Fresh summer veggies are tossed with chilled pasta and a tangy lemon vinaigrette in this simple but satisfying veggie pasta salad! This vegetarian recipe comes together in under 30 minutes and is great for sharing or as a main dish.
When it's hot outside it's hard to beat cold pasta salad and fresh veggies.
This veggie-packed pasta salad is the perfect dish to share at summer potlucks and get-togethers when you want something a little lighter than a classic macaroni salad or broccoli cheddar pasta salad.
Unlike many mayo-based pasta salads, this pasta salad features a bright and refreshing lemon vinaigrette and it's also balanced enough that it doubles as a meal-prep-friendly lunch.
- Veggie-packed: This is a cold vegetarian pasta salad made with colorful summer veggies like sliced bell pepper, cucumber, and tomatoes.
- Quick: Ready in just 30 minutes. Most of the prep time is spent chopping the vegetables.
- Lemon vinaigrette: Tossed in a light, refreshing, and zesty lemon vinaigrette. Unlike many pasta salads, this one is made with no mayo and no French dressing!
- Prep ahead: This salad can be made up to 24 hours in advance and the vegetables can be prepped up to 48 hours in advance.
For the pasta salad
- Rotini pasta or your favorite pasta shape. Short or medium pasta shapes are best for pasta salad. You can use protein pasta for extra protein, whole wheat pasta, or gluten-free pasta to make this recipe gluten-free.
- Mozzarella pearls add a caprese feel alongside the fresh basil and sliced cherry tomatoes.
- Chickpeas are my vegetarian protein of choice. White beans would also be a good option. If you're not serving this as a main dish, you can leave out the chickpeas.
- Veggies: Cucumber, orange bell pepper and sliced cherry tomatoes add a pop of color, texture and flavor. Red or yellow bell pepper also works, as do grape tomatoes in place of cherry tomatoes.
For the vinaigrette
- Olive oil: I recommend using a "nice" olive oil that you enjoy the flavor of because it is a strong flavor component of this recipe.
- Lemons: Fresh lemon juice provides the best flavor (versus bottled lemon juice). One large lemon usually yields ~3 tablespoons lemon juice.
- Diced shallot adds a zesty touch.
How to cook pasta for pasta salad
Always boil pasta in well-salted water. Cook to al dente. This means that there is still a little bit of a bite to the pasta. It shouldn't be completely soft but it should still be edible.
Toss the pasta with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil before chilling. This keeps the pasta pieces from sticking to each other.
There are a few ways you can quickly cool pasta for pasta salad:
- Gently rinse under cold running water until chilled. I know that this is a controversial method because it isn't "traditional", but it is a quick way to cool pasta.
- Fill a large bowl with ice. Place pasta in a large bowl and set that bowl on the ice. Stir the past occasionally. This works more quickly than refrigerating the pasta.
- Make the pasta 1-2 hours in advance. Place in a closed container and let chill in the fridge.
Step by step instructions
Start by making the lemon vinaigrette.
This is done by whisking together the shallots, lemon juice, lemon zest, white wine vinegar, olive oil, basil, and salt in a medium bowl. I like to make this before prepping the veggies so that the shallots can tenderize.
This is a tangy dressing. Start with one teaspoon agave syrup (or honey) and increase to taste.
Prepping the veggies takes the most amount of time, but it wouldn't be a veggie pasta salad without them. Grab a sharp knife and slice each veggie into bite-sized pieces. The vegetables don't need to be too small.
Toss the vinaigrette, chilled pasta, vegetables, and chickpeas together. Top with freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes and remaining basil. Enjoy chilled.
How to prep in advance
You can assemble this pasta salad up to 24 hours in advance or you can prep the individual components in advance.
Because chopping the vegetables is the most time-consuming part of making veggie pasta salad, you can chop them up to 48 hours in advance. Store them in a closed container in the fridge.
The lemon vinaigrette can also be made up to 48 hours in advance and stored in the fridge until ready to use. Make sure to stir or shake it well before use.
Tips to avoid pasta salad drying out
If you've ever had pasta salad that tastes like dry pasta mixed with a bunch of vegetables, then you know that dry pasta salad just isn't great.
Here are a few ways to prevent this from happening:
- My top tip is to toss pasta with olive oil before chilling it. This keeps the pasta from sticking to itself but also creates a barrier between the pasta and the vinaigrette.
- The pasta should be al dente but not underdone. Underdone pasta will soak up any liquid that it is tossed in, resulting in a dry pasta salad.
- When storing the pasta salad or chilling the pasta, store it in an airtight container.
Making pasta salad a day in advance will help the flavors meld together but it's not necessary. I usually make pasta salads the day of for the crispest veggies and to avoid any chance of sogginess.
For best quality cover and refrigerate for up to 3-4 days. Enjoy cold.
Before chilling in the fridge, toss the pasta with 2 tablespoons of olive oil to prevent it from sticking. If you're chilling the pasta under cold running water you can toss it with olive oil once it's chilled.
Crisp, crunchy vegetables work best in pasta salad. Broccoli florets, red onions, and multiple colors of bell pepper are all good options. Try adding sun-dried tomatoes for extra acidity and kalamata olives for a kick of saltiness.
Looking for more summer salads?
If you're looking for a creamy option you might like this vegan ranch pasta salad.
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Veggie Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
- 12 ounces dry rotini pasta see note #1
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium shallot finely chopped
- ¼ cup lemon juice from 1-2 large lemons
- ½ cup sliced fresh basil divided in half
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon agave syrup or honey more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
- ¼ teaspoon lemon zest from one lemon
- 1 medium English cucumber diced
- 1 medium orange bell pepper diced
- 8 ounces cherry tomatoes sliced in half
- 8 ounces mozzarella pearls
- 15 ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- freshly ground black pepper for serving
- Cook pasta to al dente, according to package instructions, in well salted water. Drain and rinse until cold running water until chilled. Toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil. You can also refrigerate the pasta for 1-2 hours to chill it (make sure to toss with olive oil first).
- Meanwhile, prepare the vinaigrette. Combine the shallot, lemon juice, ¼ cup olive oil, ¼ cup fresh basil, white wine vinegar, honey, coarse salt and lemon zest in a small mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Let sit for at least 15 minute while you prepare the veggies.
- Prepare the cucumber, bell pepper and tomatoes. Toss with the chilled pasta, mozzarella pearls and the vinaigrette.
- Toss with the remaining ¼ cup fresh basil. Serve topped with a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and a crack of freshly ground black pepper.
- Rotini pasta is my go-to but any medium pasta shape works. You can use protein pasta, whole wheat pasta or gluten-free pasta.
- Make in advance: You can make the salad 24 hours in advance. You can also make the pasta in advance and prep the remaining ingredients the next day.
- Leftovers: For best quality keep covered and refrigerated for 3-4 days. Enjoy cold.