Pasta Salad For A Crowd

Colorful pasta, coated with Italian dressing and a generous blend of veggies and cheese makes a delightful Pasta Salad For A Crowd!

Large foil pan full of pasta salad for a crowd of 50 on a wooden counter top with a long handled silver serving spoon sticking out the side

If you like this recipe you may also enjoy our Linguine Salad and Mom’s Angel Hair Pasta Salad.

Pasta Salad For A Crowd Recipe

So easy to make with bottles of Italian dressing this simple recipe is the perfect side dish for a graduation party, wedding, family reunion, church gathering or potluck.

Chose your favorite variety of vegetables to accent mozzarella cheese and this simple salad bursts with flavor.

We like to have a variety of food at a party and this is always a popular cold side dish option. Some of our warm side dishes people gravitate towards are Big Batch Cheesy Potatoes, Corn for a Crowd, and Mac & Cheese in a Roaster.

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Close up large serving spoon with cold pasta salad with Italian dressing and veggies

Adding small cubes of salami or pepperoni is another way to customize this, but we like keeping it simple with cheese and veggies.

Our most popular main dish to serve with this delicious pasta recipe is our Brisket in a Roaster.

Why This Recipe Works:

  • Using pre-made Italian salad dressing adds a lot of flavor with a little effort
  • Easy to customize by adding cucumbers, salami, subtracting olives, etc.
  • Can be prepared 1 – 2 days ahead of time
  • Food safety is less of a concern when using Italian Dressing than compared to the mayo on our Macaroni Salad for a Crowd or other more perishable dish
  • With simple ingredients kids and picky eaters enjoy this recipe too
  • Pasta is an economical way to feed big groups of people
  • The colorful pasta makes it very eye pleasing and pretty
Disposable aluminum pan with a mixture of chopped vegetables nestled in rotini pasta with a generous coating of Italian salad dressing

Ingredients Needed

  • Tri Colored Pasta – remember it comes in 12 oz boxes with is 3/4 of a pound. So it takes 1 and 1/3 of a box to get a pound of pasta. Plain pasta is fine too and will save a little bit of money. We did an experiment and didn’t notice a difference in flavor at all.
  • Italian Dressing – we like the common brands of dressing, but be sure you use a flavor you really like for best results!
  • Red Bell Pepper – add a little sweet crunch and color
  • Green Bell Pepper – adds an earthly green flavor in moderation
  • Sliced Black Olives – create a salty
  • Cherry Tomatoes – add a slight sweetness and burst of juicy flavor
  • Mozzarella Cheese – I believe including cheese makes most dishes more satisfying
Ingredients for a big batch of pasta salad is rainbow twirls rotini pasta, block of mozzarella cheese, red bell pepper, zesty Italian dressing, green bell pepper, cherry tomatoes and can of sliced black olives on a wood counter top

Included in the picture is roughly enough for a single batch of pasta salad.

I always have extra salad dressing on hand in case the mixture tastes or feels dry.

Big Batch of Pasta Salad For 100 People

This recipe will create approximately 100 scoops with a large serving spoon that are about 1/2 cup each.

To stretch this recipe on a budget you can easily add more pasta and Italian dressing, but keep the amounts of the other ingredients the same. I think the best quality pasta salad will be rich with veggies and cheese as well, but it’s good to have options.

Our recipe will feed 100 people if smaller portions are taken because there is a wide variety of other options.

If options are limited and almost everyone at the party might take generous portions, this recipe will probably not feed 100.

Another tip to help stretch this recipe further is to cut the tomatoes into quarters instead of halves. I like a sweet tomato flavor and prefer not to spend so much time cutting vegetables, but it’s a tip to be aware of.

Green, orange and white pasta on a serving spoon with mozzarella cheese, olives, green bell pepper pieces and cherry tomato halves shinny with Italian dressing over a big bowl full

Using a large, long handled serving spoon, I got 12 scoops of plain pasta using a 12 ounce box of rotini pasta. The scoops were about 2/3 cup each.

Once dressing, vegetables and cheese are added the recipe will go further as there will be closer to half a cup of pasta in an average scoop.

Step By Step Instructions

I like to prep the vegetables and store in a covered large foil pan a day before making the pasta.

