Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Tour of Italy Pasta Salad (High in Protein & Gluten-Free!)

With picnic season coming up, I thought I'd share my favorite recipe for pasta salad: an easy dish to share with groups, and a wonderful staple to have on hand in the fridge during hot summer nights when you don't want to heat up the house to make dinner.

There's something wonderfully summery about pasta salad. Since I gave up eating gluten over two years ago, I've been happy to discover quinoa pasta, so that I don't have to miss out on my favorite pasta salad this time of year. Quinoa pasta has great texture and flavor, it’s not finicky like rice pasta, and it’s high in protein, to boot!

I must admit that sadly, I’ve never been to Italy, but I just love the classic flavors and elegant simplicity of Italian food. There’s a richness and a decadence present in a simple Margharita pizza that really appeals to me, and the elements of this pasta salad reflect those classic flavors. My sister is headed (back) to Italy in a few weeks, and I'm looking forward to living vicariously through her photos and stories when she gets back.

This is my most favorite pasta salad recipe, and I hope you’ll enjoy making and sharing it with people you love this summer!


1lb of bite-sized quinoa pasta (I prefer to use a tri-colored variety, because it adds even more color to the salad, but I also enjoy the texture of shells very much in this recipe.)

AND 2lbs total of the following:

grape or cherry tomatoes, halved (or quartered, depending on their size)
artichoke hearts, cubed
roasted/grilled/sauteed asparagus spears, cut into 1-2" pieces
Garbanzo beans (If you've never cooked dried chick peas before, check out my roasted garlic hummus recipe for some tips.)
Calamata olives, sliced
bacon, cubed or crumbled
grilled chicken, cubed


8 oz smoked mozzarella, cubed
8 oz regular mozzarella, cubed (you could make your own!)
⅓ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
3 large green onions, diced

Salad dressing:

½ cup sour cream (make your own)
½ cup mayonnaise (make your own)
½ Tablespoon garlic powder (or a clove of fresh garlic, minced)
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon dried Italian herbs (Make sure you at least add some oregano and basil if you don't have an Italian herb blend.)
Pepper to taste (I don't add salt because there are already plenty of salty ingredients in this salad, but you may prefer to add some.)


  • Cook the pasta in boiling water (with salt) until the pasta is tender.
  • Drain the cooked pasta—but don't rinse it—then pour it out onto a cookie sheet to cool while you finish prepping the rest of the ingredients.
  • Chop, dice, cube, crumble the rest of the ingredients (tomatoes, artichoke, asparagus, beans, olives, bacon, chicken, onions, and cheeses) and put them all into a large bowl. I use my largest mixing bowl for this salad, and it's the perfect size.
  • Prepare the salad dressing in a smaller bowl by simply mixing all of the ingredients together until they're well combined.
  • Add the pasta to the large bowl with the other ingredients, then pour the salad dressing on top.
  • Mix it all together and you're done!

I hope you like making and eating my Italy-inspired pasta salad! I'm excited to start making it again this season as the weather continues to warm up.

Let me know in the comments if you experiment with different variations of this salad, so that I can try your ideas, too!


  1. that looks soooo good. Not dairy free, but I wonder how I can tweak it more... hmmmm.....

    1. No, it's not dairy free, but I don't think it'd be tough to modify: skip the cheese and instead use 3lbs of the ingredients in the middle. Then top with a simple vinaigrette: balsamic vinegar with olive oil, a splash of lemon juice, and herbs, perhaps?

  2. This looks so good. I'm vegan and I think I could veganize this one. There are a number of good vegan substitutes for sour cream and mayonnaise ... also cheese. Bacon bits are usually made out of soy so I'd only be left with the chicken ... and I could use baked tofu or seitan ... or even simply leave it out as the chick peas would give it plenty of protein. Yum! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I pinned this earlier this week! Looks so yummy. I used to not like pasta salad until I realized you could add all sorts of yummy things to it and customize it to be however you like.

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  5. Your blog about Italian food is really awesome. Thanks for sharing this recipe. I will try this weekend. I like various cuisine food very much. I like Italian culture, tradition, Italian food etc . I have taken pimsleur course to improve Italian language as well as by practicing Italian language, Italian phrasebook, grammar etc and i have achieved great command on Italian language. Overall i love Italy.

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