Italian Pasta Salad. Rey Lopez for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

If a cookout or picnic is in the cards this weekend, or any summer weekend, today’s recipe for Italian Pasta Salad is the perfect dish to bring along. It’s adapted from “Food Gifts: 150+ Irresistible Recipes for Crafting Personalized Presents,” by America’s Test Kitchen and Elle Simone Scott, and it covers all the pasta salad bases.

It’s got pasta, of course, but also the great briny, pickley, rich things that make an antipasto platter sing: olives, pepperoncini, sun-dried tomatoes, salami, mozzarella, and a dressing full of capers and anchovies. No picnic in your future? Please still try this. It’s a handy dish to make over the weekend and enjoy throughout the week, and an ideal candidate to bring to work for lunch or to take with you on a hike, a prize waiting for you when you reach the top of the (proverbial or real) mountain.

Simone Scott, a Detroit native who in 2016 became the first Black woman to appear as a regular host on the “America’s Test Kitchen” television programincludes several smart decisions in the recipe. First, she has you cook the pasta past al dente, until it’s actually soft. Pasta firms as it cools, so in a cold salad, this ensures that it ends up the optimal texture. Next, if you’re bringing the salad to a picnic or cookout, she suggests packing the arugula and basil separately, so you can add them at the last minute, preserving their flavor and freshness while avoiding wilting.

I also love that she heats up the garlic and anchovies in oil in the microwave for just a few seconds to bloom the flavors, as you would in a skillet, before making the dressing. (Of course, if you don’t have a microwave, use a skillet.) And she uses the pepperoncini brine for the acid in the dressing.

May I suggest a classic Caesar salad to go with this pasta salad? I am suggesting it not only because they would be great together, but also because making your own Caesar dressing lets you use up the rest of the can or jar of anchovies you open for the pasta salad.

To make my favorite Caesar dressing, which I like to call Julia’s Caesar (say it out loud and you’ll understand), you’ll need either a blender or an immersion (stick) blender. You can also use a food processor, but the result won’t be as creamy. Whatever appliance you use, blend together the remaining anchovies, plus the oil they’re packed in with 2 tablespoons each of fresh lemon juice, red wine vinegar and water, plus ½ cup each of olive oil and mayonnaise. Add enough grated parmesan to make it thick (about ½ cup), and season with minced fresh garlic, salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Serve over chopped romaine, and that’s it!


It’s a make-ahead, easy-to-transport side dish that will make you the star of the cookout.

This pasta salad has all the briny, pickley, rich ingredients that make an antipasto platter sing. Rey Lopez for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post Washington Post

Italian Pasta Salad

6 to 8 servings (makes about 13 cups)

Total time: 40 mins

Full of Italian pantry staples such as olives, capers, pepperoncini and sun-dried tomatoes, this pasta salad is packed with flavor. Diced salami and mozzarella give it heft, and arugula and basil offer freshness. All of the ingredients are very customizable, so you can make the salad suit your tastes (increase the pepper flakes for more heat, add more arugula for more of a peppery bite, etc.). Chef and cookbook author Elle Simone Scott relies on a trick to get the right texture for the pasta in this salad: She cooks it slightly longer than the package instructions call for to get it al dente, as the pasta firms up as it cools.

To make this recipe go faster, chop the flavorful add-ins while the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks.


Make ahead: For a more developed flavor, prepare and refrigerate the salad right up until adding the arugula and basil for up to 1 day in advance.

Storage: The pasta salad, minus the arugula and basil, can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

Where to buy: Unsliced salami can be found at specialty markets, butcher shops and gourmet stores.


Fine salt

1 pound fusilli


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, chopped

3 oil-packed anchovy fillets

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste

1 cup (5 ounces) pepperoncini, stemmed, plus 1/4 cup brine from the jar

2 tablespoons drained brined capers


8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese pearls, patted dry (see Substitutions)

4 ounces salami, diced

1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and thinly sliced

1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped

2 cups (2 ounces) baby arugula, plus more to taste

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil



In a large pot over high heat, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Season the water lightly with salt – you’ll have lots of salty, briny ingredients in the salad to add flavor – and add the pasta. Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is tender throughout, 2 to 3 minutes past the package instructions for al dente.

While the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, in a liquid measuring cup, combine the oil, garlic, anchovies and crushed red pepper flakes. Cover and microwave on HIGH until bubbling and fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. (If you don’t have a microwave, heat the ingredients together in a small skillet over medium heat until sizzling.)

Slice half of the pepperoncini into thin rings and transfer to a large bowl (where you’ll assemble your salad). In a mini food processor, combine the remaining peperoncini with the capers and pulse until finely chopped, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the pepperoncini brine and the warm oil mixture and process until it forms a smooth dressing, about 20 seconds. You should have about 3/4 cup of the dressing.

When the pasta is ready, drain it, then rinse under cold running water until completely cooled. Drain thoroughly, then transfer to the bowl with the peperoncini. Add the mozzarella, salami, sun-dried tomatoes and olives, and toss to combine. Add the dressing to the pasta mixture and toss to combine. At this point, the pasta salad can sit at room temperature for up to 2 hours, or you can cover and refrigerate it until needed. When ready to serve, stir in the arugula and basil.

Substitutions: Try to find whole salami, not pre-sliced, so you can control the size of your dice. Or you can use soppressata instead.


No basil? Use parsley.

Instead of fresh mozzarella pearls, use diced fresh mozzarella or your favorite cheese.

Instead of Kalamata olives, use your favorite briny olive.

Vegetarian? Skip the anchovies and salami. Vegan? Substitute diced smoked tofu for the cheese.

Looking for even more color? Add a pint of halved rainbow cherry tomatoes.

Nutrition per serving (about 1 2/3 cups), based on 8: 455 calories, 47g carbohydrates, 39mg cholesterol, 22g fat, 2g fiber, 17g protein, 7g saturated fat, 844mg sodium, 3g sugar

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