Italian Shell Pasta Salad with mozzarella, basil and 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).
- The ingredient list:
- Kitchen tools and equipment needed:
- Why this Italian pasta salad recipe works?
- Can other shapes of pasta be used for this recipe?
- Can I add protein to this pasta salad?
- Can this cold pasta salad be made in advance?
- How long can this dish be kept in the refrigerator?
- What other vegetables added to this dish?
- Can a pasta salad be frozen?
- Do I have to use fresh mozzarella in this recipe? Would shredded mozzarella also work?
- The easy instructions:
- Additional BBQ side dish recipes:
- Printable Recipe Card
- Italian Shell Pasta Salad
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
- Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
- 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
Check out my latest and greatest Kudos Kitchen tasty BBQ side dishes recipe roundup.
Why this 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 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 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 added to this 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 a 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.
The easy instructions:
- 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.
Additional BBQ side dish recipes:
With the help of this BBQ Side Dishes Recipe Roundup, your BBQ menu will keep your family and friends very full, and extremely happy!
If you're looking for a coleslaw recipe you can make in advance that tastes amazing and can remain outdoors without running for cover during summer's hottest weather, look no further. This No Mayo Sweet Sour Coleslaw will be your backyard BBQ's best friend!!
Crowd-pleasing Dijon Potato Salad will be the first thing to disappear from the picnic table this summer. It's cool, creamy, and refreshing with just the right amount of tang from the Dijon, and the perfect amount of crunch to balance all that creaminess.
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Printable Recipe Card
Italian Shell Pasta Salad
- paring knife optional
- cheese grater optional
- box grater optional
- 1 pound shell pasta cooked 2 minutes less than package directions, and drained.
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¾ cup bottled Italian dressing
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ¾ cup bell pepper seeded and small diced
- ¾ 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.
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!!
You left the tomatoes out of your ingredient list.
Sorry about that, Andrea. I've since corrected it.
Thankfully the printable recipe card didn't have the same error.
Thank you for kindly letting me know. I appreciate it.
It looks super delish. Pasta salads are my all-time favorite. I gave it a try and it turned out great. Thanks for sharing!
I made a batch of this Friday to go with some grilled chicken and we loved it! We snacked on the leftovers all weekend!
I'd love to snack on some right now. I guess I need to make it again, STAT. Thanks, Wilhelmina!
This salad was the hit of our potluck! It tasted great!
debi at Life Currents says
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!
I can guarantee it will be a big hit, Debi! Enjoy!!
Dara Michalski says
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.
That's a great way to describe it, Dara! Especially with garden fresh tomatoes and basil! Glad you enjoyed it!
Tanya Schroeder says
This is such a great side for all my BBQ's!!
Such a true story. Thanks, Tanya!!
This salad is easy to make and delicious with leftover grilled chicken for dinner. Definitely a repeat!
I love adding chicken to this salad too, Alyssa! Good to hear!
So easy, so delicious and just in time for summer barbecues. I love pasta salads and caprese salads so this one is really checking off all my boxes. Can't wait to try it!
Better grab a big spoon! You're going to love this, Linda!!
This salad has all of my favorite summer flavors!
That's great to hear. Enjoy!!
I too head straight for the cold pasta salads! If this dish is being served, I may or may not take the whole bowl - delish!
You are a girl after my own heart, Beth! 🙂
Tis the season for cold pasta salads and this one did not disappoint I made it for a work party and everyone loved it!
Love hearing that! Thanks, Jessica!!!
Awesome. Love hearing that, Jessica. It's always a popular dish and one of the first to be eaten!
This pasta salad will be at all of our summer parties! Yum!
I knew I liked you, Wilhelmina! 😉
Thank you so much, Rose 🙂
Des @ Life's Ambrosia says
I'm going to go have to go ahead and agree with you that nothing beats fresh mozzarella. This pasta salad looks divine!
Thank you so much. Fresh mozzarella, rocks!
Kim Beaulieu says
I love shell pasta so I'm totally in love with this recipe. It's perfect for summer picnic or to bring to a potluck. Great photos.
Thank you very much, Kim. That means a lot to me, coming from you!
Ginny McMeans says
You made a wonderful pasta salad here and I am really looking forward to it!
Thanks, Ginny. I hope you love it!
Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet says
This is such a perfect Summer salad for barbecues and potlucks!
It really is, Kimberly. It's even better the next day. Gotta love pasta!
Jessica - The Novice Chef says
Pasta salad is one of my favorite things! Can't wait to try this one!
I know you'll love it, Jessica.
Anna @ Crunchy Creamy Sweet says
The name of this salad sold me right away but your suggestion of adding salami - yes! I am totally in!
Next time I make it I'll be adding salami for sure. Or bacon. Maybe bacon! Thanks, Anna!
Valerie | From Valerie's Kitchen says
I rarely use shell pasta but it looks perfect in this salad! Love how quick and easy it is.
I don't use shell pasta often but this time I knew it would be the perfect fit! Thanks, Valerie.
The Food Hunter says
I want to bring this to every summer picnic this year!
I think you should! LOL Every one!
Meg @ With Salt and Wit says
Wow this salad not only looks amazing but it looks refreshing!
That's a great way to describe it, Meg. Refreshing. It really is!
I love salads like this. Perfect for summer!