Picnic Pasta Salad

Picnic Pasta Salad photo

Recipe by Dreena Burton in Dreena’s Kind Kitchen

From Dreena: This is the ultimate crowd-pleasing pasta salad to bring to a picnic, potluck, or BBQ. It’s easy to make, and the flavor of the vinaigrette is spot on!

Serves 4–5

12 ounces dried short pasta, cooked, drained, rinsed, and cooled (see note)
1 cup chopped red, yellow, and/or orange bell pepper
1 cup diced cucumber
1 cup halved or quartered cherry or grape tomatoes
1 cup other favorite veg of choice (see ideas)
1/2 cup sliced pitted kalamata olives
2–3 tablespoons diced red onion or shallot (optional; see note)
2–3 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
1 batch Italian Vinaigrette (recipe below)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine the pasta, bell pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, other veg, olives, onion (if using), and sun-dried tomatoes (if using). Add the vinaigrette. Stir well to fully coat the pasta and vegetables. Taste and season if desired. Serve, or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days (the pasta will continue to absorb the dressing; see pasta note).

Pasta Note: You can use just about any shape or variety of pasta here. I like to use penne or rotini, but you can also use macaroni, bow-tie pasta, or even spaghetti that’s been broken into small pieces. Also, you can choose a whole-wheat pasta or other variety. Brown rice pasta can become very hard after refrigerating, however. So, if you want to make this salad and chill or have leftovers to refrigerate, brown rice isn’t the best option. If you prefer a “saucier” salad, you can use less than 12 ounces of pasta. You can also use a lesser amount of pasta and bump up the amount of veggies! Note that as the pasta sits, it will continue to soak up the dressing—so it’s best not to use more than 12 ounces or it will dry out. Cook the pasta in advance until it is just fork-tender (following package directions); if overcooked, the pasta may not hold its shape in the salad. Drain and immediately rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process and ensure the pasta isn’t starchy and sticky in the salad. Once rinsed, allow to drain fully to remove excess water.

Veggie Ideas: This is such a flexible recipe. You can use your favorite vegetables, adjusting amounts to your taste or swapping in for what’s listed. Some other options to try: chopped raw or grilled zucchini, chopped grilled onions (delicious!), chopped roasted red bell peppers, thickly grated carrot, sliced artichoke hearts, corn, or green peas.

Onion Note: To take the raw edge off of the onion, soak in a bowl of ice water for 5–10 minutes, then drain. Alternatively, you can omit it or swap in 1/4 cup chopped green onion or chives for a milder onion flavor.

Italian Vinaigrette

From Dreena: Italian dressing is a favorite for many, yet most store-bought dressings have a lot of preservatives, additives, or oil. You’ll be surprised just how good this dressing tastes—and how quick it is to make. It will eclipse that stale store-bought Italian dressing and be in regular rotation for daily salads

Makes about 2/3 cup

2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
Pinch crushed red pepper (see note)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons tahini
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Taste and add extra salt and/or pepper if desired. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Red Pepper Note: Use just a couple pinches of crushed red pepper—unless you like more heat!


  1. Nancy B Radcliffe said on

    Thank you for your wonderful recipes. I am struggling to stay WFPB and you certainly help!

  2. Debbie said on

    Not only do I love this salad (it reminds me of the spaghetti salad I would bring to so many summer gatherings), but also, I am very eager to try this vinaigrette! I LOVE the “no oil” recipe!
    Thank you!

  3. Marisa said on

    Is the tahini necessary for the dressing? I can’t eat tahini

  4. Heather Butterfield said on

    You can certainly try it without tahini! If there’s another nut butter that you can eat it might be working swapping that in, or a small amount of oil if that’s in your diet.

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