This pesto pasta salad is destined for your next gathering. Or at least, that’s what I hope! This recipe is light and so fresh. It’s perfect for parties, picnics and weeknight dinners, from spring through fall. Leftovers keep well for lunch, too.
Pesto and pasta are the stars of this show, naturally. To make it a pasta salad, I added a pint of cherry tomatoes, a few handfuls of fresh arugula, and some cheese. I love salty feta in this recipe, though mozzarella and Parmesan are also great.
This pasta salad recipe includes homemade pesto made with a few little twists. Instead of pine nuts, I opted for more affordable pepitas (green pumpkin seeds). You can use pine nuts if you’d rather—or even walnuts or pecans.
I like to use half fresh basil and half fresh parsley, which tastes even more interesting and also cuts down on costs (buying lots of fresh basil can be expensive). You could certainly use all basil if you have an abundance growing in your garden. I also add some fresh lemon juice to brighten up the dish. Give it a try!
Pesto Pasta Salad Tips
The recipe below is simple and straightforward, but here are some notes before you get started.
- Reserve some pasta cooking water. We’ll need up to 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta cooking water to help bring this sauce together. To help me remember, I always place a heat-proof glass liquid measuring cup in the sink next to the colander.
- Rinse the pasta under cool water immediately after cooking. Rinsing the pasta reduces the amount of starch on the surface of the noodles, so they don’t clump together before you have a chance to toss them in pesto sauce.
- To make this dish gluten free, simply substitute your favorite gluten-free noodles. A sturdy corn-and-quinoa blend usually works well in this type of dish.
- To make it vegan, simply don’t add cheese. To make up for the flavor and substance that cheese provides, try adding olives and/or chickpeas to the dish.
- Serve promptly. This pasta salad is best served within a few hours, but leftovers will keep relatively well in the refrigerator, covered, for up to four days. The only downside is that the arugula will wilt a bit with time.
Watch How to Make Pesto Pasta Salad
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Please let me know how your recipe turns out in the comments! I love hearing from you.
Pesto Pasta Salad
- Prep Time: 15 mins
- Cook Time: 10 mins
- Total Time: 25 minutes
- Yield: 6 to 8 servings 1x
- Category: Salad
- Method: By hand
- Cuisine: Italian
- Diet: Vegetarian
This pesto pasta salad recipe is bursting with fresh flavor. It’s light, healthy and easy to make. Perfect for picnics and potlucks! Recipe yields 6 to 8 side servings.
- 1 pound whole grain pasta (fusilli, rotini, penne or farfalle)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
- 3 handfuls baby arugula or spinach
- Optional cheese: ½ cup or more crumbled feta cheese, little mozzarella balls or grated Parmesan
- Optional additions: ½ cup thinly sliced Kalamata olives and/or 1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained (or 1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)*
- ½ cup packed fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- ¼ cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
- 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
- ½ teaspoon fine salt
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente according to the package directions. Before draining, reserve about ½ cup pasta cooking water, then drain and immediately rinse the pasta under cool water to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl.
- Meanwhile, to prepare the pesto: In a small skillet, toast the pepitas over medium heat, stirring often, until they are fragrant and making little popping noises, about 4 to 5 minutes. Pour half of the pepitas into a bowl for later (we will use them as garnish).
- Pour the remaining pepitas into a food processor. Add the basil, parsley, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Process while slowly drizzling in the olive oil, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary, until the pepitas have broken down to create a pretty smooth sauce.
- To assemble the pasta salad, pour all of the pesto over the pasta and toss until the pasta is lightly and evenly coated, adding a tiny splash of reserved pasta cooking water if necessary to thin it out. Then add the cherry tomatoes, arugula, remaining toasted pepitas, and any optional add-ins (cheese, olives and/or chickpeas).
- Toss again to combine, then season to taste with pepper. If the pasta needs more flavor, add salt, to taste, or a splash of lemon juice. If the flavors are too bold, let it rest for a few minutes, and add a little splash of olive oil if necessary to tone down the rest. This recipe will keep well, covered and refrigerated, for up to 4 days.
Recipe adapted from Vegan Goodness by Jessica Prescott.
*Change it up: You can use pine nuts, walnuts or almonds in the pesto instead of pepitas (although the dish will no longer be nut-free, if that is relevant to you).
Make it gluten free: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta.
Make it dairy free/vegan: Just don’t add any cheese!
▸ Nutrition Information
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