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Full of simple and fresh ingredients, this chicken pasta salad with shrimp and pepperoni is the perfect side dish for your next cookout, an easy option for a light weeknight dinner, or a refreshing make-ahead lunch. You’ll love the flavorful combination of onions, bell peppers, celery, peas, pecans, herbs, and a creamy mayo dressing. Serve the cold pasta salad with mixed greens, focaccia, garlic bread, breadsticks, or a crusty baguette!

Two wooden serving spoons in a bowl of chicken pasta salad with shrimp and pepperoni

Italian Pasta Salad

My mother-in-law’s chicken pasta salad recipe gets a zesty, Italian spin with the addition of pepperoni! She always includes shrimp, plenty of veggies, and a flavorful mayo dressing, too. It’s satisfying enough to serve as a dinner or lunch entrée, but it’s also delicious alongside hamburgers, grilled fish, steak, or Italian sausage. Best of all, the easy dish can be prepared in advance for busy weeknights and stress-free entertaining.

Pasta Salad Dressing

While some recipes call for bottled dressing alone (such as ranch dressing or Italian dressing), this creamy pasta salad dressing includes more layers of complex flavor — and it’s ready in just minutes! When you make your own dressing at home, you can control the amount of herbs and seasoning that you use, so your dish comes out exactly how you like it…every single time.

This dressing is smooth and creamy, thanks to the mayo, and zesty and bold, thanks to the peppercorn ranch salad dressing, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, and herbs. It marinates with the pasta, chicken, shrimp, pepperoni, and veggies to bring the whole salad together.

Side shot of a table with green salad and veggies near a white serving bowl of chicken pasta salad

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need to make a big bowl of chicken pasta salad. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Pasta: my mother-in-law always uses rotini, but you can substitute with any similar small pasta shape, such as shells, elbow macaroni, farfalle (bowties), or penne.
  • Chicken: you’ll need cooked, shredded or diced meat, so a store-bought rotisserie chicken comes in really handy! If you prefer to cook your own chicken at home for this dish, see my notes below.
  • Shrimp: I purchase a bag of small (71-90 count) cooked, peeled, and deveined frozen shrimp. Just thaw the shrimp in the fridge overnight or run them under cold water in a colander, pat them dry, and add them to the bowl.
  • Pepperoni: mini pepperoni is a great shortcut because it doesn’t require any chopping. If you’re using regular pepperoni, you’ll want to cut the larger rounds into bite-size pieces.
  • Onion: we love sweet onion, but just about any variety will work. Use green onion or fresh chives for a mild flavor, or use red onion for a zestier bite.
  • Red bell pepper and celery: bulk up the salad with crisp, fresh, crunchy texture.
  • Peas: thawed frozen peas add a sweet touch and bright green color. Do not cook the peas before adding them to the salad.
  • Chopped pecans: for rich, buttery, nutty crunch. You can omit the nuts altogether, or substitute with a different variety like almonds or walnuts.
  • Mayonnaise, peppercorn ranch salad dressing, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, sugar, tarragon, dill, garlic powder, kosher salt, and ground black pepper: simple ingredients that come together for a flavorful, creamy salad dressing.
Process shot showing how to make chicken pasta salad

Which pasta is best for salad?

As I mentioned above, you can use just about any short pasta shape that you like. I’ve shown rotini here, but other good options include ditalini, elbows, shells, and penne. You want something that has holes, ridges, or curls so that the dressing really clings to each bite!

Should you rinse pasta for pasta salad?

Yes, I recommend rinsing the pasta for this cold pasta salad. The rinsing accomplishes two things:

  1. It stops the cooking process and cools down the pasta right away so that you can toss it with the rest of the ingredients; and
  2. It removes some of the starches so that the noodles don’t stick together in a big clump as they cool.
Whisking pasta salad dressing

How to Make Chicken Pasta Salad

This creamy chicken pasta salad is not fancy, but it disappears fast when you put it on the table. I especially love the variety of flavors and textures, from the creamy dressing to the crunchy vegetables, spicy pepperoni, and tender pasta. Add in peppercorn ranch and plenty of herbs for refreshing zest!

