Juicy tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, briny olives and an herbaceous, homemade basil pesto combine forces in this delightful Pesto Pasta Salad. Make this simple summer classic before the season is over!
Why You Should Try This Pasta Salad
My pesto pasta salad is quick and easy to make, but is packed with summery flavors. Fresh veggies and pasta make for a lovely side for just about any dish you'd find at a barbecue, but can also be eaten as is for a nice vegetarian main.
My easy pasta salad recipe can also be customized to your preferences. Swap in your favorite mix of veggies; use a gluten free pasta; make life easier by opting to use store-bought pesto instead of homemade; or use your own recipe for pesto to make it vegan or nut-free!
And since it is built for serving cold (or at room temperature), this pasta salad is an ideal make-ahead dish to bring to your next potluck or picnic. It is also an excellent option for packed lunches or weekday dinners, as it can easily stand alone as a wholesome and healthy meal.
So grab your ingredients and meet me in the kitchen; you're going to love this perfectly meal-preppable basil and veggie-packed pasta salad!
P.S: If you are a salad lover like me, then try these amazing salad options which might become your favorite too : Kale Apple Salad, Corn Salad, Tomato Mozzarella Salad, Winter Fruit Salad, Shaved Brussel Sprouts Salad and Dill Potato Salad.
My recipe for summer pesto pasta salad is pretty straightforward, requiring fewer than 10 ingredients to assemble. Here's everything you'll need:
- Pasta - I used fusilli, but any short, textured pasta shape will do the trick. Feel free to swap in whole wheat pasta for an extra punch of fiber, or choose a gluten-free pasta brand you prefer. Be sure to cook according to package directions.
- Pesto - You can either make your own pesto or opt to use store-bought, jarred pesto. Feel free to make any substitutions necessary to make your pasta salad vegan or nut-free if needed.
- Kalamata Olives - I love the briny bite of olives in my pesto pasta salad. They make the whole thing feel more Mediterranean, which is just what I'm looking for in the summer months. Feel free to substitute your favorite variety of pitted olives, or omit them entirely if pickled things aren't your favorite.
- Cherry Tomatoes - Any color of cherry or grape tomatoes will work here. You can also opt to use larger format tomatoes and cut them into wedges or cubes depending on their size. If you're relying on purely pantry items, try swapping in half as many sun-dried tomatoes or add these roasted cherry tomatoes instead.
- Bell Peppers - I recommend grabbing multiple colors here just because they're beautiful. I used yellow and red varieties here, but orange would also work well.
- Basil - Nothing screams summer like fresh basil. While you can rely exclusively on the pesto for an herby punch, I recommend grabbing a few fresh basil leaves for garnish.
- Parmesan Cheese - Note that most parmesan cheese is made using animal rennet, rendering it a non-vegetarian cheese. If you are vegetarian or vegan, be sure to grab a brand that specifically mentions that it is vegetarian or go plant-based instead.
- Olive Oil - For best flavor, I recommend a high quality, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil.
- Salt and Pepper - I've said it before and I'll say it again: seasoning is king in the kitchen. Don't forget to salt and pepper your meals!
How to make pesto pasta salad?
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta per package instructions. Strain the pasta, rinse with cold water, strain well again.
NOTE: While al dente is usually the preferred texture for pasta, you may prefer the noodles to be slightly softer in this application, especially if you plan on serving the pasta salad straight from the fridge. If so, then boil for an extra 30 seconds past al dente.
In a large bowl, add cooked pasta, followed by cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, kalamata olives, basil pesto, salt, pepper, grated parmesan and olive oil.
Toss everything together to coat evenly.
Serve, topped with some more freshly grated parmesan and fresh basil. Enjoy!
Absolutely! For the best visual appeal, prep up all the elements of this salad up to a day ahead and toss right before serving. That said, any leftovers should keep well in the fridge for 4-5 days, making this a great meal prep option.
Unfortunately, I don't recommend it. Raw tomatoes and bell peppers can become mushy after freezing. For best taste, eat this pasta salad while it is fresh.
