This is a recipe for Whole Foods Smoked Mozzarella Penne Pasta Salad that you find in their take-out food section. With creamy parmesan sauce and fresh spinach, this is a unique and hearty pasta salad that can be made in advance.
This post was first published August of 2018 and updated October 2021 with new step by step instructions and photos.
Most pasta salads conjure up images of elbow macaroni salad covered in a traditional thick overly mayonnais-ed sauce. Believe me, I love these types of pasta salads, but if you’re like me, you’re always looking for something a bit more exciting.
A homemade pasta salad that’s new and interesting to bring to the next potluck or serve at your next back yard bbq. A make-ahead pasta salad that’s served cold.
Something that travels well. Something that will spark a conversation.
After all, pasta is delicious and a pasta salad can be outstanding.
This smoked mozzarella pasta salad, A Whole Foods recipe completely reinvents the classic in a way that will have pot-luckers clamoring for seconds and asking for the recipe.
So What’s Different About This Pasta Salad?
- To start with…Perfect little cubes of smoked mozzarella. This is where you get to practice your knife skills. Cut each little cube of cheese as close to the same size as you can. And make them small cubes. You don’t want to those cubes of cheese to overwhelm, but blend in with the other ingredients in each and every bite.
- Penne pasta. Penne pasta is great for a pasta salad. Not only does the tube shape soak up the sauce, it’s sturdy enough to stand up to the thickest and creamiest dressing.
- The Parmesan Dressing: A beautiful combination of grated Parmesan cheese, mayo and white wine vinegar.
- Spinach and chopped roasted red bell pepper bring color and excitement to finish the salad.
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Fresh Spinach
- Grated Parmesan Cheese: You’ll need Parmesan for both the parmesan sauce and the pasta salad.
- Roasted Red Bell Pepper: Purchase jarred roasted pepper or make things super easy and pick up a roasted red bell pepper from the olive bar.
- Penne Pasta
- Smoked Mozzarella Cheese: Buy a good quality smoked mozzarella, like Belgioioso Smoked Mozzarella. With a light brown color on the outside and milky texture and flavor inside. The hickory smoked flavor of this cheese is delicious and not too overwhelming.
- White Vinegar: Vinegar is an acid which will brighten and flavors and add a tang to the dressing.
- Spices: Chile Powder, Salt and Pepper
Ingredient Swaps and Substitutions
- Pasta: Use any sturdy pasta shape for this recipe A good substitute would be cavatappi, fusilli, rotini or elbow macaroni.
- Vinegar: White wine vinegar, champagne vinegar or even apple cider vinegar will work in this recipe. Just avoid a red vinegar as it will add color.
- Chile Powder: I use a New Mexico red chile powder for most recipes in my kitchen. If you don’t have access to New Mexico powder, use ancho chile powder or cayenne.
- Smoked Mozzarella Cheese: Smoked Mozzarella can be hard to find. A good substitute is smoked gouda.
- Roasted Red Bell Pepper: If you simply can’t find roasted red bell pepper, slow roast cherry tomatoes, like I did for this Pasta with Slow Roasted Tomatoes.
Steps To Make This Penne Pasta Salad
- Step 1: Add the ingredients to make the pasta dressing to a blender or food processor. Those ingredients are Parmesan cheese, parsley, mayo, vinegar, garlic and red chile powder, salt and pepper.
- Step 2: Blend until smooth. Process the mixture until you have a creamy consistency and everything is well blended. You can also use a food processor for this. And by the way, this makes a great salad dressing.
- Step 3: Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain the pasta reserving 1/2 cup of the cooked pasta water. Run cold water over the draining pasta to cool it down. You want the pasta cool enough so that when you add the smoked mozzarella, it won’t melt the cheese.
- Step 4: Place the cooked penne pasta into a large mixing bowl. Add the spinach and roasted red bell pepper.
- Step 5: Add the smoked mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
Step 6: Pour the sauce over the bowl of pasta and the vegetables.
- Step 7: Using a large spoon, gently turn the ingredients so the sauce will coat the pasta and the vegetables.
FAQ’s and Tips To Make This Pasta Salad
Make sure the pasta has cooled to room temperature before adding the smoked mozzarella. If the pasta is too warm, the cheese will melt. You want an end result with perfect little solid cubes of goodness.
Make this recipe easy by purchasing a jar of roasted red red bell pepper. Or better yet, if your grocery store has an olive bar, you can usually find a pan of roasted red bell peppers there.
Good Question! Use a wedge of good quality Parmesan Cheese. Not a container of pre-shredded Parmesan. The quality of flavor will be noticeably superior.
Don’t toss out all of that pasta water. It’s liquid gold. It’s a must to add to any sauce for any pasta dish. It’s high in starch and this salty starchy water helps the sauce cling to the pasta and it helps thicken the sauce. It turns any pasta dish into a luxurious pasta dish. With that said, once you’re done mixing this salad together, if it seems a little stiff or dry, just add 1/4 cup (at a time) of the pasta water to make it even creamier.
Yes. Once the salad is mixed together, seal the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve. The salad can be made a day in advance.
Seal well with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. This salad will stay fresh for up to two days.
Recipe for Whole Foods Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad with Penne and Parmesan Cream Sauce
I hope you give this penne pasta salad with penne a try. And if you do, please come back and let me know how you liked it and give the recipe a star rating.
