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If you think pasta salad is a bore, you haven’t met Pesto Pasta Salad! Bright, herbaceous pesto adds big flavor, while fresh mozzarella pearls, peppery arugula, juicy tomatoes, and sweet peas make it absolutely swoon-worthy. Bring it to a backyard BBQ and everyone will ask for the recipe!

Large bowl of creamy pesto pasta salad

Why You’ll Love This Easy Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe

  • A Pasta Salad With Big Flavor. This summer pesto pasta salad is the antidote to those bland, overly creamy pasta salads made with bloated noodles and limp veggies. It’s juuuuust creamy enough, and a combination of homemade pesto and veggies bring lots of fresh, bright flavors to the table.
  • Your New Go-To for Summer Get-Togethers. Cookouts, picnics, summer holidays—they all call for an assortment of easy deli style salads. You know the ones: 7 Layer Salad, Potato Salad, pasta salad. This pesto pasta salad fits right in, perfect for serving on a plate with Grilled Chicken Breast.
  • Highly Customizable. Like Chicken Pasta Salad, this is a pasta salad that’s made for customizing with what’s in season and your favorite mix-ins. I could see asparagus (or Roasted Asparagus) as a swap for frozen peas in the spring, and you can use a rainbow of fresh tomatoes from the garden during the summer. 
  • No Mayo Pasta Salad. Although you can use mayo if you’d like, I make this with plain Greek yogurt; sour cream is an option too. (For more pasta salads without mayo, bookmark my Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad and Caprese Pasta Salad.)
Overhead view of pesto pasta salad in wood serving bowl

How to Make Pesto Pasta Salad

The Ingredients

  • Pasta. I like fusilli, rotini, or farfalle, AKA bow ties.
  • Plain Greek Yogurt. Or mayo or sour cream, if you prefer. This adds some richness and body to the dressing and keeps the pesto from being too oily.
  • Arugula. Peppery arugula is a fabulous addition; you could go with spinach, but arugula has more flavor.
  • Tomatoes. Use whole grape tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes. If you want to use larger tomatoes, I recommend a variety that’s not very seedy, like Roma. Otherwise, you’ll end up introducing too much liquid to your pesto pasta salad.
  • Frozen Peas. Let them thaw while you prep everything or just throw them into the pot with the pasta during the last 30 seconds of cooking time.
  • Mini Mozzarella Pearls. These are delightfully creamy and they’re a bit of a blank slate, so as they sit in the salad, they’ll soak up a lot of that pesto flavor. As an alternative, you can use crumbled feta.
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese. Freshly grated is best.
  • Pesto. I use homemade Basil Pesto, which is also my favorite for Pesto Pasta (and Chicken Pesto Pasta). 

The Directions

  1. Pulse the Pine Nuts and Garlic. 10 long pulses should do the trick.
Spinach and basil in food processor
  1. Add the Greens. Basil, spinach, salt and pepper all go in.
Creamy pesto in food processor bowl
  1. Process. Turn on the processor and drizzle in the olive oil until smooth. Blend in the Parmesan, then blend or stir in the yogurt.
Rotini in bowl with pesto added to top
  1. Combine the Pasta and Pesto. Use a big bowl with lots of room for tossing.
Pasta tossed with pesto in bowl
  1. Stir. Make sure the pasta is evenly coated. It’s not for everyone, but I like to use my hands, even if it means green fingernails for a day or two.
Overhead view of ingredients for pesto pasta salad in bowl
  1. Finish. Add the mix-ins and toss the pesto pasta salad again. Drizzle in olive oil if needed to thin, season to taste, and ENJOY!

Recipe Variations

  • Skip the Pine Nuts. If you have an allergy, you’re just not a fan, or you don’t feel like paying for them, cashews, walnuts, and almonds can all be used instead. 
  • Switch Up the Veggies. Need some ideas? Artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and zucchini (raw or Roasted Zucchini) are all excellent.
  • Add a Protein. Cooked cannellini beans or rotisserie chicken (or Baked Chicken Breast) can be added to this salad to make it a meal.
  • Use Tortellini. Instead of pasta, use tortellini. You can skip the mozzarella balls if you go this route.
Overhead view of pesto pasta salad in bowl with peas, mozzarella, and tomatoes