When you’re ready to make the salad bring water to a boil in a large pot and generously salt the water before cooking the pasta.

Cook to al dente and be sure to test for doneness before draining. Getting the pasta to the perfect doneness and then stopping the cooking immediately by running under cold water in a strainer is key to making a great pasta salad.

I typically cook pasta in 3 to 4 batches to take care not to cause the pot to boil over. This also makes draining and rinsing immediately with cold water to stop the pasta from cooking and sticking together easier.

Once pasta is cooked, rinsed and drained pour 1/3 to 1/2 of the batch in a very large mixing bowl and add appropriate amount of Italian dressing.

Two bottles of Italian dressing poured over top of cooked tri-color rotini in a huge metal mixing bowl

Stir the dressing into the pasta.

Pour chopped vegetables and cheese over top of the pasta and dressing mixture.

Large piles of sliced black olives, small mozzarella cheese cubes, chopped red bell pepper, chopped green bell pepper and cherry tomato halves on top of two pounds of cooked multi color rotini pasta that has already been coated in Italian dressing

Use a big spoon with a long, firm handle and begin stirring.

Plastic spoons don’t typically work well here. Wooden spoons are okay, but need a nice hollowed out part to scoop and turn the ingredients together with.

Piles of vegetables ready to be stirred into cooked pasta in a super sized bowl

This job always takes longer than I think it should.

You have to keep folding the ingredients on the outside in and work the ingredients on the bottom up into the middle of the batch.

When you can scoop up 3 to 5 full scoops that each have a little bit of all of the ingredients then you’re pasta salad is ready for the crowd!

Extra large metal mixing bowl holding a big batch of pasta salad with tomatoes, black olive slices, chopped bell peppers and small pieces of mozzarella cheese

We find that the rectangular pans covered in heavy duty aluminum foil are easier to store in the refrigerator efficiently than round bowls.

Heavy duty foil is wider than the foil pans and will hold up better during storage and travel than plastic wrap.

Recipe Tips & Tricks

  • Mixing half a batch at a time makes in a very large bowl makes this recipe easier to mix up.
  • For best results make 24 hours ahead of time so pasta can absorb some of the dressing.
  • Have an extra bottle of dressing available to add to the salad if dry when serving.
  • Plan to have plenty of room in the refrigerator for the pasta salad and any other food you may have.
  • Rotini and Rotelle pasta are similar, but we prefer rotini for pasta salad as it is a bit smaller and smoother.
  • You’ll need 2 – 3 large foil pans, depending on depth to serve the pasta. We prefer more shallow pans for ease of chilling and transport.
  • Plan to make multiple pots of pasta with 3 to 4 batches ad allow pasta to cool down in the strainer as the cold water runs off
  • A long handled spoon with a stiff and sturdy handle will be critical to getting this recipe mixed up well
Tri colored rotini pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, olives, cheese, bell peppers and Italian dressing

Regular Pasta vs. Multi Colored Pasta

In a taste test we determined that the color of the pasta did not affect the flavor of the recipe at all.

Tri-colored rotini or rainbow twirls pasta typically comes in a 12 ounce box where plain, traditional pasta typically comes in a 16 ounce box. The price is usually very similar, so you pay the same for less of the multi colored pasta.

This test was performed at a family birthday party in a line-up of Crock Pot Baked Beans, Nutty Buddy Pie and Three Corn Casserole.

Plain pasta and multi colored pasta in two dishes of pasta salad sitting side by side for a visual comparison

The plain pasta was first in line and was initially more popular because people were hungry and trying to move through the line quickly.

As they went back for seconds and took more time to look at the options they tended to gravitate towards the more colorful mixture.

Salad Dressing For A Big Batch

We like to use our favorite flavor of bottled Italian dressing from the store to make this recipe easier.

Cutting up the veggies, stirring and storing a big batch is a good size commitment, so purchased Italian dressing works best for us.

If you want a more premium homemade Italian Dressing you are welcome to mix that up to use.

How Long is Pasta Salad Good In The Fridge?

We like to make this pasta salad 1 to 2 days ahead of the party or potluck.

Keep chilled while serving and store leftovers in an airtight bag or container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days total. Remember to take into account how many days the salad was made before being served the first time.

