Spicy Pasta Salad is filled with sun-dried tomatoes, smoked gouda, fresh summer tomatoes and pepperoncinis all in a red wine vinegar dressing. This hot pasta salad is flavorful with just the right amount of heat that is easily adjustable. You will be reaching for this spicy pasta salad recipe again and again!
This zesty pasta salad is THE must have summer-time recipe, it is a true classic! Bring pasta salad for a picnic, along to your church social or potluck. You can also bring along our classic crowd pleasing desserts like Watergate Cake or Red Velvet Trifle. And these cookies always get rave reviews!
Summer Pasta Salad Recipe
Pasta salad really is the ultimate summer side dish. It should be dubbed 4th of July pasta salad because it’s so great to eat during the summer! I love summer pasta recipes. But honestly, this recipe is so great, I like to eat it ALL. YEAR. LONG. You could definitely make this a Christmas pasta salad, eat it at all the holidays.
Pasta Salad with Homemade Dressing
The flavors in this easy pasta salad are mouthwateringly delicious. The ingredients by themselves are some of my favorites, but they are even better when they are all mixed together into this spicy salad. So what are these magical ingredients?
First off, I’ve got to start off with the red pepper flakes. They are the key to making this pasta salad spicy. Then there are sun-dried tomatoes, I adore those wrinkly, tart tomatoes. This pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes added in is seriously a GAME CHANGER! Next up, is basil. I don’t think anything beats the licorice flavor of my favorite herb. Then there are the cute little squares of smoky gouda cheese. Gouda adds the perfect flavorful pop. Let’s not forget the fresh, bite-sized tomatoes and the tangy pepperoncinis.
I know some pasta salads have a whole bottle of salad dressing dumped in, this is not one of those recipes. This one has a homemade dressing that is delicious. So before using that bottled version, try out making the super easy dressing first. This dressing is what gives this salad it’s spicy kick with added pepperonicini juice for that vinegar element which really balances out this dish.
Making Pasta Salad the Night Before
One of the best things about this recipe is that it’s a make ahead pasta salad. I recommend making this a few hours before you are planning on serving it, but you can also make it up to 4 days in advance. Just keep in mind that it only lasts about 5 days in the fridge.
Should you Rinse Pasta?
Yes, for this recipe you want the pasta to cool down immediately after cooking. If you don’t rinse the pasta, it will continue to cook and get smushy. Which is not so great for pasta salad, you want the pasta to be a little chewy. Also, we want the pasta cool to add in the other ingredients, otherwise you will end up melting your cheese.
Pasta Salad for a BBQ
This is a great pasta salad for a crowd, it serves a ton of people. When I make it for the 4 of us, we are eating it for days (which is fabulous because then I don’t have to cook everyday). Sometimes, we eat it by itself as the main dish, it is so much more than just a side at a barbecue!
Pasta Salad Without Mayo
I really love this recipe because it’s not made with mayonnaise so you don’t have to worry about it spoiling in the heat. Of course, it does have cheese so I wouldn’t leave it outside for more than two hours on cooler days, or one hour on those really hot days. Or just bring your cooler and stick in there to be on the safe side.
Best Substitute for Red Wine Vinegar
So, I know that I can not be the only one that has about every vinegar known to man in their pantry, right?! Please tell me you also have all of the vinegars?? For those of you who may not know, my daughter (the condiment queen) has an extreme love of vinegar. Well, when you have a daughter with a love of vinegar, it is a requirement to buy all of the vinegars.
If you are like me and your kid has used up all of your red wine vinegar (or you just don’t have any), you are in luck! There are some great substitutes like white wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, or sherry vinegar. Use as a substitute 1 for 1. The flavor may change a bit from the original, but will still be delicious.
Ingredients for Pasta Salad
- Rotini Pasta: I love using this twisted pasta but you can use your favorite pasta for pasta salad.
