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Summer pesto pasta salad with fresh basil pesto, spiral pasta, pine nuts, olives, peas, and cherry tomatoes.
Photography Credit:Elise Bauer
When it’s the season for potluck barbecues, a quick and easy dish to prepare for a gathering is pesto pasta salad!
Spiral pasta catches and hold the bits of basil pesto. You can dress up the pesto and pasta with any number of things.
Cherry tomatoes, nuts, peas, and olive tapenade are what I had on hand for this particular version, but you could also add goat cheese, slivered almonds, sun-dried tomatoes, or snow peas.
What’s your favorite summer pasta salad? Let us know in the comments.
Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe
Prep the salad while the water is on to boil for the pasta.
- 4 cups uncooked fusili pasta (use rice pasta for wheat-free version)
- 1 cup fresh basil pesto
- 2 tablespoons chopped green olives, or olive tapenade
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 cup frozen peas, defrosted (or fresh if you can get them)
- 12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
- Several fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
1 Cook the pasta: Cook pasta according to instructions on the package. Make sure the water is salted (one and a half teaspoons per quart). Remove pasta from heat and strain when pasta is cooked, but still firm (al dente).
2 Toast pine nuts: While the pasta is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a small pan over medium-high heat. Keep an eye on them because pine nuts can go from lovely and toasty to acrid and burnt in seconds.
When most of the nuts have a blush of golden brown on them, move them to a cool bowl to rest. They will burn if you leave them in the pan.
3 Mix pasta with pesto, pine nuts, olives, tomatoes, basil, olive oil: Put pasta in a big bowl. Mix in fresh basil pesto, green olives, and pine nuts. Gently mix in cherry tomatoes, peas, fresh basil leaves and olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve at room temperature.
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- 8 ounces whole-wheat fusilli (about 3 cups)
- 1 cup small broccoli florets
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 large clove garlic, quartered
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground pepper
- 1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add fusilli and cook according to package directions. One minute before the pasta is done, stir in broccoli. Cook for 1 minute, then drain and rinse under cold running water to stop further cooking.
Meanwhile, place basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, mayonnaise, oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a mini food processor. Process until almost smooth. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the pasta and broccoli, along with tomatoes. Toss to coat.
Summer pesto pasta salad
Make your tongue dance with summertime pesto pasta salad! This creamy pasta salad with pesto is a break from the usual table flair. Typically at most potlucks/picnics and BBQs there is a table that serves all the amazing sides everyone brings.
You can count on macaroni and cheese, potato salad, macaroni salad and old fashioned favorites like Watergate and ambrosia.
But you may have never seen a pesto pasta salad sitting there. This pesto salad BURSTS with flavor, counting on the bold Italian seasonings of Pesto, the crunch of pine nuts and the happy little bowtie pasta noodle that pulls it all together as one.
This must make (and always enjoyed) pasta salad is an uncomplicated and rich tasting side dish perfect to compliment most BBQ dishes.
Serve this salad along side a burger or chicken sandwich or simply serve up alone in a bowl for a filling lunch.
- farfalle pasta – This is the bowtie shaped pasta
- prepared jarred pesto – Any of favorite brand of jarred pesto works great. I am not overly picky about it as I have tried many brands with the same results. I use Classico, which comes in small jars near the Parmesan cheese and pasta sauce in the store.
- Hellmann’s mayonnaise
- grated Parmesan cheese
- olive oil
- fresh spinach leaves
- grape tomatoes
- pine nuts – While it may be tempting to leave out this part of the ingredients, don’t! It really is very unique and brings a great flavor to this pasta side.
Pasta Salad Recipe Variations
Pasta Salad is one of the most versatile dishes out there. Just about anything goes and will turn out fabulously! This pasta salad recipe has several variations that are just as good as the original!
How Can I Make It Pesto Pasta Salad Vegan Version?
Pesto Pasta Salad Vegan Version requires only a few simple adjustments. You’ll need to swap out the dairy based ingredients for your favorite dairy alternatives. You could also opt to just use straight pesto as the dressing instead of making it cream based. If you go that route, you’ll need double the amount of pesto.
Can I Add Chicken To This Recipe?
Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad is one of my favorite variations. Chicken pairs perfectly and makes the salad main dish worthy- just like Chicken Pasta Salad . Add in 2 cups of cooked chicken cut into cubes, and you’ve got a delicious lunch or light dinner.
Can I Use Shrimp?
Shrimp and pesto are a match made in heaven! Add in a 1/2 pound of cooked, chopped shrimp to create Pesto Shrimp Pasta Salad. If you’re a fan of seafood salad, you can also try my creamy, decadent Shrimp Pasta Salad .
Can I Add Bacon?
I haven’t met a dish yet that bacon can’t improve! From a BLT Pasta Salad to a creamy Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad, everything’s better with bacon, and Pesto Pasta Salad is no exception! Crumble several strips of cooked bacon into your salad for a bacon kick and another layer of flavor.
Is Tortellini A Good Substitute To Farfalle?
Tortellini and pesto are a winning combo. Those pasta pockets of deliciousness are a fantastic addition to the salad. Your Tortellini Salad with this pesto dressing will be out of this world. If you want a tangy vinaigrette salad, try my Tortellini Pasta Salad . It’s another one of my favorites that goes quickly at our big family get togethers!
