Balsamic pasta salad is a classic, easy summer dish that is a full meal on its own, veggie-loaded and full of flavor, texture, and nutrition. It packs well, whether it's sustenance for work or a picnic. Options are included for keeping it light and satisfying or truly filling. This recipe is vegan, oil-free, and utilizes gluten-free pasta so that the whole crowd can enjoy it.
This is the kind of recipe that can be enjoyed on repeat throughout the spring and summer, even into early fall, mixing it up with whichever veggies and herbs are in season at the moment. Just a large serving of this pasta salad with mint other flavored water and you're set!
Below are my suggestions for ingredients. Feel free to use any veggies you'd like and have on-hand.
Rotini pasta or a similar shape. I use a gluten-free brand like Ancient Harvest (pictured).
Spinach or other dark leafy green.
Lettuce of your choice.
Cherry tomatoes. I prefer Sungold or another sweet variety in this recipe. Choose gold or orange tomatoes if you'd like it curated as pictured.
Fennel provides a nice crunch and slightly licorice-like flavor - in a good way. To prep, isolate the bulb by chopping off the stalks and fronds, reserving them to add to this and other salads later. Slice the bulb in half, then take one half and carefully remove the core. Slice the bulb half, then chop into dice.
You can use any color of bell pepper you'd like. Choose yellow or orange if you want it curated like the one pictured.
Any white beans will do for this pasta salad. Cannellini are pictured. You could use navy, butter beans, great northern, or chickpeas. Canned or cooked, either work well.
Mint and basil add a lot of flavor to this dish. You could use lemon balm, the fennel fronds, parsley, or other herbs instead, if you'd like. Edible flower petals are pretty in this salad too (pictured).
For the dressing
A really good aged balsamic vinegar, the kind that is thick and rich, is all you really need to dress this salad. It can be expensive, so if you prefer, you can make the dressing using the following.
Balsamic Dressing for Pasta Salad:
A less expensive balsamic vinegar (thin version)
Mustard of your choice (I like a whole grain mustard here)
Maple syrup or date syrup
Make it more decadent
Vegan parmesan sprinkles are optional, but I will use them every time! They add a wonderful salty umami to the pasta salad.
Adding pinches of really good vegan cheese like Miyoko's Garlic and Herb wheel to the salad servings take it to the next level.
See recipe card for quantities.
You just need a few tools for making this recipe.
A knife and cutting board for chopping the veggies into bite-sized pieces.
Measuring cups for the veggies and spoons for the dressing, if making.
A small prep bowl or jar for making the dressing, if not using thick aged balsamic vinegar.
A medium pasta pot, water, burner, and colander for cooking and draining the pasta.
A large prep or salad bowl for assembling the salad.
First, cook the pasta. While it's cooking, wash and dry the veggies and herbs and drain and rinse the beans (if canned). Cook the pasta until al dente. Then, strain the pasta, rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process, and place the pasta in a large salad or prep bowl.
As you prepare the veggies, add them to the bowl with the pasta.
Slice the tomatoes in half, if desired.
Then, add the beans to the bowl.
Finally, add the aged balsamic or balsamic dressing, toss, and add any toppings like herbs, sprinkles, or cheese to individual servings.
Tip: Use a larger prep or salad bowl than you might initially think you need, so you can toss the salad well - it's a big salad!
Pictured are the steps for making the Balsamic Dressing:
Gather the thin balsamic, mustard of choice, and maple/date syrup.
In a small prep bowl, stir together the mustard and syrup.
Slowly stir in the balsamic.
Drizzle over the pasta salad, then toss and serve.
While this recipe can only be stored for a short amount of time (1-2 days), it makes a great packed lunch. For best results, do the following:
Store the soft-leaf ingredients like the lettuce, spinach, and herbs separately and add them right before serving. The longer the pasta sits with the dressing/balsamic, the more it absorbs it and some of the flavor can be lost; therefore, add a little extra vinegar/dressing before storing or right before serving. Be sure to refrigerate until serving.
Only if your diet requires gluten-free ingredients. It can be nice to mix it up and try the gluten-free versions, since they each have their own unique flavor, texture, and nutrient profile. Also, they usually come in an 8-ounce box, ideal for this recipe.
I think I'd be happy with any, but I tend to prefer the size and shape of cannellini. Chickpeas work well here, but since I use them frequently in other recipes, I like using a different bean here.
These recipes work well with this pasta salad:
Balsamic Pasta Salad Recipe
- knife and cutting board
- measuring cups and spoons
- small prep bowl
- pasta pot, water, burner, colander
- large prep or salad bowl
- 8 ounce rotini pasta or similar; gluten-free if necessary
- 1 ½ cups spinach or other leafy green, torn or chopped
- 1 ½ cups lettuce torn or chopped
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes sungold or other; sliced if desired
- ½ cup fennel diced
- ½ cup bell peppers any color, diced
- ½ cup snap peas or sugar peas, sliced; or other fresh veggie
- 1 can white beans like cannellini, butter, chickpeas; drained and rinsed, or cooked
- ⅓ cup aged balsamic vinegar or use Balsamic Dressing (below)
- ¼ cup vegan cheese like Miyoko's Garlic and Herb wheel; optional
- ¼ cup mint or other fresh herb, like parsley or lemon balm
- ¼ cup basil or other fresh herb, like chervil, burnett, or edible flowers
- ¼ cup parmesan sprinkles optional
Balsamic Dressing (optional)
- ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar thin, inexpensive type
- 1 tablespoon mustard I like stone ground
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- First, cook the pasta. While it's cooking, wash and dry the veggies and herbs and drain and rinse the beans (if canned). Cook the pasta until al dente. Then, strain the pasta, rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process, and place the pasta in a large salad or prep bowl.
- As you prepare the veggies, add them to the bowl with the pasta.
- Finally, add the aged balsamic or balsamic dressing, toss, and add any toppings like herbs, sprinkles, or cheese to individual servings.
- Serve the pasta salad in bowls or plates and top with any herbs, sprinkles, or cheeses you'd like.
- Refrigerated storing: For best results, store the soft-leaf ingredients like the lettuce, spinach, and herbs separately and add them right before serving. The longer the pasta sits with the dressing/balsamic, the more it absorbs it and some of the flavor can be lost; therefore, add a little extra vinegar/dressing before storing or right before serving. Eat within 1-2 days.
general food safety
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 165 °F (74 °C)
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food that previously touched raw meat
- Wash hands and ingredients well before using
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with high smoking point to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove