There are two types of people in this world: those who love bow tie pasta salad, and those who haven’t tried it yet. If you’re in the latter camp, prepare to be converted – this is one tasty dish! Loaded with veggies and a tangy Italian dressing, it’s perfect for potlucks or summer BBQs.
Pasta salads are one of my go-to recipes when I need to make something easy that everyone loves.
You can make them ahead of time.
And they’re super flexible…so you can basically include whatever vegetables you like.
But bow tie pasta salad is one of my all time favorites.
Especially when you make it with black and white zebra bow ties.
They don’t taste any different but they elevate the look of the whole dish. So it even fits in at a formal dinner party.
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Here’s your shopping list:
- Pasta: 12 to 16 ounces bow tie pasta. For special occasions, I like to use this black and white bow tie pasta* (from Amazon) because it makes the dish look more interesting. But it is more expensive, so regular bow ties (also known as farfalle) will work, too.
- Fresh vegetables: 2 green onions, 1 English cucumber, 3 bell peppers – I used 1 red, 1 orange and 1 yellow pepper for the colors, but green peppers or any other combination of colors works just as well.
- Canned goods: 6-ounce can of black olives.
- Cheese: 4 ounces crumbled goat cheese – I like goat cheese because it is very soft and dissolves a little in the dressing, giving it a creamier consistency. You can buy it already crumbled (which means less work later) or in a block if you don’t mind doing some extra chopping.
- Dressing: 1 cup Italian dressing. I used Olive Garden Italian dressing for this and it was delicious. You can use another brand, but make sure to get one that has lots of flavor.
- Eliminate any of the vegetables that you don’t want. To keep it all black and white, I have even made it with just the cheese and olives (no vegetables at all!) and it still tastes great.
- Add 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved. Or any other vegetable that you like in a salad.
- Use green olives instead of the black ones. Or don’t use any at all, depending on your preferences.
- Substitute mozzarella, feta or blue cheese for the goat cheese if you prefer. Or eliminate the cheese altogether.
How to make bow tie pasta salad
This recipe makes about 12 appetizer-sized servings.
Most of the effort for this salad is chopping the vegetables. You want them all to be in bite-sized pieces.
Remove the stem and seeds from the peppers and chop them. I used half of each of the peppers in the salad and saved the rest for another day. But you can use all of them if you like a lot of “stuff” in your salad.
Wash and chop two green onions.
Chop the English cucumber. I cut it into quarters lengthwise and then chopped the quarters into pieces that are about 1/2 inch long.
Cut the olives in half.
If you bought a block of goat cheese, chop it into 1/4 inch squares.
Boil the pasta
Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil over high heat.
Add the pasta.
Then turn the temperature down to medium high so the water doesn’t boil over the top.
Cook for the recommended time on the package. The pasta should be al dente (soft but not mushy). You don’t want it too soft or you will end up with mushy pasta salad.
If your package has a time range for cooking, use the time at the lower end of the range.
When finished, pour the pasta into a colander and run cold water over it immediately. This will prevent it from cooking further.
Let the pasta sit until it has cooled completely. Mixing in the vegetables and cheese while the pasta is still warm will cause them to wilt and melt.
Make the salad
The final step is the easy part…putting it all together!
To make the salad, add the cold pasta, the chopped vegetables, olives, and goat cheese to the bowl.
Then pour in the Italian dressing. I like to use about 1 cup, but you can add more or less depending on how you like it.
Then toss to combine and it’s ready to serve!
How to make ahead of time
The great thing about pasta salad is you can make it a couple of days ahead of time and it will still taste great when you serve it.
To do this, put the salad together as directed but only add ½ cup of the Italian dressing.
Cover and store in the refrigerator until almost ready to serve.
Then pour in another ½ cup of the salad dressing and toss the salad again to combine. This will keep the flavor tasting fresh.
How to store
Pasta salad can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
As you’ve probably noticed, pasta salad is a very flexible dish. So I often use slightly different variations for different occasions.
Here are a few different versions you can try:
For summer cookouts and other afternoon events where the black and white pasta is a little too dramatic, I use regular white pasta.
It isn’t quite as dramatic as the black and white version, but it tastes just as good.
It’s also not nearly as expensive, so this is also a good variation if you’re feeding a crowd and need to make a lot of pasta salad.
Black and white party
For my black and white party, I was looking for food that matched the color scheme. And this black and white pasta salad was perfect!
I didn’t want any colors to detract from the theme, so I only used black olives and goat cheese with the zebra pasta and dressing.
Halloween dinner party
For Halloween dinners, I like to use the black and white pasta with black olives and goat cheese. And then add in vegetables with Halloween colors.
Like orange peppers.
Or green onions and cucumbers.
If you want to add a little more spookiness to the dish, fill the center of the chopped black olives with goat cheese to make them look like eyeballs.
Other salads you might like
- 4 ingredient Caprese pasta salad
- Best italian pasta salad with pepperoni
- Berry salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette
- Grilled chicken, avocado and mango salad
Bow Tie Pasta Salad
- 1 saucepan
- 1 collander
- 1 large bowl
- 12 to 16 ounces zebra (or regular) bow tie pasta
- ½ yellow bell pepper chopped
- ½ orange bell pepper chopped
- ½ red bell pepper chopped
- 1 English cucumber chopped
- 2 green onions chopped
- 1 6-ounce can black olives chopped in half
- 4 ounces crumbled goat cheese
- 1 cup Italian dressing
- Follow the instructions on the package to cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente. It should be soft but not mushy.
- Pour it into a collander over the sink and run cold water over it.
- Let the pasta cool completely.
- Add the pasta, chopped vegetables, olives and goat cheese to a large bowl.
- Pour in ¾ cup to 1 cup of Italian dressing (or to taste). Toss to combine.
- Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- Any of the vegetables can be adjusted to taste or eliminated.
- Add 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes chopped in half if desired.
- Substitute feta, blue cheese or mozzarella for the goat cheese. Or eliminate the cheese altogether.
- To make the pasta salad ahead of time, save 1/2 cup of the Italian dressing to mix in just before serving. This keeps the flavor fresh.
- Pasta salad can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Nutrition values are estimates only, using online calculators. Please verify using your own data.
Have comments or questions about our bow tie pasta salad recipe? Tell us in the section below.
This post was originally published on May 28, 2022 but was updated with new content on July 23, 2023.