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Zesty Italian Pasta Salad

When I make my zesty Italian pasta salad, it is a sure sign that summer is here. This flavorful pasta dish is bright, colorful, loaded with vegetables and seafood, and tossed in a cheesy dressing. It is a tasty side for Lemon, Garlic and Herb Grilled Chicken , Lamb Burgers, beef burgers, steak or pork.

Zesty Italian Pasta Salad with spiral pasta and vegetables.

I make this pasta salad quite a bit during the summer. It is definitely a crowd pleaser and I love that it is easy and versatile as well. You can change out any of the vegetables or the seafood in this recipe to suit what you love.

Ingredients in Zesty Italian Pasta Salad

You can swap or add ingredients and still have a delicious salad.

Labeled ingredients: Imitation crab, parmesan, dressing, pasta, tomatoes, mayonnaise, broccoli, red onion, sweet peppers and black olives.

Pasta: Any short pasta shape will work great in this recipe. So make it fun and pick your kids favorite shape. Then cook it according to the package instructions. Follow my pasta buying guide so you select the best quality pasta for this recipe.

Vegetables: I love the combination of colorful red and yellow sweet peppers, tomatoes, black olives, red onion and broccoli. But you can add green or orange peppers, pepperoncini (to spice things up a bit), white onions or scallions, cucumbers, zucchini, etc. Have fun with it and use the vegetables you love.

Seafood: My husband loves this recipe with crab, lobster or shrimp. But crab and lobster are pretty expensive and I make this quite often, so I use imitation crab meat. It is really quite delicious and it doesn’t break the bank. If you don’t want seafood at all, try pepperoni. Or leave the seafood or meat out all together for a vegetarian version.

For the dressing: Your favorite zesty Italian dressing (not creamy), mayonnaise and grated parmesan cheese are all you need. I have not tried this using Miracle Whip in place of the mayonnaise so I can’t say how it will alter the flavor of the dressing. If you don’t have parmesan cheese you can use pecorino romano instead.

Making the pasta salad

This pasta salad comes together in just a few steps.

Cook the pasta according to your package directions. While the pasta is cooking dice your vegetables and blanch the broccoli. In a small bowl whisk together the dressing, parmesan cheese and mayonnaise and set it aside.

When the pasta and broccoli are ready, drain them and immediately rinse them under cold water until they are no loner warm. Transfer them to a large bowl, add the vegetables and seafood, then pour the dressing over them and toss well so that all of the ingredients are evenly coated.


  • Step savor: While you are cooking the pasta add the broccoli to the pot during the last 2 minutes of cooking time and blanch the broccoli in the same pot as the pasta. When the pasta is done, you will be able to drain and rinse both the pasta and the broccoli at the same time. One less step and one less pan to wash!
  • The pasta salad can be served immediately or stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
  • Pass some additional grated parmesan with the pasta for sprinkling on top.
A bowl if pasta salad with green and red peppers in the background


Why do you need to rinse the pasta and broccoli in cold water?

This step is important because it stops the cooking process and rinses off any extra starch that might be clinging to the pasta.

Can I make this recipe ahead of time?

Yes you can make this the day before but don’t add the salad dressing. Add the dressing about an hour before you will be serving the salad.

How do you store the pasta salad?

It is best to store it in an airtight container and it must be kept in the refrigerator. Stored properly it will stay fresh for several days.

Other Pasta dishes you might like

Caprese Pasta with Fresh Mozzarella

Homemade Gnocchetti Pasta

Pasta Rustica with Sausage

Bucatini alla Carbonara

Tomato Cauliflower Pasta Sauce

Radiatori with Spinach and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Salad Recipes to try

Sicilian Fennel and Orange Salad

Easy Italian Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Watermelon Tomato Salad with Feta and Balsamic

Italian Green Bean Salad with Potatoes

La Scala Chopped Salad and Dressing

Pasta salad with broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, olives imitation crab meat.

Zesty Italian Pasta Salad

The bright colors and fresh flavors of this pasta salad a a feast for the eyes and the tummy! An array of garden vegetables, pasta and your favorite seafood are tossed in a cheesy dressing for the ultimate summer salad.
5 from 5 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Salad
Cuisine Italian
Servings 8 servings
Calories 457 kcal


  • 1 lb. Pasta spirals or other short pasta
  • 2 cups Broccoli florets
  • ½ cup Ripe black olives sliced
  • 1 cup Red pepper diced
  • 1 cup Yellow or orange pepper diced
  • ½ cup Red onion diced
  • cups Cherry tomatoes halved
  • 14 oz. Imitation crab cut into 1" chunks
  • 1 cups Zesty Italian dressing
  • cup Mayonnaise
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese grated
  • salt and pepper to taste


  • Cook the pasta according to package directions, in a large pot of salted boiling water. When the pasta is done, drain it and run cold water over it to cool it down, then transfer it to a large bowl.
  • Blanch the broccoli in boiling water for 2 minutes. Just long enough to get tender but not soft. Drain it and run it under cold water to stop the cooking and cool it down quickly. Add it to the pasta.
  • Add all of the vegetables and the imitation crab to the pasta.
  • Combine the Italian dressing, mayonnaise and parmesan cheese in a medium bowl and whisk until completely combined.
  • Pour the dressing over the pasta and toss well. Salt and pepper the pasta to taste. Serve immediately or store in a covered container in the refrigerator.


Save some time by blanching the broccoli in the pasta during the  last minute or two of the pasta’s cooking time.  Then drain and rinse the pasta and broccoli together.  
Rinse the pasta and broccoli in cold water until they are no longer warm.
Store the pasta salad in a covered container in the refrigerator.
You can substitute or add any other vegetables or seafood that you like to this recipe. 


Serving: 8servingsCalories: 457kcalCarbohydrates: 61gProtein: 14gFat: 17gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 8gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 14mgSodium: 877mgPotassium: 388mgFiber: 4gSugar: 9gVitamin A: 998IUVitamin C: 86mgCalcium: 114mgIron: 1mg
Keyword pasta, vegetables, imitation crab, seafood, Italian dressing, parmesan cheese
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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  1. 5 stars
    I’ve made this dish several times over the past 25+ years. Your recipe hands down, is one of my favorites. Great for serving at a picnic.
    I look forward to trying your other recipes, especially as we get closer to Thanksgiving and Christmas.
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Theresa thank you so much for your kind review! I am so glad you like this pasta salad it is my husbands favorite too!

  2. 5 stars
    This is a must make pasta dish. All the flavors are perfect together and I have to do a second helping because it’s That Good!!!

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