  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the package directions. Drain, and run under cold water.
  2. Combine the cooked pasta, chicken, shrimp, pepperoni, onion, bell pepper, celery, peas, and pecans in a large bowl.
  3. Whisk together the dressing in a separate bowl.
  4. Pour the dressing over the pasta mixture. Stir gently to coat.
  5. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary.
  6. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours before serving.
Close overhead image of a bowl of easy pasta salad with chicken and mayo

What to Serve with Chicken Pasta Salad

This cold pasta salad with mayo, chicken, shrimp, and pepperoni is hearty enough to serve as a main dish. Pair it with a side of focaccia, garlic bread, breadsticks, a crusty baguette, or a simple green salad to round out the summer meal.

If you’re offering the chicken salad as a side dish at your next potluck, here are some good entrees to go along with it:

Hands holding a bowl of creamy chicken pasta salad with mayo

Make Ahead

For convenience, you can make this easy pasta salad the night before you plan to enjoy it. I recommend chilling the pasta salad for at least 1 hour before serving to give the flavors a chance to “come together,” but overnight is fine as well. You might need to add a little bit more mayonnaise or ranch dressing to the salad the next day if you find that the pasta has absorbed too much of the dressing.

Storage

Store the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days. I do not recommend freezing the pasta salad. The creamy dressing may “break” or separate when thawed, and the pasta and vegetables will be mushy.

Overhead shot of wooden serving utensils in a bowl of chicken pasta salad with pepperoni and shrimp

Chicken Pasta Salad Recipe Variations

  • Any small pasta shape will work, so feel free to substitute shells, elbows, farfalle (bowties), or penne for the rotini pasta.
  • For a touch of lemon flavor, use fresh squeezed lemon juice instead of the red wine vinegar, and add grated lemon zest to the dressing.
  • Use any fresh herbs that you enjoy. I love my mother-in-law’s combination of dill and tarragon, but you can substitute with chopped fresh parsley, fresh basil, thyme, rosemary, or chives.
  • Cooking for a smaller family? Cut all of the ingredients in half. This makes a very big bowl of salad!
  • Substitute jumbo lump crab meat, imitation crab, cooked, diced turkey, or diced ham for the chicken or shrimp.
  • Just about any vegetables will work, so feel free to mix up what goes in your salad. For instance, add corn instead of peas, or swap out the bell pepper for halved cherry tomatoes.
  • Sliced black olives and hardboiled eggs are also classic additions. Toss them into this dish, if you like.
  • Add diced cheese, such as mozzarella or cheddar cheese, or crumbled feta cheese or blue cheese.
White bowl full of the best chicken pasta salad recipe

Tips for the Best Pasta Salad Recipe

  • Use a high-quality mayonnaise for the dressing, since it adds so much flavor to the dish. I prefer Duke’s brand mayo.
  • Cook the pasta just until al dente, so that it’s not too mushy in the salad.
  • Liberally salt the pasta cooking water, since this is your chance to season the pasta.
  • Rinse the pasta under cold water to stop the cooking process. This also removes some of the starches from the noodles so that they don’t stick together in the salad.
  • Use store-bought rotisserie chicken and cooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp to eliminate prep work. You can also use leftover chicken from a previous meal.
  • If you prefer to cook your own chicken at home, boil about 1 lb. of boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken thighs (if you like the dark meat) until cooked through, about 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, chop or pull the chicken. You’ll need a total of about 2 cups shredded. I find that 1 lb. of chicken breasts yields about 2 cups of pulled chicken, but there’s some flexibility here — it doesn’t need to be exact.
  • If you prefer to cook your own shrimp at home, follow these instructions.
  • Thaw the peas quickly by placing the frozen peas in a colander. When you drain the pasta, pour the hot pasta and water over the peas in the colander. They will thaw almost instantly when the hot pasta hits them!
Overhead shot of hands tossing a chicken pasta salad in a white bowl

More Cold Pasta Salad Recipes to Try

Two wooden serving spoons in a bowl of chicken pasta salad with shrimp and pepperoni

Chicken Pasta Salad with Shrimp and Pepperoni

Prep: 30 minutes
Chilling Time 2 hours
Total: 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings 16 cups total (approximately)
Calories 405 kcal
Full of simple and fresh ingredients, this chicken pasta salad with shrimp and pepperoni is the perfect side dish for your next cookout, an easy option for a light weeknight dinner, or a refreshing make-ahead lunch.