What to Serve with Pesto Pasta Salad

Recipe Tips and Tricks

  • Cook the Pasta al Dente. We’ve all probably had a lot of bad pasta salads in our day, and one of the most common culprits is over-cooked pasta. Because the pasta will soak up the dressing, if it’s cooked until it’s soft, it will become even softer in your pasta salad, ending up mushy and textureless. About a minute less than the instructions on the package is perfect.
  • Take a Shortcut. If you want to use store-bought pesto, you definitely can! Some varieties are very oily, though, so you may want to drain a little bit of oil off the top and then give the pesto a good stir in the jar before adding it to the pasta salad.
  • Serve Right Away for Best Results. This pesto pasta salad tastes (and looks!) best at room temperature since the pesto will be bright green, the mozzarella will have the perfect texture, and the flavors will be poppin’. If you do need to store it for later, press plastic wrap over the top to slow the oxidation process.
Pesto pasta salad in bowl

Pesto Pasta Salad

5 from 3 votes
This pesto pasta salad recipe is fresh and vibrant, with lots of bright flavor from a creamy pesto dressing and veggies. Perfect for summer!

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 8 minutes
Total: 23 minutes

Servings: 6 -8 servings

Ingredients
  

For the Pasta Salad

  • 8 ounces fusilli, rotini, or farfalle pasta
  • 2 tablespoons nonfat plain Greek yogurt or mayonnaise or sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups arugula
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved, or grape tomatoes
  • 1 cup frozen peas thawed
  • 1/2 cup mini mozzarella pearls or crumbled feta*
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil as needed

For the Pesto**

  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts 1/3 cup walnuts, cashews, or nuts of choice; toasted***
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 1/3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 1/3 cups spinach or chopped kale or arugula
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions
 

  • Cook the pasta to al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain into a colander and rinse well under cold water. Shake out as much excess water as you can, then set on a towel to drain further while you make the pesto.
  • Make the pesto: Place the pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Blend for 10 long pulses. Add the basil, spinach, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil through the feed tube. Puree until smooth, about 45 seconds to 1 minute. Scrape down the side of the food processor bowl as needed. Blend in the Parmesan.
  • Shake out the pasta once more, then transfer it to a large serving bowl. Stir the Greek yogurt into the pesto (you can blend it in right in the food processor if you’re making homemade), then scoop it over the pasta. Stir gently to coat (I find it easiest to use my hands).
  • Add the arugula, cherry tomatoes, peas, mozzarella pearls, and Parmesan. Stir to combine (again, it’s easiest to toss with your hands). If the pasta seems too thick or dry, stir in olive oil gradually as needed.
  • Taste the pesto pasta salad and adjust the seasoning as desired. Serve at room temperature, or press a sheet of plastic wrap against the top to deter the pesto from losing its color and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Notes

  • *If you use feta, the pasta salad will be saltier, so you most likely won’t need to season it as much at the end.
  • **This recipe is a slightly reduced amount of my homemade Basil Pesto. You can also use 2/3 cup of the store-bought pesto of your choice.
  • ***Toasting the nuts is optional, but really amps up the flavor of the pesto, so I recommend it. To toast: place the nuts in a small, dry skillet. Warm over low heat, shaking the pan often, until fragrant and toasted, about 4 minutes for pine nuts and 6 to 8 minutes for walnuts. BE PATIENT! Nuts burn when you crank up the heat.
  • TO STORE: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for 2 to 3 days. Let it sit on the countertop for a few minutes before serving and, if needed, add a drizzle of olive oil and toss to coat to loosen it up a bit.

Nutrition

Serving: 1(of 6)Calories: 359kcalCarbohydrates: 37gProtein: 12gFat: 19gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 9mgPotassium: 429mgFiber: 4gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 1655IUVitamin C: 31mgCalcium: 143mgIron: 2mg

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Erin Clarke

Hi, I'm Erin Clarke, and I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food that's affordable, easy-to-make, and best of all DELISH. I'm the author and recipe developer here at wellplated.com and of The Well Plated Cookbook. I adore both sweets and veggies, and I am on a mission to save you time and dishes. WELCOME!

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6 Comments

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  1. Once again a really good recipe from you! I made this last night and was pleasantly surprised at how tasty it was! Served it with grilled chicken and a green salad. The pesto was full of flavor, and just the right amount of texture, it was not too salty or bland. I’m really happy with this dish. Thank you, Erin!5 stars

  2. This came out wonderful! My basil is growing beautifully in my mini garden so I welcomed the chance to make your pesto pasta recipe. I used mayonnaise and it was a nice addition. It made the dish much smoother. Looking forward to tomorrow’s leftovers and seeing if it stays moist. Didn’t have arugula, so I added more spinach.5 stars

  3. I made this for a beach trip side dish and it could not have been better and more of a hit with my friends! So delicious, bright and flavorful! Thanks for this fantastic and simple recipe! Your recipes have been a lifesaver.5 stars