Italian Pasta Salad ♥ with Garlicky Tomatoes & Collard Greens

Italian Pasta Salad with Garlicky Tomatoes & Collard Greens, another healthy refrigerator salad ♥ Vegan. Weight Watchers Friendly.
Today's simple pasta salad made from scratch, a tasty mix of orzo tossed first with sautéed tomato and garlic (whose juices form a seductive tomato-y dressing) and then cooked greens (like collards, chard, kale and more). Serve it warm as a main dish (oh my ...) or refrigerate for a side salad served cold or at room temperature. Once again, simplicity yields something sumptuous.

Real Food, Quick & Casual. No Mayo, No Meat, No Cheese. Budget Friendly. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. Great for Meal Prep, Keeps for Days. Easy to Scale Up for a Crowd. Low Fat. Weight Watchers Friendly. Not just vegan, Vegan Done Real.

Tis Pasta Salad Season

Just you watch. Everywhere we turn in the next couple of weeks, look to trip onto one more fresh, new way to make pasta salad. Classic macaroni salad with lots of vegetable crunch. Interesting combinations. Intriguing riffs on other dishes. Go ahead, try one!

Me, I fell in love with this simple, no-mayo pasta salad laced with syrupy tomatoes and dusky collards.

Collards? Yeah, collards!

What to Make With an Enormous Bag of Collard Greens.

I love-love-love grocery curbside pickup. If there's anything good to come of 2020, it's the ability to tap-tap-tap your phone, then pick up those taps right outside the store.

But online grocery orders aren't perfect. Last week, I ordered a bag of collard greens, not realizing it was double the size I anticipated: oops, my fault but wow, two pounds is a lotta collards. I checked the Best By date, oops again, that very same day. Maybe mine was the last bag on the shelf? Maybe the store coaches shoppers for FIFO, first-in, first-out?

The bag had an (oops, error-filled) recipe, Italian Orzo with Collard Greens that called for a full pound of greens. Good luck, the few remaining ingredients were already in the pantry. (The other pound? Definitely slated for either Braised Collard Greens or Jubilee Greens (How to Sauté Leafy Greens Like Spinach, Chard, Kale & More).)

Thank you, grocery gods! There's just something delicioso about this Italian Pasta Salad. We're just two here but we had zero trouble finishing this quite large batch over several days.

The first night, I served it warm, straight from the skillet and so good, it took real restraint to keep to reasonable portions. After that, the leftovers hung out in the fridge, adding a bit of side salad to a couple of meals, then serving as the base of one of my impromptu dinner salads, starting with some Sautéed Broccoli Slaw, topped with the pasta salad, some sliced chicken breast tossed with a little thousand island-ish version of My Everyday Creamy Herb Salad Dressing spiked with ketchup and sweet relish.

I have all kinds of plans for future batches ...
An All-Tomato, No Greens version ... doubling the tomatoes, doubling+ the Italian seasoning. An all-tomato pasta salad? Doesn't that sound wonderful?!

Reversing the Proportions of Tomato & Greens ... doubling the tomatoes, halving the greens. It would be especially pretty, I think, more red than green.

Substituting Other Greens for Collards ... probably Swiss chard, it would cook more quickly and would be a little less chewy. Or broccoli raab! Or arugula, it would add a spicy spark and wouldn't need cooking at all! Or kale, especially Tuscan kale (also called lacinato, black kale and also dinosaur kale!) with its sleek, nubbly leaves.

Loaded Pasta Salad ... how about piling on more add-ins? Try some good olives (timed carefully, dark olives can stain the pretty white pasta), chopped artichoke, maybe some shaved bitter greens like radicchio or some chickpeas or some chopped cucumber. Could you toss in a few tiny cubes of salami or small cooked shrimp? Parmesan? fresh mozzarella? Of course. Just stick in the family of Italian ingredients if you want to remain true to theme. One note of caution, the more you add, the more you change the balance of this salad and may need to adjust the seasoning, especially the amount of the tomato-garlic mixture.