If pasta salad is left out at a graduation party or picnic for several hours in the heat with potential exposure to winged insects we are more comfortable disposing of it than risking food safety issues.

Overhead view of pasta salad for a crowd in a foil pan loaded with chopped vegetables, small cubes of cheese and coated with an easy dressing

More Easy Recipes for a Crowd:

Marshmallow Brownies are so easy to make a double batch and cut into small, bite sized pieces.

Pulled Pork is so popular at parties and keeps warm really well in the slow cooker while being served.

We shared a list of the Best Graduation Party Buffet Ideas that a home cook can make.

Corner of a large foil pan with a big batch of pasta salad for a crowd that generously coats rotini and an assortment of veggies with Italian dressing

Pasta Salad For A Crowd

Servings 100 servings
Author: Jennifer
Colorful pasta, coated with Italian dressing and a generous blend of veggies and cheese makes a delightful Pasta Salad For A Crowd!
4.67 from 3 votes
Prep Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Chill Time 4 hours
Total Time 5 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients
  

  • 4 pounds multi-colored rotini pasta
  • 64 ounces Italian dressing
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 32 ounces mozzarella cheese cut in small cubes
  • 40 ounces cherry tomatoes cut in half
  • 3 green bell peppers
  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 36 ounces sliced black olives drained

Instructions
 

  • Cook half of pasta, drain and rinse quickly with cold water.
  • Use a very large bowl to put half of the pasta in.
  • Pour Italian dressing over the pasta. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top and use a long handled spoon to stir well.
  • Add remaining ingredients and stir well.
  • Pour into 2 or more large foil pans. Cover with foil or plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Notes

  • Mixing half a batch at a time makes in a very large bowl makes this recipe easier to mix up.
  • For best results make 24 hours ahead of time so pasta can absorb some of the dressing.
  • Have an extra bottle of dressing available to add to the salad if dry when serving.
  • I have included many more tips that may be helpful in the step by step instructions in this article.

Nutrition

Calories: 157kcalCarbohydrates: 17gProtein: 5gFat: 8gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0.01gCholesterol: 7mgSodium: 445mgPotassium: 106mgFiber: 1gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 289IUVitamin C: 10mgCalcium: 59mgIron: 0.5mg

Nutritional Disclaimer

“Plowing Through Life” is not a dietitian or nutrition professional. Any nutritional information shared is an estimate and can vary greatly depending on specific products are used. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through an online nutritional calculator of your choice.

Tried this recipe?Mention @PlowingThroughLife or tag #PlowingThroughLife!

10 Comments

  1. Walter Hartman says:

    If you put this in an aluminum pan the acid in the dressing will start eating the pan and give it an off flavor.

  2. Karen L Hamrock says:

    I don’t think this serves 100 people, we make 2 boxes of pasta for 5 people.

    1. Jennifer @ Plowing Through Life says:

      Hey There! Our recipe calls for 4 pounds of pasta which creates 100 scoops that are about 1/2 cup each in our testing. It would certainly depend how many other ingredients you mix in with the pasta, but that’s what we came up with in our recipe testing. Hope you enjoy!

  3. Would this be enough for 50 people ?!

    1. Jennifer @ Plowing Through Life says:

      Hey There!

      This recipe will create approximately 100 scoops with a large serving spoon that are about 1/2 cup each.

  4. I am to make this pasta for approximately 50 people. How many boxes do I need if one box is one pound, 16 ounce?

    1. Jennifer @ Plowing Through Life says:

      Hey There! The recipe card at the bottom of the article shares quantities for 100 servings that are 1/2 cup each. So cutting that in half to get 50 servings would call for two pounds of pasta. Hope you enjoy! 🙂

  5. 5 stars
    This looks amazing, although I did not need that much I down sized the recipe. I am sure it will be a hit/

  6. 4 stars
    I used penne, I had read to allow 1 ounce dry pasta per person so I used 6 lbs dry weight. I wanted a Greek version so I used Greek dressing, feta cheese, red onion, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, orange peppers and sliced black olives. It was enough for 92 people with some left as I made 3 other salads.

  7. Janice Fager says:

    5 stars
    I made this for a retirement party for 80. It was all gone. So easy and so good!

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