Tangy, garlicky vinaigrette dressing brings a zesty kick to this spinach tomato pasta salad. It’s a terrific meal on its own and it also makes a great side dish with grilled chicken or salmon.
Garlic Pasta Salad
This salad is the perfect light side dish for summer barbecues. It’s full of fresh vegetables and chewy penne pasta tossed in an easy, flavorful garlic-infused dressing.
A pasta salad with vinaigrette is a great way to change it up when you want to go a bit lighter than a creamy pasta salad with a mayonnaise-based dressing. It’s also the best possible option when you’re taking food somewhere and aren’t certain that you’ll be able to keep it cold the whole time.
This garlic pasta salad is just as good (maybe even a little better) at room temperature as it is straight from the fridge.
As far as potluck dishes go, this one gets two thumbs up for ease of preparation. I usually make it the day before I plan to serve it. It’s also a quick lunch option for me that’s in regular rotation. When I make it, I portion it into smaller containers and can just grab one whenever I’m ready to eat.
Pasta with Spinach and Tomatoes
To assemble this easy salad, start by combining the garlic, red onions, oil, and vinegar in a large mixing bowl. Set this aside and allow the flavors to mingle and create that zesty dressing while the pasta is cooking.
Toss the cooked pasta in the garlicky dressing. The olive oil in the dressing will keep the pasta from sticking together.
While the pasta starts soaking up the dressing, take a few minutes to prep your vegetables. Cut the grape tomatoes in half and pull any long stems off the baby spinach.
If you aren’t using pre-washed baby spinach, give it a rough chop and a quick rinse. Toss it through a salad spinner or blot it dry on paper towels before adding it to the salad.
The combination of slightly spicy red onion with sweet juicy tomatoes is a siren’s call to my tastebuds. And as the garlicky dressing soaks into the tomatoes, they become that much sweeter.
The tomatoes will release some of their juices into the salad as it rests creating incredibly flavorful bites of pasta. Can you tell just how much I enjoy this tomato pasta salad?
There really is no limit to the vegetables that you can add to a pasta salad. Black olives and peppers are always a good idea and diced cucumbers add a delicate crunch.
Want to make it a little bit heartier? Diced up your favorite cheese and add it to the mix. Sharp cheddar and pepper jack are favorites with my family. Shaved Parmesan or crumbled feta also work nicely.
Tomato Pasta Salad
To make this salad, you will need the following ingredients:
- penne pasta
- red onion
- olive oil
- balsamic vinegar
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- baby spinach
- grape tomatoes
How Long is Pasta Salad Good for?
If I am making this just a few hours ahead of serving, I combine all of the ingredients, cover and refrigerate. However, if it is the day before, feel free to keep the spinach separate until just before serving. It works fine both ways, but the spinach will wilt a bit after it has been tossed with the dressing.
If you prefer the spinach more wilted, (I do!) just add it when you first combine the ingredients. Don’t be afraid to season the salad generously; pasta salad tends to take more salt and pepper than you might think. Taste the salad and add salt as needed.
Most pasta salads, if stored in an airtight container and kept in the refrigerator, are good for 3-5 days. If the pasta gets a little dry, you can add a splash of whatever salad dressing might be on hand. Balsamic vinaigrette or red wine vinaigrette, even an Italian dressing, all work really well.
Summer Salads without Mayo
I absolutely LOVE a good salad. The balance of flavors and textures, from tangy to slightly sweet, crunchy to soft – and everything in between. These are some of my current favorites.
Arugula Tomato Salad celebrates the sweet summer freshness of tomatoes with the peppery bite of arugula glazed with balsamic.
Brussels sprouts, apples, cranberries, pecans, onion, and cheddar cheese are tossed together and drizzled with an apple cider vinaigrette to make this Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad.
Fresh corn, bell peppers, jalapenos, cilantro, and onion are tossed with lime and a sprinkling of spices to create this Southwest Corn Salad.
Tangy Vegetable Pasta Salad made with fresh vegetables from the garden, farmers’ market or grocery store is light and refreshing any time of the year.
Sweet bites of oranges are tossed with crisp lettuce and parsley and then topped with caramelized almonds to create this refreshing salad.
Tomato Pasta Salad with Spinach
- 8 ounces mini penne or regular penne pasta
- ½ small red onion thinly sliced and cut into 1-inch pieces, about ⅓ cup
- 4 large cloves garlic minced
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup white balsamic or traditional balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups baby spinach
- 2 cups grape tomatoes halved
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil along with 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain, but do not rinse the pasta.
- While the pasta is cooking, place the onions and garlic in a large mixing bowl. Add the olive oil and vinegar to cover the onions. When the pasta has been drained, add it to the mixing bowl and toss well. Add the tomatoes and spinach.
- Toss everything together to mix well and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Taste the salad and add more salt and pepper, as needed.
8 Comments Leave a comment or review
Looks really delicious, but the recipe says White balsamic vinegar, and then it says Red wine vinegar.Which one should I use ?
Good catch, Sandy! I’m not sure how that happened in the post, but the recipe card is correct. You’ll use balsamic in this recipe. Thanks for telling me so that I could correct it!
Is the pasta warm when you add it to the spinach? Recipe says not to rinse to cool it off?
If it’s a bit warm still, it’s fine. However, it’s typically cool by the time I add it. If you prefer the salad to be completely cold when serving, just pop it in the fridge for a while. Enjoy!
Nancy Ambroseno says
Can I use orzo in place of mini penne?
Yes, orzo should work as a substitute, Nancy. I hope you love the salad!
Marianna Whittier says
This recipe looks great except for the balsamic vinegar. Is there anything I can use instead?
Hello, Marianna! While the flavor will be different, the balsamic vinegar isn’t necessary to make the recipe. You can just skip the ingredient if it’s not to your taste. I hope you love the salad!