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Full of fresh, flavorful ingredients, this easy pasta salad recipe is a popular side dish for picnics, potlucks and cookouts. The creamy salad starts with a bright, smooth dressing made with mayo, lemon, fresh basil and garlic. Serve the cold pasta salad with your favorite meat-based entrées, like pulled BBQ pork, grilled chicken, burgers, steak, fried chicken or fish. It’s a crowd-pleasing dish that makes summer entertaining easy!

Overhead image of two bowls of easy pasta salad with mayo on a picnic table

Creamy Pasta Salad

If you’re hosting a summer get-together or heading over to a friend’s house for a picnic, then this easy pasta salad with mayo is for you. After all, a Southern potluck would not be complete without plenty of sides on the table! While we love a wide variety of pasta salad recipes — from Macaroni Salad to Shrimp Pasta Salad, Classic Pasta Salad to Italian Pasta Salad — this creamy version with a homemade dressing is always a favorite.

My cold pasta salad with mayo takes advantage of the fresh veggies and herbs that are available at this time of year and let’s them shine. It’s a simple blend of pasta, broccoli, peas, sweet bell pepper, cucumber and green onions.

Pasta Salad Dressing

While some recipes call for bottled dressing (which is totally fine for a shortcut!), this creamy dressing is made from scratch 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! It’s flavored with lemon juice, fresh basil and garlic, then it sits and marinates with the pasta and veggies to bring the whole salad together.

Tip: Since the pasta absorbs some of the dressing as it sits, reserve extra dressing to add just before serving. This refreshes and moistens the salad when you’re ready to enjoy it.

Side shot of a bowl of cold pasta salad on a table

Ingredients

This is a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for an easy pasta salad with mayo. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Pasta: any short pasta shape will work. I like either medium shells, elbow macaroni, rotini, penne or ditalini.
  • Broccoli florets: cook them in the boiling pasta water for about 30 seconds, just so that they’re crisp-tender.
  • Frozen peas: thaw the peas first, then toss them into the bowl!
  • Sweet red bell pepper: substitute with any other color sweet bell pepper.
  • Cucumber: I prefer seedless English cucumber, which you don’t even need to peel.
  • Green onion: scallions add a mild onion flavor to the dish. You can substitute with fresh chives if they’re available.
  • Mayonnaise: the base of the dressing, so pick a high-quality mayo with great flavor. We prefer Duke’s brand.
  • Lemon juice: freshly-squeezed for a bright, acidic note in the dressing.
  • Fresh basil leaves: add so much flavor to the dressing. You can include other fresh herbs of your choice, too. We love fresh dill and fresh parsley as well.
  • Garlic, sugar, salt and pepper: enhance the other flavors in the 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 medium shells here, but other good options include ditalini, elbows, rotini and penne. You want something that has holes, ridges or curls so that the dressing really clings to each bite!

Overhead shot of creamy pasta salad with mayo in a blue ceramic bowl on a wooden table

Should you rinse pasta for pasta salad?

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

  1. Stops the cooking process and cools down the pasta right away so that you can toss it with the veggies and dressing; and
  2. Removes some of the starches so that the noodles don’t stick together in a big clump as they cool.
Pasta and broccoli in a colander

How to Make Easy Pasta Salad from Scratch

This easy cold pasta salad is a perfect prep-ahead side dish for your next Sunday supper, family bbq, picnic or potluck. It’s versatile, and it pairs well with almost any meat-based entrée! I think it’s best when it has a chance to sit for at least 2 hours, so make sure that you plan ahead and allow enough time for the dish to chill.

  1. Boil the pasta, adding the broccoli during the final 30 seconds. Drain and rinse under cold water, then set aside to cool completely.
  2. Combine pasta, broccoli, peas, red bell pepper, cucumber and green onion in a large bowl.
  3. Whisk together the dressing in a separate bowl.
  4. Pour half of the dressing over the salad, then toss to coat. Reserve the remaining dressing to refresh the salad just before serving.
  5. Refrigerate the salad for at least 2 hours (or overnight).
  6. Drizzle remaining dressing over top, toss to combine, and serve!
Overhead shot of ingredients for creamy pasta salad recipe
Process shot showing how to make pasta salad with mayo from scratch
Horizontal image of creamy pasta salad with mayo on a blue stoneware bowl with fresh herbs garnished on top

What goes with cold pasta salad?

There are a number of easy main dish options that go well with this easy pasta salad. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Square overhead shot of pasta salad with mayo in a white stoneware bowl

Make Ahead

The salad is best when it has at least a couple of hours to chill. You can assemble the salad in advance and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before serving. Just before you plan to enjoy it, add the reserved dressing to freshen it up!

