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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


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.



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


  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.


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.