Leftovers will keep for 4-5 days in airtight box. Please note that there may be discoloration of basil pesto due to oxidation after a day or two. You can always feel free to keep the pasta salad undressed until you're ready to serve; just add the pesto and toss!
I recommend using short pastas like penne, farfalle, rotini, elbow macaroni, or fusilli. I prefer spiral shaped pastas as they hold their shape and do a great job of grabbing hold of the pesto yumminess, but that is a personal preference.
Sure! Most commercially available dried pastas are vegan already (with the exception of egg noodles). Simply opt for a vegan pesto recipe or jar, and opt for a plant-based parmesan for garnish. You can also omit the extra cheese if you prefer.
Heck yeah! Just be sure to grab a box of gluten free pasta, and cook it according to package directions.
My pesto pasta salad recipe is very straightforward and easy to make. However, here are a few tips to ensure professional level success:
- Cook pasta for about a half a minute more than al dente if serving the salad cold or at room temperature. It should be a little soft, but still have some bite and hold its shape.
- Pesto adheres to pasta best when the pasta is still slightly warm. If possible, toss while the noodles are still cooling down. The pesto shouldn't become discolored for at least a few hours.
- Salt your pasta water! You only get one chance to season dry noodles, which is when they are boiling. The water should taste about as salty as the sea.
Variations and Add-ins
While this classic pasta salad is pretty delightful as is, there are plenty of opportunities for you to customize it to your liking. Here are some optional add-ins to consider:
- Nuts & Seeds - adding in some toasted pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, pepitas, or sunflower seeds is a great way to add some crunch and healthy fats.
- Protein - If you want this to serve as a full meal, try adding chicken, shrimp, salami, or tuna.
- Veggies- Have fun with your vegetables and mix and match depending on what you have on hand. Try using zucchini, summer squash, peas, artichoke hearts, or sun-dried tomatoes.
- Greens - Make this more of a salad by adding in a few handfuls of your favorite greens. I like peppery arugula or baby spinach.
- Cheese - Add a bit of richness with balls or shreds of cheese. Try mozzarella, feta, goat, or pecorino.
You can also swap in vegan cheese, vegan or nut-free pesto, or gluten-free pasta per your dietary restrictions.
This simple dish is a perfect accompaniment to any potluck spread. It plays nicely with any variety of barbecued meats or fish, making it perfect for bringing to your next grill out.
I also love serving this pasta salad for packed lunches and picnics. Since it is designed to serve cool or at room temperature, it is perfect for any situation where you might not have access to a microwave!
To turn this into a heartier meal, try adding a protein of your choice. Grilled chicken, shrimp or salmon are all natural pairs.
More Summer Recipes:
Still hungry? Try some of my other summertime favorites:
If you tried my Pesto Pasta Salad recipe, please be sure to rate and review it below. For more delicious recipe inspiration delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for my email newsletter. You can also see what I've been cooking up on Pinterest, Instagram or Facebook or YouTube.
Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe
- 8 oz Pasta (fusilli, penne, rotini elbow macaroni, or farfalle)
- 1 cup Cherry Tomatoes (halved)
- 1 cup Bell Peppers (yellow and red, diced)
- ½ cup Kalamata Olives (sliced)
- ½ cup Basil Pesto (homemade or store-bought)
- Salt and Pepper as needed
- 2-3 tablespoons Parmesan Cheese (grated)
- 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Few Fresh Basil Leaves
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta as per package instructions until al dente. If you prefer it to be a little soft but should hold the shape, then boil for extra 30 seconds than the recommended time. Strain the pasta, rinse with cold water, strain well again.
- In a large bowl, add cooked pasta, followed by cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, kalamata olives, basil pesto, salt, pepper, grated parmesan and olive oil.
- Toss everything together to coat evenly.
- Serve, topped with some more freshly grated parmesan and fresh basil.
- Leftovers will keep 4-5 days in an airtight container in the fridge. Just note that pesto may become discolored during that time.
- Any short pasta variety will do.
- Feel free to swap in gluten free pasta of choice.
- To make this recipe even faster, opt for a store bought jar of pesto. You can also use a vegan pesto if you prefer.