Ingredients
  

FOR THE SALAD

  • 1 (16 ounce) box rotini pasta
  • 2 cups cooked, diced chicken
  • 1 lb. cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 cup mini pepperoni (or chopped pepperoni)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 sweet red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed and drained
  • ½ cup chopped pecans

FOR THE DRESSING

  • 1 ½ cups mayonnaise
  • ½ cup peppercorn Ranch salad dressing
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried tarragon (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried dill weed (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill)
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside to cool completely.
  • In a large bowl, combine cooked pasta, chicken, shrimp, pepperoni, onion, red bell pepper, celery, peas, and pecans.
  • In a separate small bowl, prepare the dressing by whisking together the mayonnaise, Ranch dressing, Dijon mustard, vinegar, sugar, tarragon, dill, and garlic powder. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  • Pour the dressing over the salad; toss gently to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours, or overnight.
  • Just before serving, give it a stir, add extra mayonnaise if the salad seems dry, and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary.

Notes

  • Use a high-quality mayonnaise for the dressing, since it adds so much flavor to the dish. I prefer Duke’s brand mayo.
  • Cook the pasta just until al dente, so that it’s not too mushy in the salad.
  • Liberally salt the pasta cooking water, since this is your chance to season the pasta.
  • Rinse the pasta under cold water to stop the cooking process. This also removes some of the starches from the noodles so that they don’t stick together in the salad.
  • Use store-bought rotisserie chicken and cooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp to eliminate prep work. You can also use leftover chicken from a previous meal.
  • If you prefer to cook your own chicken at home, boil about 1 lb. of boneless, skinless chicken breasts or chicken thighs (if you like the dark meat) until cooked through, about 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, chop or pull the chicken. You’ll need a total of about 2 cups shredded. I find that 1 lb. of chicken breasts yields about 2 cups of pulled chicken, but there’s some flexibility here — it doesn’t need to be exact.
  • If you prefer to cook your own shrimp at home, follow these instructions.
  • Thaw the peas quickly by placing the frozen peas in a colander. When you drain the pasta, pour the hot pasta and water over the peas in the colander. They will thaw almost instantly when the hot pasta hits them!

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 405kcalCarbohydrates: 26gProtein: 16gFat: 26gSaturated Fat: 5gPolyunsaturated Fat: 13gMonounsaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 68mgSodium: 500mgPotassium: 243mgFiber: 2gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 392IUVitamin C: 14mgCalcium: 40mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: chicken pasta salad, cold pasta salad, easy pasta salad, italian pasta salad
Course: Dinner, Lunch, Salad
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

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Comments

  1. Wow, sounds yummy but deluxe with three meats in it! Is shrimp and chicken a southern staple which I hadn’t heard of yet or just a family recipe? At any rate, a great recipe in which to utilize leftovers or pantry staples! In New Mexico, 100+ degree weather is just around the corner and I often just want to go with what’s in the house rather than shop after early morning. thanks for supplying me and many others with good, flexible recipes.

    1. Chicken and shrimp are both commonly found in Southern recipes, but not necessarily together in pasta salads. This is my mother-in-law’s recipe, which she has been making for as long as I’ve known her (about 20 years). I have no idea where she originally got the recipe (or if she made it up). It’s hearty enough to serve as an entree, and always disappears fast at cookouts and potlucks (even as a side). You can definitely feel free to use just chicken, just shrimp, or other leftovers that you might have on hand. 🙂