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Chilled Italian Pasta Salad

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Italian Shell Pasta Salad with Mozzarella, Basil & Tomatoes comes together quickly with the help of store-bought bottled Italian dressing.

It’s wonderful as a chilled side dish or a vegetarian main course.

A closeup vertical title text image of Italian pasta salad with fresh mozzarella and basil leaves.

I always gravitate towards a cold pasta salad when it’s out on a buffet table at a party or gathering. 

This Italian pasta salad is easy to make, and is best if prepared in advance and then allowed to chill in the refrigerator for several hours (or even better, overnight).

**Please Note – The printable recipe card with detailed instructions, complete ingredient measurements, and nutritional information for making this easy cold pasta salad side dish is available at the end of this post. OR you can hit the “jump to recipe” button (found above) to be taken directly to the recipe.


Closeup photo of pasta shell salad with fresh basil leaves, mozzarella cheese and title text.

The ingredient list;

**Note – The following lists of ingredients plus kitchen tools and equipment contain affiliate links (highlighted in blue) for your consideration and shopping convenience. #CommissionsEarned

Kitchen tools and equipment needed:

Check out my latest and greatest Kudos Kitchen tasty BBQ side dishes recipe roundup.

Why this cold Italian pasta salad recipe works?

The thing I love most about this cold pasta salad side dish (besides the flavor itself) is the addition of the fresh Mozzarella Fresca (baby mozzarella balls), so I made sure to add plenty.

There is something so tantalizing about biting into tender, soft pillows of fresh mozzarella that are partnered with perfectly cooked pasta shells, and then smothered with big, bold Italian flavors, and then more cheese!

Also, it’s made in advance, so if you happen to be entertaining with this recipe, or are super busy on any given day, this delicious pasta side dish is ready and waiting in the fridge at a moment’s notice!

Can other shapes of pasta be used for this recipe?


Feel free to use your favorite variety, just keep in mind that it’s good to have a type that will trap and hold some of the delicious ingredients. A pasta with texture and holes is always a good choice.

Large glass bowl filled with shell pasta salad, grape tomatoes and fresh basil leaves.

Can I add protein to this cold pasta salad?


If you’re looking to make this recipe as more of the main course (for the carnivores in your life), feel free to play around with it.

What about adding some cooked chicken (store-bought rotisserie chicken is always a good choice), or maybe even some Italian sausage (leftovers work well for this) that have been pre-cooked and then tossed in with the pasta before chilling.

Oooh, before I forget! Cubed salami or sliced pepperoni would be great too!

You be the judge. It’s your salad, done your way!

Title text vertical collage of how to make Italian shell pasta salad.

Can this cold pasta salad be made in advance?

Yes! That’s the great thing about cold pasta salads. They get better the longer they sit.

This BBQ side dish can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored, well covered, in the refrigerator.

How long can this chilled pasta side dish be kept in the refrigerator?

If stored in an air-tight container, this pasta dish can remain fresh for up to 7 days.

What other vegetables can be used in this pasta salad side dish?

  • green or yellow zucchini, chopped
  • blanched green beans
  • garbanzo beans
  • blanched broccoli florets
  • red bell peppers, chopped
  • what are some of your favorites?

Can this chilled Italian pasta salad be frozen?

No! At least I’ve never tried it, and I don’t recommend it.

Due to the fresh ingredients (grape tomatoes, mozzarella balls, and basil), I doubt their texture would be good upon thawing.

This Italian shell pasta salad is best when refrigerated only!

Do I have to use fresh mozzarella in this recipe? Would shredded mozzarella also work?

It’s your call, really. But I suggest the fresh mozzarella for its creamy consistency and mild flavor.

Using fresh mozzarella cheese is a beautiful contrast of textures against the bite of the cherry tomatoes, and fresh bell peppers and onions.

Want tons of other BBQ side dish recipes you can really sink your teeth into? Check out the following:

Popular BBQ Side Dish Recipe Roundup – (pictured below) from all your favorite food bloggers from around the web!

“With the help of this BBQ Side Dishes recipe roundup, your BBQ menu will keep your family and friends very full, and extremely happy!”

Closeup vertical image of cooked shell pasta with tomatoes and basil. Italian shell pasta salad chilled bbq side dish recipe.

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Glass bowl filled with Italian Shell Pasta Salad with fresh basil leaves and a red and white checked napkin underneath.