Your feedback is valuable to me for developing future recipes. And if you have a favorite Italian pasta salad recipe, let me know, I’d love to give it a try.
More Summer Pasta Salad Recipes
- Creamy BBQ Ranch Black Bean Pasta Salad A Southwestern pasta salad with Black Beans and Tomatoes
- Smoked Salmon Pasta Salad with Dill Lemon juice and olives give this pasta salad recipe great flavor.
- The Best Pasta Salad Recipe Ever No really, it’s that good. Cheese tortellini, bacon and broccoli make this one of those can’t stop eating dishes.
And if you’re looking for more pasta recipes, don’t miss my Pasta Category you’ll find lots of great recipe ideas for pasta sides or main course pasta recipes. Including the most popular pasta recipe on my site for Creamy Spicy Shrimp Pasta.
And if you’re looking for even more side dishes for picnic style gatherings, don’t miss this line-up of Summer cook-out sides. I’m positive you’ll find something you love.
Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad Recipe with Parmesan Cream Sauce
- THE PARMESAN DRESSING:
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese grated
- 1/2 cup parsley chopped
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic minced (1 teaspoon)
- 1 Pinch New Mexico Red Chile Powder or cayenne
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- THE SALAD:
- 1/2 pound penne pasta
- 2 cups baby spinach packed, washed and stemmed
- 2 small roasted red bell pepper diced
- 1/2 pound smoked mozzarella cheese diced, or smoked gouda
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- Prepare cheese and vegetables. Rinse the spinach and pat dry or use a salad spinner. Chop the roasted red bell pepper. Cut the smoked mozzarella into small cubes and grate the Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
- TO PREPARE THE PARMESAN DRESSING
- Combine the Parmesan cheese, parsley, mayonnaise, vinegar, garlic, red chile powder, and salt and pepper. Use a blender or food processor to blend the dressing creamy and smooth.
- TO PREPARE THE SALAD
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooked pasta water, into a colander. Run cold water over it until pasta comes to room temperature. Let the pasta drain well.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked pasta, spinach, roasted red peppers, smoked mozzarella and grated parmesan. Add sauce and stir well.
- If the pasta salad seems dry or stiff, add some of the cooked pasta water to the salad, 1/4 cup at a time. The starchy water will make things creamier.
Whole Foods Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad with Penne … Its what’s for a side dish
My favorite copy cat recipe. I always go to this recipe when I want to make pasta salad and I’m always sharing this recipe as well. I’m pretty sure I’m never buying the whole foods pasta salad again lol
Joy H. says
Very good recipe. Gave it a four because of the vinegar. I’ve made this several times. Was unable to find smoked mozzarella, so I used smoked gouda the first few times. Finally ran across the smoked mozzarella. Tried it, but I like the gouda much better. Also, I cut the vinegar portion in half because it was overwhelmingly tart. Also added smoked paprika which was a nice touch and kicked up the cayenne. Then it was perfect!
This was delicious, and is even better than the WF’s version! Thank you for the recipe!
Thank you as well for your thorough and wonderful cooking blog!
Katherine A Dietz says
What can I use in place of the spinach?
So good! Just brought this in for a work office gathering. Received multiple compliments. The garlicy dressing is so tasty, and the chili/cayenne adds just the right amount of heat. Highly recommend trying this recipe. I will definitely be making this again.
Lea Ann Brown says
Fabulous! So glad you liked it and very glad it was a hit at the office gathering.
And most of all, thanks so much for taking the time to drop a comment about your experience. I value the feedback.
Cheryl M says
Delicious! I used smoked Gouda (I couldn’t find smoked mozzarella) and added more grated Parmesan at the end. So so good.
Very good. Just a little too much vinegar for my taste so added more mayo.
Lea Ann Brown says
Hi Charlie. Thanks for your note about the pasta salad. Yup, I’m a vinegar fan. So perfect that you added more mayo.
I just ended a 5 year stint as the lead Cook at a Whole Foods. There is also shredded parm in the mix, not just in the dressing.
Barbara Jaeger says
Sun dried tomtoes?????
Lea Ann Brown says
You could use sun-dried tomatoes in place of the roasted red bell peppers. Just make sure that they are the soft ones, in the package. The oil packed are pretty chewy.
K PIneda says
Did this with smoked monterrey because that’s all I could find at the store, regular white vinegar, and instead of the cayenne I put a few flakes of red chili pepper and smoked paprika. This was so good!
Lea Ann Brown says
I love that smoked paprika idea I’m so glad you liked he recipe and thanks for taking the time to let me know.
Karen (Back Road Journal) says
This sounds way better than most pasta salads served…great flavors going on in it.
Rocky Mountain Woman says
I love smoked cheeses, so this is right up my alley.
Abbe@This is How I Cook says
I’ve always had a thing for smoked cheeses so I’n sure I would love this! Pasta salads are usually not my fave, but I think for this I would change my mind!
That is one fine looking pasta salad and I’ve been wanting to make some lately.
John / Kitchen Riffs says
This looks terrific! LOVE a good pasta salad, and really like the idea of adding smoked mozzarella to it. DOn’t think I’ve ever had it made that way — but I will. 🙂 Thanks!
Smoked mozzarella? Not sure if I’ve ever tried that, but I’ve never had a smoked cheese I didn’t love. We’ve been on a pasta salad craze recently so I’m thrilled to have another one to add to our repertoire. Very exciting dressing and simple ingredients. Love it!