Italian pasta salad is a favorite picnic salad side dish! Instead of traditional pasta we changed it up to make a chickpea pasta salad. Packed with protein, fiber, tons of fresh vegetables, and a light balsamic vinaigrette make up the most delicious Mediterranean chickpea pasta salad recipe.
Whether for a simple lunch, easy dinner or a great side dish for al fresco dining, summer pasta salad is the best. Served at room temperature of as a cold pasta salad, the flavors in this recipe will excite your taste buds.
Using chickpea pasta instead of whole wheat pasta adds some great benefits. It's a higher protein pasta with more fiber and a mild flavor perfect for this easy side dish.
What makes this skinny?
Pasta salad isn't the most lean dish however we've made some tweaks that deliver up a great option and increased nutrition too.
- Chickpea pasta vs. regular pasta. Chickpea pasta is about 10 calories less than regular pasta for the same serving size. However it has double the protein (11-13 grams per serving depending on the brand), double the fiber, lower in carbohydrates by 10 grams and it's naturally gluten-free.
- The higher fiber offers digestion and bowel health benefits as well as chickpea pasta takes longer to digest meaning you'll be full longer (great for portion control). In summary, there is a slight calorie savings from regular pasta but with the other nutrition benefits you are getting a better calorie value ('more for your money') with chickpea pasta.
- Loads of vegetables off more nutrition and color
- The dressing has ⅓ cup of olive oil across 10 cups of salad making the per serving amount reasonable. The balsamic dressing is absolutely delicious but also provides enough coverage so as leftovers are refrigerated the salad ingredients stay moist and don't dry out which can happen with leftover gluten-free pastas.
Recipe Ingredients Notes
Grated garlic. Grating the garlic cloves allows it to better incorporate with the other dressing ingredients for more flavor. I use a microplane to grate the garlic but any garter with fine holes will work.
Balsamic vinegar. If you don't use this type of vinegar you'll love it! It's sweeter and less tangy than other types of vinegar like red wine vinegar and gives the dressing an incredibly delicious flavor.
Chickpea Pasta Salad
Chickpea rotini pasta. Rotini is a spiral shape pasta. It's perfect for pasta salads because the grooves in the pasta get coated with the dressing giving more flavor. You'll need one 8-ounce package of Chickpea Rotini. I used Barilla brand but any brand will work and should be available at regular grocery stores.
Frozen peas. These will be added to the pasta water in the last minute of cooking the pasta so they do not have to be thawed beforehand! You'll need 1 cup.
Frozen corn. This is not a common pasta salad ingredient but we love it. It adds a pop of bright yellow color and little bites of sweetness in the salad.
Bell peppers. You'll need 1 cup. Use any color or a mix of different color bell peppers.
Persian cucumbers. This type of cucumber is seedless and the thin skin does not need to be peeled (unlike the waxy skin of regular cucumbers). You'll need 1 cup sliced into half moons.
Fresh basil leaves. Adding fresh herbs to pasta salad really pumps up the flavor. Fresh basil is a perfect match in this chickpea pasta salad recipe.
Sliced olives (optional). These are completely optional. Olives are more calorie heavy so if using we suggest ¼-1/3 cup. Also they aren't everyone's favorite flavor. The salad is delicious without them.
How to make Chickpea Pasta Salad
STEP 1. Make the balsamic vinaigrette
This can be made while the pasta is cooking.
In a large bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard, grated garlic, and Italian seasoning. Add the balsamic vinegar and whisk to combine.
Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside (photo 1).
STEP 2. Cook the pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta to al dente, according to the package directions. One minute before draining the pasta, add the peas and corn to the large pot of water with the pasta (photo 2).
Drain the pasta, peas, and corn and run them under cold water– just until they are no longer hot to the touch.
STEP 3. Make the pasta salad
Add the pasta, peas, and corn to the bowl with the vinaigrette and toss to combine (photos 3-4).
Next add the remaining vegetables– cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, basil and olives (if using) (photo 5). Toss to combine (photo 6).
Season with additional kosher salt and black pepper, if needed. Garnish with more fresh basil, if desired.
STEP 4. Serve
Enjoy immediately or chill until ready to serve. This pasta salad is delicious at room temperature or cold.
Add some more protein. Edamame is a great thing to add to this salad for more plant protein and color. Lean meats or reduced-fat feta cheese can also be added. Or throw in some garbanzo beans.
Some tangy goodness. Slice pepperocinis perk up this Italian pasta salad.
Use another pasta shape. Shorter pasta shapes work best in pasta salads. Penne, spirals or tube shells are great.
Use a different type of pasta. Any short pasta you like can be substituted, it does not need to be chickpea pasta.
Add different or more vegetables. Artichoke hearts (use the type in water for fewer calories), red onion, green onions, broccoli florets, snap peas, sliced celery, grated carrots, etc.
Rinse the cooked pasta in cold water. Never add dressing to a pasta salad when the pasta is still warm. Otherwise the pasta will absorb the dressing instead of the dressing coating the salad ingredients.
How to store
Store salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. The salad may last longer though the pasta will become stiffer as time goes on.
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Rainbow Chickpea Pasta Salad
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon grated garlic
- ¼ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 8 ounces chickpea rotini (also called fusilli)
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 cup mixed-color diced bell pepper
- 1 cup persian cucumbers sliced into half moons
- 1`/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves and more for garnish, if desired
- ⅓ cup sliced olives optional
- In a large bowl, whisk together the dijon mustard, grated garlic, and Italian seasoning.
- Add the balsamic vinegar and whisk to combine.
- Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Cook the pasta to al dente, according to the package directions. One minute before draining the pasta, add the peas and corn to the pot with the pasta.
- Drain the pasta, peas, and corn and run them under cool water– just until they are no longer hot to the touch.
- Add the pasta, peas, and corn to the bowl with the vinaigrette and toss to combine.
- Next add the remaining vegetables– tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumbers, basil and olives (if using). Toss to combine.
- Season with additional salt and pepper, if needed. Garnish with fresh basil, if desired.
- Enjoy immediately or chill until ready to serve. This pasta salad is delicious at room temperature or cold.