What to put in Pesto Pasta Salad
This Italian pasta salad is full of some of my favorite ingredients – pasta, pesto, feta cheese, and black olives! Serious yum factor! Depending on what we have on hand, we use either roasted red peppers or grape tomatoes. They are both equally delicious.
Please note, that depending on your family’s tastes you may not want to use all of the pesto – but if you like a saucy pasta salad, you may like it with the full amount. Feel free to adjust it to your tastes! If you prefer, you can use purchased pesto in place of the homemade pesto sauce – just adjust it according to your family’s tastes too! We have also used mozzarella in place of the feta cheese with equally delicious results! You just can’t go wrong with this pasta salad with pesto!
Try these other yummy pesto recipes!
Tools used to make Pesto Pasta Salad
Food Processor: I swear I use this thing on a DAILY basis! From making pesto, to sauces, to crusts, this is one of my most versatile kitchen appliances!
Mixing Bowls: I love these nesting mixing bowls and use them for everything from mixing, to storing, to serving!
How to Make It
Combine spinach, basil, cheese, garlic, pepper, kosher salt, and 3 tablespoons of the oil in a mini food processor. Process until mostly smooth, about 10 seconds, stopping to scrape bowl as needed. Set aside.
Cook pasta in a stockpot according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water. Transfer pasta to a colander drain and rinse with hot water.
Return pot to medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and tomatoes cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes start to soften and skins split slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Add pasta cook, stirring often, until warmed through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add spinach mixture and 1/4 cup of the pasta water to tomato-pasta mixture toss gently. Add more pasta water if necessary. Sprinkle with parsley, pumpkin seeds, and flaky sea salt toss gently. Serve immediately.
Ingredients for Pesto Pasta Salad
- PASTA: I used cavatappi because those spirals hold pesto sauce so well, but you could also use elbows. Get something with a curl to it.
- TOMATOES: You want to get cherry tomatoes because they hold up best in this pasta salad, maintaining their shape and not getting mushy.
- MOZZARELLA PEARLS: I went for the pearls because they mimic the same size and shape as the tomatoes which is great for bites. You could also go with the big ball, but make sure you buy fresh mozzarella.
- PESTO SAUCE
Prepare the Salad
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well. (Pasta can be made in advance and refrigerated for a day or two.)
Cook vegetables according to package directions. Let cool. (Veggies can be cooked in advance and refrigerated.)
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Adjust seasonings to taste.
Chill at least two or three hours or overnight to allow flavors to blend.
If you don&rsquot have pesto on hand, add 2 cloves of freshly crushed garlic and 3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese. For a parve version, omit the cheese.
HOW TO MAKE PESTO PASTA SALAD
This pesto pasta salad recipe is SO easy to make and comes together in less than 30 minutes! To make:
STEP 1: MAKE PESTO VINIAGRETTE
- Make the dressing by adding olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, dried oregano, paprika, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to a bowl and whisking to combine.
STEP 2: COOK PASTA
- Cook tortellini in generously salted water according to package directions (DON’T overcook). I find I always have too cook my pasta less time than the package says so make sure you check it 2-3 minutes early -you don’t want to ruin your pesto pasta salad with mushy pasta!
- Drain pasta with cool water to prevent it from continuing to cook while it cools. Transfer to a large bowl that gives you some wiggle room to toss, so everything can get evenly combined.
STEP 3: ASSEMBLE
- Add all of the Salad ingredients to the tortellini followed by the Pesto Dressing.
- Gently toss until evenly coated.
STEP 4: TASTE AND ADJUST
- Taste and season with additional lemon juice or salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve at room temperature.
Can I prepare this Salad in Advance
Yes, absolutely! In fact this salad is ever better a few hours after you make it or even make it in the morning to serve in the evening. So, it’s honestly a great make ahead salad. It’s also a great salad to bring to potlucks and summer barbecues.
Incredibly Easy Pesto Pasta Salad
- Author: Danielle
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 12 minutes
- Total Time: 17 minutes
- Yield: 8 servings 1 x
Incredibly Easy Pesto Pasta Salad – just 6 simple ingredients for the best make-ahead side dish!
- 1 pound farfalle (bowtie) pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (avocado oil works too)
- 6 oz . ( 3/4 cup ) traditional prepared pesto
- 2/3 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2.25 oz . can sliced black olives, drained
- 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- Prepare pasta to ‘al dente’ per box instructions. Drain and run cold water through the pasta in the strainer for a few seconds.
- Add pasta to a large mixing bowl. Add oil, followed by all remaining ingredients. Stir until well mixed.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
You can also use whole wheat pasta, but you might have to add a little more oil as it tends to be a little drier than regular pasta. My thoughts on pesto: Store-Bought Vs. Homemade Pesto: Which is Cheaper?
Nutrition information estimated with My Fitness Pal.
- Serving Size: 2/3 cup
- Calories: 405
- Fat: 20g
- Carbohydrates: 45g
- Protein: 14g
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Thank you so much for checking out the Incredibly Easy Pesto Pasta Salad (and making it to the bottom)! You won’t believe how easy it is. Be sure to use #projectmealplan on social media if you make this recipe! Follow me on Pinterest for meal inspiration every single day!