The easy instructions for make-ahead chilled Italian pasta salad:

  • Cook the medium shell pasta according to the package directions, minus 2 minutes.
  • Drain.
  • Add the Italian dressing to the cooked and drained pasta along with diced green bell pepper, and diced red onion.
Making Italian Shell Pasta Salad
  • Add a touch of extra virgin olive oil and black pepper.
  • Stir well to combine.
  • Allow the pasta to cool for 20 minutes.
Cold Italian Shell Pasta Salad
  • Once the pasta has cooled, add grape tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and the mozzarella cheese balls.
  • Stir well to combine.
  • Refrigerate the salad at least 1 hour, but longer is better.
  • Garnish the pasta salad with freshly chopped basil and serve cold.
Assembling Italian Shell Pasta Salad

Closeup photo of shell pasta salad and fresh basil leaves with a title text overlay.

Below is the printable recipe card along with the exact ingredient measurements and nutritional information for today’s make-ahead side dish for Italian shell pasta salad.

Cold Italian Shell Pasta Salad

Italian Shell Pasta Salad

Renee - Kudos Kitchen
Italian Shell Pasta Salad comes together quickly with the help of store-bought bottled Italian dressing. It's wonderful as a chilled side dish or vegetarian main course.
4.86 from 28 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
chill time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Course BBQ Side dish
Cuisine Italian Cuisine
Servings 12 servings
Calories 246 kcal


  • 1 pound shell pasta cooked 2 minutes less than package directions, and drained.
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup bottled Italian dressing
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 3/4 cup bell pepper seeded and small diced
  • 3/4 cup red onion small diced
  • ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes halved
  • 2 8- ounce containters mozzarella Fresca (cherry size), drained
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves for garnish


  • Add the Italian dressing and the olive oil to the hot cooked and drained pasta.
  • Stir in the black pepper, bell pepper, red onion, garlic, dried basil, and dried oregano.
  • Allow the pasta to cool for 20 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese to the pasta.
  • Stir well to combine.
  • Season with additional salt if needed.
  • Spoon the pasta salad into a large serving bowl.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 60 minutes.
  • Right before serving stir in the fresh basil leaves, and additional Italian dressing if needed.
  • Serve cold.


Tools and equipment:
large pasta pot, colander, wooden spoons, cutting board, paring knife, chef's knife, measuring cups, large bowl for serving
Add in suggestions:
cooked chicken, cooked turkey, cubed salami, cooked ham, tuna fish, cooked Italian sausage, pepperoni, capers, artichokes, garbanzo beans
Additional vegetable suggestions:
blanched green beans, green zucchini, yellow zucchini, blanched broccoli, red bell pepper


Serving: 1servingCalories: 246kcalCarbohydrates: 32gProtein: 7gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 3mgSodium: 311mgFiber: 1gSugar: 4g
Keyword bbq side dish, chilled pasta salad, cold pasta salad, Italian pasta salad, Italian Shell Pasta Salad, make-ahead side dish
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Thank you so much for visiting me here today in my Kudos Kitchen!

I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed today’s BBQ side dish recipe for this cold Italian Shell Pasta Salad as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing it to you!

Red and white checkered napkin with a large serving spoon and a large glass bowl of shell pasta salad.

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Until we eat again, I hope you have a delicious day!

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Recipe Rating


Sunday 5th of April 2020

It looks super delish. Pasta salads are my all-time favorite. I gave it a try and it turned out great. Thanks for sharing!


Sunday 5th of April 2020

My pleasure, Jeremy! Thanks for letting me know that you enjoyed the recipe! Take good care, Renee


Monday 10th of February 2020

I made a batch of this Friday to go with some grilled chicken and we loved it! We snacked on the leftovers all weekend!


Tuesday 11th of February 2020

I'd love to snack on some right now. I guess I need to make it again, STAT. Thanks, Wilhelmina!


Monday 10th of February 2020

This salad was the hit of our potluck! It tasted great!


Tuesday 11th of February 2020

That's awesome, Sandi! Thanks for letting me know.

debi at Life Currents

Wednesday 17th of July 2019

I have a backyard party coming up in a couple weeks that I have to bring a dish for. I think I might bring this. It looks great! Thanks for the help!


Thursday 18th of July 2019

I can guarantee it will be a big hit, Debi! Enjoy!!

Dara Michalski

Wednesday 17th of July 2019

Summer in a bowl! We made this pasta salad for a picnic last week. Not only was it really easy to make, but my family loved the mozzarella and tomato combo.


Thursday 18th of July 2019

That's a great way to describe it, Dara! Especially with garden fresh tomatoes and basil! Glad you enjoyed it!