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.
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 (below) to be taken directly to the recipe.Jump to Recipe
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
- Medium Shell Pasta, or your favorite pasta variety (cooked just shy of the package directions)
- Red Onion
- Green Bell Pepper
- Fresh Mozzarella Cheese
- Prepared Bottled Italian Dressing
- Olive Oil
- Dried Basil
- Dried Oregano
- Parmesan Cheese
- Fresh Basil Leaves
- Salt and Pepper
Kitchen tools and equipment needed:
- large pasta pot
- wooden spoon or spatula
- chef’s knife
- cutting board
- cheese grater (optional)
- measuring cups and spoons
- large serving bowl
- plastic wrap
- air-tight storage container
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.
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!
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!”
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The easy instructions for make-ahead chilled Italian pasta salad:
- Cook the medium shell pasta according to the package directions, minus 2 minutes.
- Add the Italian dressing to the cooked and drained pasta along with diced green bell pepper, and diced red onion.
- Add a touch of extra virgin olive oil and black pepper.
- Stir well to combine.
- Allow the pasta to cool for 20 minutes.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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
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!
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Until we eat again, I hope you have a delicious day!
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