But Here Are the Basic Ingredients for Italian Pasta Salad

Like all my recipes, every ingredient serves a purpose. Each one matters. Each one contributes to the overall dish. It's not that an ingredient can't be substituted by something else but when choosing the substitute, it's important to understand why the original ingredient was present in the first place.

Pasta The rice-shaped orzo (also called riisi) works especially well. (Try to avoid large pasta shapes like fusilli, bow-tie and penne. Stick with small pasta shapes.)
Pasta salads often seem out of balance to me, too much pasta compared to the other ingredients. This feels perfectly balanced, even after I increased the amount of dried pasta to a full eight ounces so that a one-pound box can make two full batches.
Do buy a good quality dried pasta, here that means de Cecco (the "blue and yellow box" from Italy) or Barilla (the "blue box" from Italy). Check, your grocery store probably carries both brands. For the record, to my taste, the Trader Joe's orzo is awful, flat and gummy, ugh.

Tomato & Garlic The garlic offers that underlying garlicky funkiness and the tomatoes, oh my, the tomatoes add a bit of acid (that all-important flavor element) and umami (that somewhat-elusive yumminess). When the tomatoes and garlic are cooked in olive oil with Italian seasoning, the tomatoes juice up and turn syrupy and the seasoning blooms with flavor. Toss all this with the hot, drained pasta and it soaks up all these luscious flavors! So good!

Collards Here, the collards are cooked (braised, actually, with liquid added) in a skillet on the stove Jubilee-style with those all-important touches of acid (here, lemon juice) and sweetness (here, a spoonful of sugar but maple syrup, sorghum, honey, etc all work well too for anyone who avoids processed sugar).

How to Make Italian Pasta Salad with Garlicky Tomatoes & Collard Greens

The detailed recipe is written in traditional recipe form below but here are the highlights in three easy steps. You can do this!

STEP ONE Cook the pasta. Salt is important in this step so the pasta itself is seasoned. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and right off, turn in the warm tomato-garlic mixture.

STEP TWO Saute the garlic and tomato. Don't skimp on the olive oil in this step, it combines with the tomato juices and garlic flavor to season the entire salad.

STEP THREE Cook the collards. Be sure they taste good, have the right consistency for chewing before deciding they're finished.

You Might Wonder Be Wondering ...

Have another question? Ask away, I'll do my best to answer!

What's In the Dressing? There is no "dressing" per se. Instead, when the tomatoes and garlic are sautéed in olive oil with Italian seasoning, their juices release to form an almost-syrupy dressing that's super simple and just delicious.

What's in the Seasoning? The seasoning here is so simple. Yes, it calls for Italian seasoning, a blend of basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary. But the real seasoning for this pasta salad comes from the flavors of the ingredients themselves, both the sautéed tomatoes and garlic and the cooked collard greens. So the finished salad is big on flavor thanks to how the ingredients are prepared rather than the addition of lots of herbs and spices.

Are Collards an Italian Vegetable? Hmmm. I checked Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan for mentions of verdure di cavolo, the Google answer to an English-Italian translation for collard greens which turns out to refer to a general category of vegetables in the brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, kale and more). So maybe not? Still, the ancient Greeks cultivated several varieties of collards and since Greek and Italian food falls into Mediterranean cuisine. So maybe? My "expertise" here is all Google-based. If readers know more, please do chime in!

Can You Freeze Pasta Salad? I wouldn't advise it. But it's not just this pasta salad. Really, salads made with fresh vegetables just aren't good candidates for freezing.

How do you save and share favorite recipes? recipes that fit your personal cooking style? a particular recipe your mom or daughter or best friend would just love? If this recipe hits the mark, go ahead, save and share! I'd be honored ...

Italian Pasta Salad with Garlicky Tomatoes & Collard Greens, another healthy refrigerator salad ♥ Vegan. Weight Watchers Friendly.


Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Time to table: 30 minutes to serve warm, 3 hours to serve chilled
Makes about 6-1/4 cups

8 ounces (225g) orzo or riisi dried pasta
2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces (225g) grape tomatoes, halved or quartered (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound collard greens, cleaned well and roughly chopped into two-inch squares
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup water + more as needed
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons lemon juice

Cooked Collard Greens
Cooked Orzo / Sauteed Tomato & Garlic Mixture

COOK THE PASTA (This is an inconventional way to cook pasta but I promise, it works.) Put the pasta in a large cooking pot (one large enough to eventually hold the entire salad). Add enough water to cover the pasta plus about two inches more. Stir in the salt. Uncovered, bring the water to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once the water boils, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, cover the pot and set the timer for the number of minutes specified on the package container. When the timer goes off, test for doneness by tasting a piece of pasta. If it's still chewy in the center, cook for another minute or two until the centers are soft but not mushy. Drain the pasta and then return it to the still-hot pot. This will yield about 4 cups cooked orzo.

SAUTÉ THE TOMATO & GARLIC Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil on medium or medium high in a large, heavy skillet until shimmery. (You'll use the same skillet for the collards so make sure it's big enough and has a lid. If it's not big enough, not to worry, you can always cook the collards in batches.) Stir in the garlic, tomato pieces and Italian seasoning. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes release their juices and the whole mixture becomes syrupy. Pour the tomatoes and garlic into the still-hot pasta and stir in. (Do be sure to time this so the hot tomatoes, garlic and oil go into hot pasta. This helps the pasta absorb all that flavor.)

COOK THE COLLARDS In the same skillet, heat another 1 tablespoon olive oil until shimmery. Stir in the collard greens, in batches probably since greens have so much volume, coating all the greens with oil. Sprinkle the greens generously with salt and pepper, then add 1/2 cup water. Cover the skillet and the greens cook, stirring occasionally, until they turn tender. The exact timing will vary on many factors so judge doneness by taste tests, adding water a 1/2 cup at a time to continue cooking and avoid burning the collards; taste for salt and pepper too, adding more to taste. When the collards are nearly done, stir in the sugar and lemon juice and let cook for a minute or two. Taste again, for doneness, overall flavor, need for more salt and pepper.

COMBINE Stir the hot Cooked Collards into the Cooked Orzo/Tomato-Garlic Mixture.

TO SERVE Serve warm if you like, it's lovely. Otherwise refrigerate to serve chilled or at room temperature later.

MAKE-AHEAD This salad definitely counts as a refrigerator salad, one that keeps for several days in the refrigerator.

LEFTOVERS This salad is as good on Day Four as Day One!

CLEANING COLLARDS I can't emphasize enough the importance of cleaning greens, how to do that is detailed along with my collection of Leafy Greens Recipes.
BAGS of COLLARDS I have great luck with bags of pre-cleaned, pre-chopped greens including collards. It's really important to use them up quickly, within a day or so of purchase.

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~ Israeli Couscous Salad with Yellow Squash & Sun-Dried Tomatoes ~
~ more pasta salad recipes ~
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from A Veggie Venture

~ Greek Pasta Salad ~
~ BLT Pasta Salad ~
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from Kitchen Parade, my food column

Looking for healthy new ways to cook vegetables? A Veggie Venture is home to hundreds of super-organized quick, easy and healthful vegetable recipes and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables. Join "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg to explore the exciting world of common and not-so-common vegetables, seasonal to staples, savory to sweet, salads to sides, soups to supper, simple to special.

© Copyright Kitchen Parade

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. I'm sitting on a pound of washed and chopped kale, the timing of this recipe is perfect!!!

  2. We have been on a barley kick lately. My first thought was that this would work just as well with cooked pearl barley as with orzo pasta. It might feel a little more substantial for a warm dinner because of the heft of the barley.


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe, whether a current recipe or a long-ago favorite. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. ~ Alanna