Healthy Creamy Pasta Salad with tomatoes, herbs, peas, and lemony, creamy dressing. My go-to vegetarian pasta salad takes 30 minutes to make and is perfect for entertaining.
Why You’ll Love this Healthy Creamy Pasta Salad:
This is my quintessential summer pasta salad for multiple reasons. First, it features a slew of fresh (and frozen!) veggies, like tomatoes, peas, celery, and onions. Second, it’s super herby, which gives it so much fresh flavor. And lastly, it’s made with a light, yet super creamy dressing.
I’m personally not a fan of may0-laden pasta salads. Which is why this one uses just enough mayo to add creaminess, which is balanced by lots of lemon juice and olive oil.
Another perk of this pasta salad is that it’s super versatile. You can essentially use any mix of veggies and herbs you like or have on hand. Plus, it’s made in just 30 minutes! Are you ready to make your new go-to summer pasta salad?
Recipe Ingredients and Substitutions:
- Pasta: I like using a curly shape, such as fusill or gemelli. However you can also use elbows or orecchiette, which resemble a small ear. All of these shapes do a good job at “catching” the dressing, which is a big bonus.
- Tomatoes: Cherry (or grape) tomatoes add a burst of juicy freshness to this salad. I like using the packs of multi-colored tomatoes, which I usually purchase from Trader Joe’s.
- Aromatics: The recipe suggests chopped red onion and celery, which add lovely crunch and zippy flavor.
- Frozen peas: While fresh peas are in season right now, frozen peas are just SO convenient. Plus, they add lovely vegetal sweetness and are super appealing to kids.
- Olives: I prefer using black olives, however you can also use green, if you prefer. The olives add a briny bite, which really rounds out the flavor profile.
- Herbs: My favorite part of this salad is the burst of fresh, herby goodness. My go-to combination is chives, dill, and basil. Alternatively, you can use tarragon and/or parsley.
- Mayo: You only need 1/3 cup of mayonnaise for the dressing, which is substantially less than most creamy pasta salads. Alternatively, you can use plain whole-milk Greek yogurt or sour cream.
This recipe comes together in right under 30 minutes and can be made days ahead. Here’s how to make it:
Step 1: Cook the Pasta
Add your pasta of choice to a large pot of boiling, SALTED water. (It’s important to salt the water because this is the ONLY time the pasta gets seasoned.) Once the pasta reaches al dente, pour it into a strainer and rinse it with cold water. Once cool, transfer it to a large bowl.
Step 2: Prepare the Creamy Lemon Dressing
While the pasta cooks, prepare the dressing:
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. If you like, you can also add some garlic powder for extra flavor. Whisk the dressing until it’s creamy and cohesive, and set it aside.
Step 3: Combine all Ingredients
To the bowl with the pasta, add the remaining pasta salad ingredients: tomatoes, celery, onion, peas, olives, and herbs. Next, pour in the dressing and toss to combine.
Step 4: Serve the Pasta Salad or Store for Later
Either serve the pasta salad immediately, or cover tightly and place in the refrigerator. The pasta salad will last DAYS in the refrigerator, however you WILL need to dress it again. (The pasta noodles soaks up the dressing over time.) Just plan on keeping a little extra mayo, lemon juice, and olive oil on hand to add later.
FAQs and Expert Tips:
What is the Best Pasta for Pasta Salad?
When it comes to pasta salad, shape actually DOES matter. Avoid any long-strand pasta like spaghetti or linguine, which is harder to scoop up with a utensil. Instead, stick with a shape with plenty of nooks and crannies — like fusilli, gemelli, rotini, or elbows.
Also, avoid using fresh pasta, which won’t hold up as well as dried when made ahead.
Do You Rinse Pasta for a Cold Pasta Salad?
In short, YES, pasta should always be rinsed after cooking when making a cold pasta salad. Rinsing in cold water brings the temperature of the pasta down, and helps prevent it from sticking together. I suggest running cold water through it for at least 20 to 30 minutes after draining.
What Goes Good with Pasta Salad?
The beauty of this healthy pasta salad is that it goes well with just about anything. For example, anything hot off the grill, like burgers, BBQ chicken, hot dogs, or veggie burgers. Additionally, it’s a great match for panini’s (or any homemade sandwich), baked fish, pulled pork sandwiches, or shrimp kebobs.
In terms of other side dishes, I love serving it with baked beans and grilled corn. This trio just creates the perfect summer side dish display.
How Long will Pasta Salad Last in the Fridge?
Most creamy pasta salads last 3 to 4 days in the fridge. However, you will likely need to dress it again before serving. I suggest making another half batch of the dressing to stir in right before serving. This will help rehydrate the noodles and tie everything together.
How do you Keep Pasta Salad Moist?
Believe it or not, there is a limit to how much moisture pasta will absorb. So while the pasta WILL soak up a lot of the dressing at first, it will eventually level out. This means that if you make pasta salad in advance, you will likely only need to re-dress it once (ideally right before serving).
My advice is to make one and a HALF batches of dressing. Use the first full batch to dress the pasta salad immediately upon making, and the other half batch to rehydrate it right before serving.
More Healthy Pasta Salad Recipes:
If you make this healthy pasta salad recipe, be sure to snap a pic and tag #dishingouthealth on Instagram so I can see your beautiful creations. Lastly, follow along on Facebook and Pinterest for the latest recipe updates!
Healthy Creamy Pasta Salad
- Large stock pot
- Mixing bowls
- 1 lb. curly-shaped pasta (such as fusilli or gemelli)
- 1 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup frozen/thawed green peas
- 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
- 1 3 to 4 oz. can sliced black olives
- 3 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh chives
- 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise (sub sour cream or whole-milk Greek yogurt)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. lemon zest, plus 3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder (optional)
- Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water. Transfer to a large bowl.
- While the pasta cooks, prepare the dressing by combining mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a small bowl. Stir with a whisk until smooth.
- To the bowl with pasta, add remaining pasta salad ingredients: tomatoes, green peas, red onion, celery, olives, chives, and dill. Pour dressing overtop and toss to combine. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until later use.