This beautiful, flavorful, and easy to make, pesto pasta salad recipe helps bring a little bit of the Mediterranean to your table!
Quick and simple salads that I can throw together in a pinch are pretty much my jam throughout the summer, especially when it comes time to hosting family and friends. Artichoke Rice Salad and Chinese Chicken Salad are two of my other favorites that make entertaining a breeze. And for a real treat, I never get tired of the citrus twist on this classic chicken salad recipe.
Table of contents
What is Cold Pesto Pasta Salad?
All the flavors of Italy come together in one bite of this colorful salad. Cooked bowtie pasta, juicy red cherries and sun-dried tomatoes, white mozzarella balls and parmesan cheese, and green basil leaves with homemade Pesto sauce. It doesn’t get any more vibrant, wholesome or beautiful than that!
Whenever I start to crave pasta salads I know summer is near. There’s nothing better than having a quick, inexpensive, go-to meal that doesn’t heat up your kitchen. It’s the perfect dish to bring to a potluck and is always a crowd-pleaser at home. It’s great for light lunches and although it’s definitely a meal all on its own, in smaller portions it makes a great side dish alongside grilled tri-tip or grilled shrimp!
What is Pesto Sauce?
Basil pesto sauce is an Italian blend of just a handful of ingredients. Originally it was basil, pine nuts, garlic, and Parmigiano (aka Parmesan – which is the imitation of the original only made in Italy) or Pecorino, which are both hard cheeses. Then all of this would be blended with olive oil to create a nice creamy sauce.
Other than the original recipe, there have been many adaptations and versions created by substituting, omitting, or adding certain ingredients. For example, I like to add a bit of lemon for a pop of citrus. Some people prefer cilantro instead of basil, pistachios, or almonds instead of pine nuts, and many other swaps.
There are probably about a dozen different pesto recipes out there, and each one is as delicious as the next. It’s such a tasty versatile sauce that can be used for anything – on pasta, as a marinade or a spread, or even a dip!
Pesto Pasta Salad Ingredients:
- Bow-tie pasta – Cooked according to package instructions and cooled. You can also use any medium pasta you have on hand.
- Sea salt – For pasta water plus more for garnish
- Cherry or grape tomatoes – Cherry tomatoes are a bit bigger and a bit juicier than grape tomatoes.
- Small fresh mozzarella balls – Usually found in brine, very soft and they don’t have as long of a shelf life as packaged mozzarella.
- Basil leaves – Roughly chopped.
- Freshly grated parmesan cheese – Skip the grated stuff in a container. It has a lot of fillers, and the flavor doesn’t compare to freshly grated.
- Sun-dried tomatoes – Packed in olive oil and herbs.
- Homemade pesto sauce – you can use pre-made in a pinch, but freshly made is oh so good
How to Make Pasta Salad with Homemade Pesto:
The hardest part about making this pasta salad recipe is reading the boiling instructions on your package pasta. It’s just a matter of making a homemade pesto sauce, if you don’t already have some on hand, then tossing all the components together into a bowl. Seriously, it’s that easy!
What to Serve it With
Despite the fact that this pasta salad has so many bold flavors, it still pairs well with so many other things because of how light it is. Below are a few of my favorite dishes to have alongside it.
- Grilled pizza
- Fried chicken
- Herb roasted chicken
- Tomato Bisque
- Hot dogs
- Grilled fish or shrimp skewers
You can! Of course as with any dish, the sooner you serve it the better, but there is no law that says you can’t keep it in the fridge overnight to let the flavors marry a little longer. You could potentially make it a couple of days ahead, however just know you run the risk of the pasta getting a bit soggy.
Kalamata olives are great, red onions, chickpeas, feta, or green or red bell peppers to name a few other options.
Cover your salad with plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge for up to a week. It’s great for meal prep for lunches throughout the week.
Pesto Pasta Salad
- 16 oz. bow-tie pasta cooked and cooled
- 2 teaspoons sea salt for pasta water plus more for garnish
- 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
- 2 cups small fresh mozzarella balls
- 1/2 cup basil leaves roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil and herbs
- 1 recipe homemade pesto sauce
- Cook pasta in salted water according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water until cooled.
- Place cooked pasta in a large salad bowl and toss with ingredients: tomatoes, mozzarella balls, basil, cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes.
- When ingredients are thoroughly tossed together, add pesto sauce and mix together. Adjust with additional sauce or ingredients to your desired liking.
- Chill, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.