Sides & Salads

Pesto Pasta Salad: A Versatile Summer Dish for All Occasions

Delight your palate with an enticing pesto pasta salad that’s the epitome of summer. This vibrant dish bursts with color and flavor, merging the aromatic appeal of fresh basil, creamy mozzarella balls, and juicy tomatoes.

Ideal for a sunny picnic, a family barbecue, or a simple weekday lunch, its simplicity enhances its allure.

Whether you’re a culinary novice or an experienced chef, this versatile and crowd-pleasing salad will become a go-to favorite in your recipe collection.


Crafting the Perfect Pesto Pasta Salad

Beginning with the Basics

Start your culinary adventure by boiling 1 pound of rotini pasta, following the package instructions to the letter. Simultaneously, you can begin crafting your homemade pesto sauce, a delightful medley of fresh and flavorful ingredients.

Preparing the Pesto

In your food processor or blender, combine 2 cups of loosely packed basil leaves with 1 tablespoon of minced garlic. Add 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese for a nutty undertone and a rich depth of flavor. Pour in 1/3 cup of olive oil and 1/4 cup of pine nuts. If you can’t find pine nuts, sunflower seeds make a fine substitute. Blend these ingredients until you achieve a smooth, verdant pesto sauce.

Mixing and Cooling the Pasta

Once your pasta is perfectly cooked, drain it and rinse with cold water until it’s completely chilled. This not only stops the cooking process but also prepares your pasta for the salad.

Bringing the Salad Together

Transfer your cooled pasta to a large mixing bowl and pour in your freshly made pesto sauce. Gently stir the pasta, making sure each piece gets a good coating of the flavorful pesto. The pasta and pesto alone can already make a fantastic dish, but why stop there?

Adding a Burst of Flavors and Colors

Enhance the flavor profile and aesthetic appeal of your salad by adding 1 pint of halved or whole cherry or grape tomatoes. Scatter in 8 ounces of mini mozzarella balls, a creamy addition that complements the tangy pesto beautifully. Mix in 1/2 cup of halved olives for a salty edge and 1/4 cup of diced red onion for a pop of color and a bit of crunch. Toss everything together, adjusting the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Remember, this is your salad, so feel free to experiment and add other veggies or proteins that you love.

Tips and Variations

While the original recipe is a classic, there are numerous ways you can put your spin on it. Consider adding grilled chicken or roasted shrimp to make it a more substantial meal. Bell peppers, cucumbers, or broccoli can add a crunch, while a squeeze of lemon juice can enhance the freshness. If you’re vegan, substitute the cheese with nutritional yeast and the mozzarella balls with vegan cheese.


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I use store-bought pesto? Yes, store-bought pesto can be used for convenience, but making it from scratch allows you to control the flavor and freshness.
  2. Can I use a different type of pasta? Certainly! Any pasta that can hold onto the pesto well can be used. Fusilli, farfalle, and penne are excellent choices.
  3. How long does this salad last in the fridge? The salad can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days. Just be sure to keep it in an airtight container.
  4. Can I make the pesto in advance? Yes, you can make the pesto up to a week in advance and store it in an airtight container in the fridge.
  5. Can I freeze the pesto pasta salad? We wouldn’t recommend freezing the pasta salad as the texture of the pasta and the veggies may change upon defrosting.

Kitchen Tools/Equipment Needed:

  • Large pot for boiling pasta
  • Strainer
  • Food processor or blender
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Kitchen knife
  • Cutting board
  • Mixing spoon
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Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe

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  • Author: Howard Land
  • Total Time: 30 minutes


A vibrant, flavorful pesto pasta salad perfect for any occasion, combining fresh basil, mozzarella balls, and juicy tomatoes with perfectly cooked pasta.



1 pound rotini pasta

2 cups loosely packed basil leaves

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup pine nuts (or sunflower seeds)

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes

8 ounces mini mozzarella balls

1/2 cup halved olives

1/4 cup diced red onion

Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Cook the rotini pasta according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water until completely chilled.
  2. In a food processor or blender, combine basil leaves, minced garlic, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and pine nuts. Blend until smooth.
  3. Transfer the cooled pasta to a large bowl and add the pesto sauce. Mix well until pasta is coated.
  4. Add tomatoes, mozzarella balls, olives, and red onion. Toss to combine.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy!
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Category: Salad
  • Method: Mixing
  • Cuisine: Italian


  • Serving Size: Serves 6
  • Calories: 535
  • Sugar: 4g
  • Sodium: 362mg
  • Fat: 28g
  • Saturated Fat: 7g
  • Unsaturated Fat: 17g
  • Carbohydrates: 54g
  • Fiber: 3g
  • Protein: 18g
  • Cholesterol: 22mg

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