Looking for a quick and easy pasta salad recipe for a summer BBQ or potluck? Try this delicious and vibrant summer pesto pasta salad recipe! It only takes 30 minutes to make and is loaded with fresh vegetables, homemade basil pesto, and crumbled cheese.
I recently had an overabundance of basil that needed a good home, and it found its way into a couple of batches of basil pesto (that's easily made in a food processor, btw).
And then that basil pesto needed a good home, and it found its way onto this lovely pesto pasta salad!
Ingredients for pesto pasta salad
- Pasta: I like to use farfalle, but any short, sturdy pasta with nooks and crannies will do just fine.
- Pesto: Homemade basil pesto is seriously so easy, and so freaking delicious. I can't go back to store-bought!
- Lemon juice: Adds a nice light, bright flavor.
- Chickpeas: I really like adding lightly seasoned chickpeas to add a little extra substance to my pasta salad. I like turning my salads into a meal.
- Corn: Because I love corn. Grilled corn is extra awesome, btw.
- Bell peppers: You can use whatever peppers you like – green, red, yellow, or orange.
- Cucumbers: Adds a little light crunch! You could also thinly slice or dice a summer squash.
- Cheese: Cotija is my crumbled cheese of choice, but you could also use queso fresco, feta, or even fresh mozzarella pearls.
- Spinach: My husband personally finds this to be an odd addition, but I like adding some spinach or kale to my pasta salads.
- Pine nuts: Pesto is typically made with pine nuts, so it's kinda fun to add a little crunch that'll fit right in!
- Salt and pepper: Because everything can benefit from a little extra seasoning.
- Grated parmesan cheese: A nice way to top it all off for serving.
How to make pesto pasta salad
Firstly, if making your own basil pesto, prepare that first – try my homemade basil pesto recipe (you'll need to double the recipe).
But you can also make this pesto pasta salad using store-bought pesto, no problem!
Step 1: In a large pot of salted water, boil pasta to al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water (in case you need to thin out your pesto sauce at all), drain pasta in a colander, and rinse pasta with cold water.
Step 2: Toss the cooled pasta with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to prevent the noodles from sticking to each other.
In a large bowl (at least 4.5 quarts), combine prepared pasta, pesto, and lemon juice and toss or gently stir with a wooden spoon to coat and combine.
Step 3: Add chickpeas, corn, peppers, cucumber, crumbled cheese, spinach, and pine nuts, and toss to combine.
Step 4: Salt and pepper to taste, and toss again to combine. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese and enjoy!
Tips for making pesto pasta salad
- Make sure you’re salting the water you’re cooking the pasta in. For 1 pound of pasta (like we’re using in this recipe), add at least 1/2 Tablespoon of kosher salt.
- Cook the pasta to just a little past al dente. You don’t want it to be mushy from being cooked too long, nor do you want it to be too tough because you didn’t cook it long enough.
- Make sure you rinse the pasta in cold water after it's done cooking. Once you rinse it in cold water, it’s going to stop it from cooking further – so make sure to taste it before you pull it from the heat.
- Speaking of the cold water rinse, you don’t need to chill the pasta before dressing it. In fact, that would be doing yourself a disservice! You want to compile the salad with all the ingredients as soon as you can while it can still best absorb the flavors.
- Toss in a little EVOO. After the cold water rinse, toss the pasta in a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to prevent the noodles from sticking together.
Do I have to use farfalle pasta?
Nope! You could always try it with another “short” pasta shape like fusilli, penne, cavatappi, or elbow macaroni. Nooks and crannies are your friends!
Just make sure you’re using dried pasta instead of fresh – it holds up better to pasta salads.
Substitutions and variations
- Swap the farfalle pasta for fusilli, penne, cavatappi, or elbow macaroni
- Swap chickpeas for marinated artichoke hearts
- Swap the cheese: Cotija is my crumbled cheese of choice, but you could also use queso fresco, feta, or even fresh mozzarella pearls
- Swap the cucumber for thinly sliced summer squash (a mandolin is your best friend for that)
- Swap the pine nuts for a different nut like sliced almonds, pistachios, pepitas, or chopped walnuts
- Add diced bell peppers
- Add kalamata olives
- Add cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes
- Add sundried tomatoes
- Top with seasoned grilled chicken
- Serve with some fresh basil leaves
What to serve with pesto pasta salad
If you're not planning to make this pasta salad the entrée, here are some other dishes you can serve with it:
- Watermelon & Blackberry Mint Salad
- Deviled Eggs
- Copycat Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuits
- Rosemary Sea Salt Dinner Rolls
Nope! You could always try it with another “short” pasta shape like fusilli, penne, cavatappi, or elbow macaroni. Nooks and crannies are your friends! Just make sure you’re using dried pasta instead of fresh – it holds up better to pasta salads.
Sure! Just store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator (for up to 5 days).
Topping pesto pasta salad with grilled chicken, and salmon are both delicious ways to make a meal out of the dish.
Diced vegetables, diced cured meats and cheeses are all great for cold pasta salads.
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Pesto Pasta Salad
- 1 pound Farfalle pasta, or other pasta
- 2 cups basil pesto, homemade or store bought
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon, about 1-2 Tablespoons
- 15 ounces chickpeas, drained and rinsed, about 2 cups
- 2 cups fresh corn kernels, or frozen and thawed
- 2 cups bell peppers, diced
- 1 cup cucumber or squash, small diced
- 1 cup crumbled cotija, queso fresca, or feta cheese
- 1 cup fresh spinach
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- Salt and pepper, to taste (I use about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper)
- Grated parmesan cheese, to serve
- If making your own basil pesto, prepare that first – try my homemade basil pesto recipe (you'll need to double the recipe).2 cups (496 g) basil pesto
- In a large pot of salted water, boil pasta to al dente according to package directions.1 pound (453 ⅗ g) Farfalle pasta
- Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water (in case you need to thin out your pesto sauce at all), drain pasta in colander, and rinse pasta with cold water. Toss the cooled pasta with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil to prevent the noodles from sticking to each other.
- In a large bowl (at least 4.5 quart), combine prepared pasta, pesto, and lemon juice and toss or gently stir with a wooden spoon to coat and combine.1 pound (453 ⅗ g) Farfalle pastaJuice of 1/2 a lemon2 cups (496 g) basil pesto
- Add chickpeas, corn, peppers, cucumber, crumbled cheese, spinach, and pine nuts, and toss to combine. Salt and pepper to taste, toss again to combine.15 ounces (425 ¼ g) chickpeas2 cups (290 g) fresh corn kernels2 cups (298 g) bell peppers1 cup (133 g) cucumber or squash1 cup (150 g) crumbled cotija1 cup (30 g) fresh spinach1/4 cup (33 ¾ g) pine nutsSalt and pepper
- Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese and enjoy!Grated parmesan cheese
- Storage: Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- See the Substitutions & Variations section in the body of the post for more ideas.
The provided nutrition information is generated by an automatic API and does not take variations across specific brands into account. This information is provided as a general guideline and should not be treated as official calculations. Learn more here.