best served within 24 to 36 hours, but last in the refrigerator for up to five days stored in an airtight container.
Substitutions and Modifications
- Swap out any of the Italian cold cuts for thick cut pepperoni, extra ham, prosciutto, or mortadella. Feel free to get creative in your combinations!
- For a little extra zest, add a few teaspoons of your favorite hot sauce.
- If you don’t have vinegar on hand, feel free to leave it out or substitute it with apple cider vinegar. I haven’t tried substituting it with balsamic vinegar. I would use a more neutral-flavored vinegar.
- If you like olives, add a 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of sliced drained green or black olives.
- Add a chopped bunch of basil or fresh herbs.
- Add a 1/4 cup of roasted pine nuts or almonds for added crunch. If you are making this in advance, I would add the nuts shortly before serving the dish so they stay crunchy.
Italian Pesto Pasta Salad
- 16 ounces rotini pasta, regular or tri color
- 3/4 cup pesto, store bought or homemade
- 1/2 cup parmesan, grated or shredded
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh squeezed
- 1/2 red pepper, diced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1/4 cup jar roasted red pepper, drained and diced
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 16 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed
- 4 ounces thick cut genoa salami, cubed
- 4 ounces thick cut ham, cubed
- 4 ounces thin Soppressata, sliced into thin strips or diced
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Cook the pasta al dente according to the package instructions. Rinse the pasta under cold water, transfer to a large bowl, and toss with one tablespoon of olive oil. Let the pasta cool.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss to combine.
- Cover the bowl or transfer to an airtight container and place in the refrigerator for at least two hours. The pasta salad can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days.
- Shredded parmesan for grated
- Fresh mozzarella balls, sliced in half for cubed mozzarella
- Swap out any of the meats for pepperoni, extra ham, prosciutto, or your other favorite Italian cold cuts.
- Leave out the roasted red peppers if you can't find them and swap them for the other half of the fresh red pepper.
- Swap rotini for your favorite gluten free or whole wheat pasta
- Before serving the pasta salad, add another tablespoon or two of olive oil to refresh the pasta salad. The pasta soaks up the pesto and moisture.
- Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sliced green or black olives
- Add a tablespoon of roasted garlic, finely minced
- Add a quarter cup of roasted pine nuts for a little crunch
- Add a dash of hot sauce to give the pasta salad a bit of a zing