This tri-color rotini pasta salad is served cold, making it perfect for summertime gatherings. It features my popular spinach basil green sauce, which uses a whole bag of spinach (!) and provides vibrant green color and a pesto-like flavor. Toss cooked and cooled tri-color rotini with the homemade sauce along with cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, and mini mozzarella balls for a nutritious and delicious cold pasta salad.

serving bowl of tri color pasta salad surrounded by ingredients with two serving spoons in the bowl on a light grey backdrop

Cold pasta salad recipes are a warm weather staple in my house. They’re easy to make, keep well stored in the fridge, and are simply delicious and satisfying. Have you tried my viral Greek tortellini pasta salad, bowtie pasta salad with feta, roasted vegetable pasta salad, taco pasta salad, or caprese orzo pasta salad?

As a Registered Dietitian, I am a firm believer that pasta can be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. In fact, pasta is one my favorite foods! I love to pair pasta with nutrient-dense foods, like vegetables and lean protein, to make it a well-balanced meal.

If you love pasta as much as I do, you’ve got to make this tri color pasta salad recipe ASAP. It’s absolutely delicious because all the ingredients are tossed in my reader-favorite homemade spinach basil sauce.

This healthy pasta sauce is packed with nutrients, too, since it is made with an entire bag of spinach! It tastes like pesto but is lighter and feels less oily.

This recipe is vegetarian and could be made gluten free by using your favorite gluten free pasta. It takes about 30 minutes to prepare and serves 6 as a main dish or 10-12 as a side. Perfect for summer cookouts and BBQs!

small bowl of tri color pasta salad surrounded by some ingredients

Is tri-color pasta healthy?

Tri-color pasta is pasta that is three colors – orange, green, and yellow.

It is made with natural vegetable coloring from spinach (to make green pasta) and tomatoes (to make orange pasta). The added color does not change the flavor or the nutrition profile of the pasta.

Tri-color pasta is no more nutritious than regular wheat pasta. A one cup serving of pasta, tri-color or not, provides valuable nutrients, including:

  • 3 grams of dietary fiber
  • 8 grams of protein
  • 1.8 mg iron (10% of your daily needs)
  • 0.381 mg thiamin (32% of your daily needs)
  • 0.189 mg riboflavin (15% of your daily needs)
  • 2.351 mg niacin (15% of your daily needs)
tri color pasta salad ingredients measured out on a light grey backdrop

Ingredients in tri-color pasta salad

Here is everything you need to make this recipe:

  • Tri-color rotini: This colorful spiral pasta is perfect for pasta salads – it’s easy to pick up with a fork and holds sauces and ingredients well.
  • Cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes: Small cherry tomatoes are sweet and perfectly bite sized with cut in half. When shopping, look for cherry tomatoes that are firm and free of blemishes, cuts, or wrinkles.
  • Sun-dried tomatoes: Sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil add concentrated tomato flavor and a pleasant chewy texture to this pasta salad.
  • Mini mozzarella balls: These small balls of fresh mozzarella cheese may be sold as mozzarella pearls or bocconcini. If you’re unable to find them, you can buy a regular size serving of fresh mozzarella and just cut it into small pieces.
  • Baby spinach: An entire 6 ounce bag of spinach goes into the spinach basil sauce.
  • Basil: Fresh basil adds a characteristic pesto-like flavor to the sauce, and pairs perfectly with mozzarella cheese and tomatoes.
  • Olive oil: You need just 1/3 cup of olive oil for the spinach basil sauce.
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Garlic
  • Lemon juice
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Kitchen tools needed

You need a food processor to make the spinach basil sauce, a large pot for boiling the pasta, a knife and cutting board, a mixing bowl, mixing spoons, and measuring utensils.

How to make cold tri color pasta salad

blanched spinach in a bowl of ice water
1. For the sauce: quickly blanch spinach and basil in boiling water then transfer to an ice bath to stop the cooking process.
cooked tri color rotini in a colander
2. Cook pasta according to package instructions in the boiling water you used to blanch the greens. Drain and rinse under cold water until it is cooled.
dark green cutting board with halved cherry tomatoes
3. Cut cherry tomatoes in half.
Sliced sauteed garlic in olive oil in a dark nonstick pan
4. For the sauce: Saute sliced garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil.
green sauce for pasta ingredients in a food processor before being blended together
5. Add all the green sauce ingredients to a food processor: blanched greens, sauteed garlic and oil, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
green sauce for pasta in a food processor
6. Blend the sauce in the food processor until smooth.
tri color pasta salad ingredients in a mixing bowl before being mixed
7. Add all the pasta salad ingredients to a mixing bowl: pasta, cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella balls, and sauce.
tri color pasta salad in a white mixing bowl with salad spoons
8. Use salad mixing spoons to toss the pasta salad together until the sauce is coating all the ingredients.