- Sun-dried Tomatoes: Get the sun-dried tomatoes in oil that are julienne sliced. You don’t want to add all that extra oil in though, so just measure out the tomatoes themselves. I bought an 8-ounce jar and used about 3/4 of it. You could definitely add in the whole jar (all 8 ounces)
- Pepperoncinis: You’ll want to get the ones that are already sliced.
- Grape Tomatoes: Or cherry tomatoes, cut in half.
- Smoked Gouda: You could really use any cheese, but smoked gouda is my favorite.
- Basil: You definitely want fresh basil for this salad. I like to add as much basil as I can.
Ingredients for Dressing
- Red Wine Vinegar
- Olive Oil: Extra virgin olive oil.
- Pepperoncini Juice: Just a few tablespoons are needed.
- Oregano: Dried oregano will work well.
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Salt: I like to use sea salt.
- Pepper: Freshly ground pepper will taste the best.
How to Make Pasta Salad from Scratch
- Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water up to boil. Once at a rolling boil, add in your pasta. Cook according to package directions. My pasta was done in 8-10 minutes. Drain it and rinse with cold water, put to the side.
- Make your dressing. Combine together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, pepperoncini juice, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
- Combine the ingredients. In a large bowl, add in the pasta, sun-dried tomatoes, pepperoncinis, sliced tomatoes, cubed gouda, and basil. Pour in the dressing and mix well. Taste and add more salt and pepper or pepperoncini juice or vinegar as needed.
- Refrigerate. Cover the bowl with foil or plastic wrap and place the bowl in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
- Serve. Serve the pasta salad cold or at room temperature.
- Al dente pasta. Make sure not to over cook your pasta. You don’t want soggy pasta for your pasta salad.
- Sun-dried tomatoes. When you measure out the sun-dried tomatoes, don’t include the oil that the tomatoes are packed in.
- Refrigerate pasta salad. Before serving, let the prepared pasta salad sit in the fridge for 2-4 hours to let the flavors mingle. It will taste even better, trust me.
- Best pasta for pasta salad. When choosing the pasta for pasta salad, you want to use shorter noodles that have little grooves for the dressing to get into. It’s best to use dried pasta and not fresh pasta.
- Serving pasta salad. Serve pasta salad cold or at room temperature, it doesn’t usually get served hot.
Pasta Salad Variations
- Adjust the heat. I like the level of heat that comes from adding 2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes. It wasn’t too spicy for my kids. But you can drop the spicy level down or raise it up.
- Change up the heat source. If this isn’t spicy enough or if you don’t like red pepper flakes, try making it sriracha pasta salad by adding in a tablespoon or two of sriracha. You could also try tabasco, hot sauce, one chipotle pepper from the can or 1 1/2 teaspoon of the adobo sauce.
- Use different pasta. I used rotini because my kids have fun eating the spirals, but you could use a variety of other pastas, just not spaghetti. Other great pasta shapes that we like are penne (or mini penne), fusilli, macaroni, or farfalle (bow tie).
- Try other cheeses. Instead of smoked gouda, try out pepper jack cheese, mozzarella, or smoked cheddar.
- Add in some fresh vegetables. Some vegetables that go well in pasta salad are cucumbers, bell pepper, thinly sliced red onion or pickled onion, broccoli, matchstick carrots, or olives.
- Pasta salad with pepperoni. This is a vegetarian pasta salad, but you could add meat to it. Try out pepperoni or salami. Or make the pasta salad with chicken.
- How long is pasta salad good for: Put the pasta salad in a glass container or BPA-free airtight plastic container or zipper bag. It should last about 5 days in the fridge.
- Can pasta salad be frozen? There are some pasta salads that can be frozen, but this one has elements that don’t freeze well. So, I do not recommend freezing this version.
