The Ultimate Guide – How To Make A Pasta Salad

Isabella from Italian Street Kitchen gives you the ultimate guide for making pasta salad.

Pasta is a classic Italian food that is rivalled only by pizza in terms of worldwide appeal. While it’s traditionally served hot, its incredible versatility is highlighted by the more recent popularity of pasta salad. Since moving here from Italy I’ve become very fond of Australian-style barbecues and thoroughly recommend featuring pasta salad as a side dish. I also love making it for a quick and healthy lunch. Today I’ll guide you through all the tips and tricks you need to create a wide variety of pasta salad recipes that are sure to impress your friends and family. Too busy to cook up some pasta? Try our Pasta in the West End, or visit one of our restaurants around Australia. 

The Pasta

When making an easy pasta salad, I always recommend using short cut pasta, as these shapes work best for capturing and holding other ingredients. Some of my favourite pasta varieties for this type of dish are:

  • Penne
  • Fusilli
  • Tortellini
  • Cavatappi
  • Farfalle
  • Rigatoni

If you’re like me, you prefer your pasta al dente, but you need to do things a bit differently when making Italian pasta salad. When served cold, pasta undergoes a process called retrogradation, which causes it to harden as it cools. To prevent this, cook the pasta for two or three minutes longer than the al dente cooking time and then let it cool.

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The Dressing

I love so many different types of dressing in my pasta salads, ranging from creamy mayonnaise-based dressings to garlic and herbs with olive oil, pesto vinaigrettes, and classic Italian dressings. To ensure that the pasta is properly coated with dressing, I generally use about a cup and a half for every 500 grams of pasta. My usual method is to use half a cup of the dressing to coat the pasta immediately after draining it. Then I add the remaining cup to the assembled pasta salad and let it marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours.

The Protein

While it’s not essential to have a major protein source in your pasta salad, I typically have at least one as there are so many tasty choices and it makes the dish more filling. Here are some of my favourite options to try:

  • Prosciutto
  • Salami
  • Grilled chicken
  • Crumbed chicken
  • Smoked salmon
  • Prawns
  • Lentils

Tip: Cut into bite-sized pieces to make it easier to eat.

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The Cheese

I feel cheese is an absolute must in any recipe for pasta salad, but it can be cubed, shredded, or crumbled, depending on your preference. My preferred cheeses are:

  • Fior di Latte
  • Buffalo Mozzarella
  • Bocconcini
  • Feta
  • Cheddar
  • Parmiggiano-Reggiano

The Vegetables

It certainly wouldn’t be much of a ‘salad’ without vegetables (although some of the ingredients we treat as veggies are technically fruits). I often like to have a mix of fresh and cooked vegetables in my healthy pasta salad recipes, including:

  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Avocado
  • Artichokes
  • Olives
  • Red onion
  • Spinach

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How To Make Pasta Salad

Here are my basic measurements and the method that allows you to make numerous different pasta salads based on the same principles:


500g pasta

6 combined cups of protein, cheese, and vegetables

1 ½ cups of salad dressing

Nuts, seeds, and fresh herbs if desired


  1. Cook the pasta, drain, and coat with half a cup of dressing. Let it cool.
  1. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the vegetables. It’s best to keep the pieces about the same size as the pasta or a little larger. This will make the salad easier to eat and look more appealing.
  1. Cut your proteins into bite-sized pieces.
  1. Prepare your cheese. Cubes are a great option, or you can use round mozzarella balls to add some texture to the salad.
  1. Toss the pasta and ingredients with the remaining cup of dressing until everything is evenly coated.
  1. Let the pasta salad rest in the fridge for at least 6 hours, or ideally overnight. This will allow the flavours to meld together for a tastier dish.

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