This sweet and savory main dish pasta salad is loaded with turkey, grapes, and toasted walnuts, and tossed in a deliciously refreshing honey-citrus dressing.
This pasta salad is one of our family favorites! It’s super easy to throw together, offers lots of ingredient options, and can be prepared well in advance. It’s perfect for summer picnics, and a proven potluck crowd-pleaser!
What Goes into this Recipe
This pasta salad recipe offers a lot of flexibility when it comes to ingredients.
Ingredients Tips & Substitutions
★ Pasta: We like to make this salad with tri-colored rotini because it gives the salad a little extra color, but any spiral pasta will work (e.g., Fusilli, Rotini, Gemelli).
- Did you know that rotini translates from Italian to “small wheels"?
★ Turkey: Use leftover turkey, or even chicken breast for this pasta salad.
★ Walnuts: We think walnuts are the best nut for this combo, but you can use chopped almonds or filberts, whole pine nuts, or whatever you like.
- Tip: Have you ever used red walnuts? If you can find them, they are prefect for this salad, especially if you are taking it to a potluck and want to bring a little extra something to the party.
★ Grapes: Use any color grapes. (We like to mix things up.) Our biggest tip here is to be sure and taste your grapes before you throw them into your salad.
★ Mozzarella: Use any solid, white, semi-soft cow's milk cheese. Mexican Oaxaca cheese (pronounced wah-ha-kah) also works well. Like mozzarella, it has a mellow, buttery flavor, creamy texture, and slight saltiness. You can also use unaged Monterey Jack.
★ Oranges: This is one time when you really want to use fresh oranges. You can use frozen or bottled OJ, but it lacks the sweet subtlety of freshly squeezed. Also, you must use fresh zest, so you might as well get a couple of fresh oranges and go for it.
★ Honey:Maple syrup will also work. It creates a slightly different, albeit pleasant, flavor profile for the dressing.
★ Vegetable Oil:Use a neutral vegetable oil, like a Canola oil. DO NOT use olive oil unless you use a very light-tasting variety.
How to Make This Recipe
Pasta: Cook pasta according to package directions for one minute more than indicated for al dente. (i.e., if the box says that the rotini will be al dente after boiling 7 minutes, cook it for 8 minutes.) Do not overcook the pasta!
Turkey: Cut turkey into ¼- to ½-inch cubes, depending upon your preference.
Walnuts: Chop the walnuts by hand. This will give you some variety in chop-size, which is a good thing.
Toast the Walnuts: (Optional) Heat a small, dry skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped nuts and stir or toss the nuts almost constantly until the color changes slightly and they begin to smell toasty. Remove from heat immediately.
Mozzarella: Cut cheese into ¼- to ½-inch cubes, depending upon your preference.
Celery: Cut celery into ¼-inch cubes.
Mix the Salad
Once all the salad ingredients are prepped, combine them in a large bowl.
Toss together the pasta salad ingredients - cooled pasta, turkey, grapes, toasted nuts, mozzarella, and chopped celery - and set aside.
Make Honey-Citrus Dressing
To make the honey-citrus dressing, combine honey, orange zest, orange juice, kosher salt, and vegetable oil in a blender cup and blitz until thoroughly blended.
Dress the Salad
Pour the dressing over the pasta salad ingredients in the bowl and toss to combine.
Honey-Citrus Pasta Salad is best when it can marinate in the fridge for at least a few hours so that the flavors can mingle, meld, and marry. (It's even better if it can sit overnight!)
Cold citrus pasta salad on a hot summer day - loaded with tasty, refreshing turkey, nuts, and grapes - makes a refreshing, satisfying meal.
FAQs & Expert Tips
Tip: We always zest all our citrus before juicing it, and then put zest in the freezer if we don't need to use it immediately. That way, we always have fresh zest whenever we need it.
Yes; in fact, you should! Honey-Citrus Pasta Salad is best after it has marinated in the fridge for at least a few hours before serving.
When stored it in an airtight container in the refrigerator, this pasta salad will stay fresh for 4-5 days.
Honey-Citrus Pasta Salad with Turkey
- 1 Blender or immersion blender
- 1 large serving bowl
- 12 ounces rotini cooked to al dente + 1 minute, according to package directions
- 1 pounds roasted turkey ¼- to ½-inch cubes
- 6 ounces mozzarella cheese ¼- to ½-inch cubes
- 1 pounds grapes
- ½ cup chopped walnuts toasted
- 2 stalks celery ¼-inch cubes
- sprigs fresh mint optional; garnish
- ⅔ cup fresh orange juice juice from ~2 large oranges
- 1 teaspoon orange zest zest from 1 large orange
- ⅓ cup honey
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Pasta: Cook pasta according to package directions for one minute more than indicated for al dente. (i.e., if the box says that the rotini will be al dente after boiling 7 minutes, cook it for 8 minutes.) Do not overcook the pasta!Turkey: Cut turkey into ¼- to ½-inch cubes, depending upon your preference. Walnuts: Chop the walnuts by hand. This will give you some variety in chop-size, which is a good thing. [Optional] Heat a small, dry skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped nuts and stir or toss the nuts almost constantly until the color changes slightly and they begin to smell toasty. Remove from heat immediately. Mozzarella: Cut cheese into ¼- to ½-inch cubes, depending upon your preference. Celery: Cut celery into ¼-inch cubes.
- To make the honey-citrus dressing, combine honey, orange zest, orange juice, kosher salt, and vegetable oil in a blender cup.Blitz until thoroughly blended.
- Toss together the cooled, cooked pasta with cubed turkey, cubed cheese, grapes, toasted nuts, and cubed celery in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Pour Citrus Dressing over pasta mixture and toss to coat everything. Refrigerate for at least one hour; preferably overnight.
- Toss pasta salad again just before serving.Garnish with orange peel and sprigs of fresh mint.
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Originally published June 15, 2015. Content, images, and directions have been updated to improve reader experience.