How long does pasta salad last?

You can store this cold pasta salad in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days.

Food safety tip: If serving cold pasta salad at a cookout, it is vital to keep it cold to prevent foodborne illness. Keep pasta salad cold at or below 40°F when serving.

Serving suggestions

Serve this pasta salad on it’s own for a light vegetarian meal. Or, pair it with some protein for something more filling. Try it with salmon, shrimp, cod, or tofu! Or have with with my favorite cookout main – homemade salmon burgers!

serving bowl of tri color pasta salad

Spinach nutrition benefits

There is an entire bag of baby spinach in this pasta sauce, and spinach is an incredibly nutrient-dense food. Three cups of raw spinach provides:

  • 2 grams of dietary fiber
  • 410 mcg vitamin K (340% of your daily needs)
  • 24 mg vitamin C (25 percent of your daily needs)
  • High in other micronutrients, including iron, manganese, potassium, and vitamin A

Spinach is rich in the antioxidant chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the green pigment that gives spinach it’s vibrant color. Antioxidants help protect our cells and fight off inflammation.

Registered Dietitian Tip: To enhance the absorption of iron from spinach, eat it with foods high in vitamin C (like the lemon juice in this green pasta sauce and the tomatoes in this pasta salad)!

Let me know if you love this post by leaving a comment or star rating below, and check out Instagram and Pinterest for more healthy lifestyle inspiration. Thanks for stopping by!

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serving bowl of tri color pasta salad surrounded by ingredients with two serving spoons in the bowl on a light grey backdrop

Healthy Tri-Color Pasta Salad with Spinach Basil Sauce

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  • Author: Alex Aldeborgh, RD
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: serves 10 1x
  • Category: side dish
  • Method: stovetop, food processor
  • Cuisine: American Italian
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

This tri-color rotini pasta salad is served cold, making it perfect for summertime gatherings. It features my popular spinach basil green sauce, which uses a whole bag of spinach (!) and provides vibrant green color and a pesto-like flavor. Toss cooked and cooled tri-color rotini with the homemade sauce along with cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, and mini mozzarella balls for a nutritious and delicious cold pasta salad.


Ingredients

Scale

Tri-color Pasta Salad

  • 1 lb tri-color rotini pasta
  • 3 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 lb mini mozzarella balls (or mozzarella pearls)
  • 7 oz jar oil-packed chopped sun-dried tomatoes, removed and drained from the oil

Spinach Basil Green Pasta Sauce

  • 6 oz bag baby spinach
  • 1 packed cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt
  • Pepper


Instructions

  1. Prepare a bowl of ice water.
  2. Bring 4-6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Once boiling, add the spinach and basil and blanch for 30 seconds until the greens are vibrant.
  3. Immediately transfer the greens to the ice water using a slotted spoon. Set aside.
    blanched spinach in a bowl of ice water
  4. In the same pot of boiling water, add 1 tbsp of salt. Then, add the rotini pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente. 
  5. Drain the pasta in a colander and run it under cold water for about a minute until the pasta is completely cooled. Set aside.
    cooked tri color rotini in a colander
  6. While the pasta is cooking, continue to prepare the sauce. Heat the olive oil over low-medium heat in a small frying pan. Cook the garlic and red pepper flakes in the olive oil until garlic is lightly golden brown, about 2 minutes. 
    Sliced sauteed garlic in olive oil in a dark nonstick pan
  7. Squeeze out most of the excess water from the blanched spinach and basil using your hands. 
  8. In a food processor fitted with an S blade, combine the blanched spinach and basil, sauteed garlic with red pepper flakes and olive oil, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, and a generous shake of salt and pepper.
    green sauce for pasta ingredients in a food processor before being blended together
  9. Blend until the sauce is smooth with no lumps.
    green sauce for pasta in a food processor
  10. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked pasta, cherry tomatoes, mini mozzarella balls, sun-dried tomatoes, and the spinach basil sauce.
    tri color pasta salad ingredients in a mixing bowl before being mixed
  11. Use mixing spoons to combine everything until the ingredients are all well coated in the sauce.
    tri color pasta salad in a white mixing bowl with salad spoons
  12. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Notes

How long does pasta salad last?

You can store this cold pasta salad in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-5 days.

Food safety tip: If serving cold pasta salad at a cookout, it is vital to keep it cold to prevent foodborne illness. Keep pasta salad cold at or below 40°F when serving.