Storage

While it’s best enjoyed within 24 hours, the dish will stay fresh in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. I do not recommend freezing the salad, since the ingredients will have a mushy, watery texture when thawed.

Close overhead shot of a bowl of creamy pasta salad on a wooden table

Recipe Variations

  • 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 red bell pepper for halved cherry tomatoes.
  • Sliced black olives and hardboiled eggs are also classic additions. Toss them into this dish, if you like.
  • Cheese is always a good option, too. Try cubed cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, crumbled feta cheese, or diced Swiss cheese.
  • More herbs would be great in the dressing, so add chopped fresh parsley, dill, thyme or oregano when available.
  • Add meat and make it a more satisfying dish that works for a lunch or dinner entrée. Good options include grilled or rotisserie chicken, shrimp or tuna.
Side shot of a spoon in a bowl of vegetarian pasta salad

Tips for the Best Easy Pasta Salad Recipe

  • Plan ahead and make sure that you allow at least 2 hours for the salad to “marinate” in the dressing and the flavors to come together.
  • Rinse the pasta and broccoli under cold water to stop the cooking process, cool it down quickly, and remove starches so that the noodles don’t stick to each other.
  • Thaw the peas quickly by placing the frozen peas in a colander. When you drain the pasta and broccoli florets, pour the hot pasta and water over the peas in the colander. They will thaw almost instantly when the hot pasta hits them!
  • Grate the peeled garlic clove on a microplane so that you get all of the great garlic flavor in your dressing without any big chunks.
Close overhead shot of the best pasta salad recipe served in a bowl on a wooden table

More Pasta Salad Recipes to Try

Overhead shot of a bowl of easy pasta salad

Easy Pasta Salad with Mayo, Lemon and Basil

Prep: 30 minutes
Chilling Time 2 hours
Total: 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings 4 – 6 people
Calories 417 kcal
Full of fresh, flavorful ingredients, this easy pasta salad recipe is a popular side dish for picnics, potlucks and cookouts!

Ingredients
  

FOR THE SALAD:

  • 8 ounces uncooked medium shells or other short pasta (such as elbows, ditalini, rotini or penne)
  • ½ cup diced broccoli florets
  • ½ cup frozen peas, thawed
  • ½ cup finely diced sweet red bell pepper
  • ½ cup diced cucumber
  • ¼ cup sliced green onions

FOR THE DRESSING:

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves
  • 1 small clove garlic, finely minced or grated (or half of a large clove)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Optional garnish: chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package instructions, adding the broccoli florets to the pot of boiling water during the final 30 seconds of cooking. Drain and rinse under cold water. Set aside to cool completely.
  • In a large bowl, combine cooked pasta, broccoli, peas, red bell pepper, cucumber and green onion.
  • In a separate small bowl, prepare the dressing by whisking together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, basil, garlic, sugar, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper.
  • Pour half of the dressing over the salad and gently toss to coat. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Store the remaining dressing in an airtight container or jar in the refrigerator.
  • Cover the salad and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
  • Just before serving, toss with reserved dressing to moisten. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper, if necessary. Garnish with fresh parsley.

Notes

  • Plan ahead and make sure that you allow at least 2 hours for the salad to “marinate” in the dressing and the flavors to come together.
  • Rinse the pasta and broccoli under cold water to stop the cooking process, cool it down quickly, and remove starches so that the noodles don’t stick to each other.
  • Thaw the peas quickly by placing the frozen peas in a colander. When you drain the pasta and broccoli florets, pour the hot pasta and water over the peas in the colander. They will thaw almost instantly when the hot pasta hits them!
  • Grate the peeled garlic clove on a microplane so that you have all of the great garlic flavor in your dressing without any big chunks.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/6 of the recipeCalories: 417kcalCarbohydrates: 33gProtein: 6gFat: 29gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 16mgSodium: 244mgPotassium: 203mgFiber: 2gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 603IUVitamin C: 31mgCalcium: 23mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: cold pasta salad, creamy pasta salad, easy pasta salad
Course: Salad, Side Dish
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!

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Comments

  1. Perhaps this is a ridiculous request, given the ingredient’s prominent role in the dish, but is there a substitute for mayo that you would recommend as a viable alternative? The salad sounds delicious but my husband hates mayonnaise.

    1. Hi, Nicole! Not really, although you can definitely cut the mayo with some sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, which would minimize the mayo flavor in the dish.