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Spicy Pasta Salad
- 1 pound rotini pasta 16 ounces
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 3 tablespoons pepperoncini juice
- 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 1 cup pepperoncinis sliced
- 8 ounces smoked gouda cut into small cubes
- 1 pint tomatoes grape or cherry cut in half or quarters
- 6 ounces sun-dried tomatoes in oil, julienne cut
- 15-20 basil leaves thinly sliced
- Bring a large pot of salted water up to a rolling boil. Add in your pasta. Cook according to the directions on the package. Drain it your pasta and rinse with cold water, set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, pepperoncini juice, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
- In a large bowl, add in the pasta, sun-dried tomatoes, pepperoncinis, sliced tomatoes, cubed gouda, and basil. Pour in the dressing and mix well. Taste and add more salt and pepper or pepperoncini juice or vinegar as needed.
- Cover the bowl with foil or plastic wrap and place the bowl in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve cold or at room temperature.
- Make sure not to over cook your pasta. You want it to be an al dente or have a chewy texture
- Don’t include the oil that the sun-dried tomatoes are packed in when you measure out the tomatoes.
- Adjust the spiciness up or down.
- Try out a different cheese like pepper jack cheese, mozzarella, or smoked cheddar.
- Pasta salad should last in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Did you make this recipe?
Please let me know how it turned out!
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I love your creative spin on a classic pasta salad. My family would really love this upgrade. Saving this recipe for our next bbq!!
The spiciness definitely adds a different twist on just plain ole pasta salad. I hope your family enjoys it.
Lauren Michael Harris
I love every single ingredient in this spicy pasta salad! Pepperoncini are my favorite as well as smoked gouda. We are going to make this over and over again this summer!
So many wonderful flavors all combined into one! Thanks, Lauren.
I love making pasta salad during the summertime! It’s refreshing and filling. It’s a great idea to add pepperoncini to spice it up a bit 😉
Pasta salad is like THE food of summertime barbecues and we really love that tangy pepperoncini flavor!
Pasta salad is one of my favorite things to enjoy during the summer! I love the spiciness of this one. The pepperoncini adds so much flavor!
Pasta salad is such a delicious classic. I love the pepperoncini juice in this one, adds perfect tang.
I’ve had a lot of pasta salads in my day, but I can’t recall a spicy one. I love this idea, and your spicy pasta salad sounds amazing. I also love the colors and how fresh it looks. I’ll be trying this soon! Thank you.
I love the spiciness in this pasta salad and I hope you do too, Anneke!
I’ve just had a pasta salad before, but mine wasn’t spicy. I think I want to make another pasta salad now but make it spicy this time. You’ve got some amazing results!
I hope you enjoy this spicy version of pasta salad, Elaine. Thanks so much.
This homemade Spicy Pasta Salad recipe was delicious! Everyone seemed to enjoy the salad.
I loved the textures and flavors and will be making this again!
I’m looking forward to seeing and trying a few more recipes on your blog! Have a great day!
That’s great, Heidy! I am so happy that everyone was pleased with this pasta salad.
Marisa F Stewart
Friday night we had the family over for a cookout and I made the spicy pasta salad for the gang. They loved it. I was going to give some to my daughter to take home for the kiddos lunch the next day but there was none left. It wasn’t too spicy at all and the combined flavors were perfect. The dressing didn’t overwhelm the pasta and Gouda. This is a great recipe one that goes well for picnics and gatherings.
I am thrilled that everyone loved this pasta salad, Marisa! Isn’t it great how it’s not super spicy, perfect for even kids.
YUMMMM!!! Just delicious! I love using the pepperoncini juice as part of the vinaigrette. It adds the perfect flavor. The smoked gouda is delicious in this too.
I totally agree, Katie! The pepperoncini juice add such a great tangy flavor!
Yeesss, the smoked gouda is my FAVORITE part about this summer pasta salad, Amy. Hope you love it!
Wow!!! This pasta salad will be awesome for the 4th of July weekend. I love the smoked Gouda and pepperocinis in this summery salad.
This pasta looks incredibly vibrant and colorful and makes me feel even more in the mood for summer. Thanks for sharing!
It is a great pasta salad for summer! Thanks Moop.