Easy Pesto Pasta Salad
This easy Pesto Pasta Salad takes only a few simple ingredients and a couple minutes of your time to prepare. It is the perfect summer side. It is made with basil pesto, fresh tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, creamy mozzarella, and al-dente noodles (whatever bite sized shape you have), plus a few extra ingredients to keep it amazing.
This is a delightful, fresh tasting, yummy pasta salad that is elevated with balls of creamy, luxurious mozzarella, contrasting beautifully with the crisp cucumbers, acidic tomatoes, and vibrant pesto. Serve it on its own, or with Lemon Garlic Rosemary Grilled Chicken for a great meal.
What Is Pesto?
Generally I am a huge fan of homemade pesto. However, summer is busy, and the last thing I want to do is spend a bunch of time on any recipe, so for this easy pesto pasta salad I am using the jarred pesto from Costco (Kirkland brand), which is a delightful substitute for fresh.
What is pesto? The word “pesto” is the past tense version of the Italian word “pestare.” The definition of which is to crush. Pesto is traditionally made by crushing the basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and other ingredients in a mortar and pestle. Today we usually use a food processor or blender to make pesto, but for this recipe, a pre-made pesto works wonder.
We mix the pesto with just a couple tablespoons of mayo to keep the pasta salad moist, because dry pasta salad is a crime.
What You Need to Make Pesto Pasta Salad:
Making this easy pesto pasta salad only takes a few simple ingredients, and the flavor is awesome:
- Pasta: I use bow-tie, but any bite-size noodles will work, so pick your favorite shape. I like the rotini as well.
- Tomatoes: I use the grape or cherry tomatoes, but any chopped fresh tomatoes, or cherry tomatoes will work.
- Cucumber: The best for this salad is the English cucumbers or mini cucumbers, with the skin on, as they are just the right amount of crunch, but again, any cucumber variety will work.
- Fresh Mozzarella: I use the balls, that are pre-shaped and small, but you can cut whatever fresh mozzarella you find into chunks.
- Pesto: To keep it easy, I went with store-bought fresh pesto, but Homemade or store-bought jarred or fresh works.
- Mayonnaise: Just a little bit of mayonnaise goes a long way to keep things extra saucy, and not dried out.
- Garnish: Garnish with some salt and pepper and fresh basil.
Other Things To Put In Pasta Salad
- Toasted Pine Nuts
- Leafy Greens
- Protein like grilled chicken or salmon
- Diced Avocado
- Roasted Garlic
- Fresh Basil Leaves
How to Make Easy Pesto Pasta Salad
Making this recipe is super simple, here are the basic steps for making the easy pesto pasta salad, as well as a more detailed explanation:
- Prepare Pasta
- Prepare Sauce
- Prepare Mix-ins
- Toss Together
- Garnish and Enjoy!
Step One: Cook Pasta
- Cook pasta in salted water. The salt in the water is a must, as it will add so much flavor to your pasta salad. It is the perfect way to ensure it is not under-seasoned.
- Rinse Pasta. Once your pasta is cooked to the package specifications, you will ant to rinse your pasta under cold running water to remove excess starch. The starch on the pasta makes it sticky, and you want to remove that and cool the pasta so it stays separate, and is perfect with your sauce.
- Drain well and cool. After rinsing, let the pasta drain, and cool completely.
Step Two: Mix Together Sauce
Pesto and Mayonnaise Mixed Together: You want to stir together your basil pesto with the bit of mayo, and then mix the pesto and mayonnaise through the pasta before adding any of your other mix-ins. This will allow the pasta to be fully coated, and improve the flavor. As well as keep the pieces of pasta separate from one another.
Step Three: Add Vegetables
Tomato and Cucumbers– Gently mix in tomato and cucumbers, being careful not to smash the tomatoes too much.
Step Four: Add Cheese
Add Mozzarella: Fold in the mozzarella at this point, being careful to not be too aggressive.
Step Five: Add Other Mix-Ins if Desired or Serve and Enjoy!
Add other mix-ins and leafy greens last: If you are going to add in basil leaves, or arugula, or grilled chicken etc, now is the time to do it. I like to add the leafy greens very last so they do not get weighted down too much with the sauce, this keeps it nice and fresh tasting.
If you do not have anything else you plan to add, then just simply serve it and enjoy!
Things to Eat With Pasta Salad Recipe
This recipe is so perfect for summer dining, especially when paired with something off the grill or other fresh salads:
- Summer Fruit Salad
- Grilled Skirt Steak
- Chipotle Pesto Grilled Chicken Skewers
- BBQ Basil Pesto Grilled Chicken
- 10 Garlic Clove Marinated Grilled Filet
Tips and Tricks
Making this recipe for easy pesto pasta salad is Eazy Peazy, here are a few tricks for making it turn out every time:
- Perfect Pasta: Cook pasta just past al dente, and salt the water to make it more flavorful.
- Saucy: Keep the pasta salad from drying out by mixing in a little mayo to the pesto, it works wonders.
- Add Vegetables: You can mix it up, but add whatever vegetables you want, I suggest tomato and cucumber.
Make Ahead and Storage
How to make this recipe ahead of time:
Make as normal, and refrigerate. Serve as you desire for lunches, pot lucks, etc. this is great served cold. It should last 2 to 4 days in a well-sealed container in the fridge.
How long does pesto pasta salad last in the fridge?
Pasta salad holds up well in the fridge, but the pesto can oxidize and darken a little. I like to add a few extra tablespoons of pesto just before serving.
I find that cold pasta salads can become dry in the fridge overnight, as the pasta noodles will absorb the sauce. This should not happen because we use lots of pesto and a little mayo, but if it does dry out, you can add a little extra pesto, or drizzle on some lemon juice.
Other Great Recipes:
- Asian Chicken Pasta Salad
- Italian Antipasto Pasta Salad
- Sun Dried Tomato Pasta
- Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
- Caprese Pasta Salad
Easy Pesto Pasta Salad
- 1 lb bite sized pasta bowtie
- 1 cup prepared pesto
- 2 Tbs mayonnaise
- 1 cup sliced cucumber
- 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 cup fresh mozzarella cubed or balled
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- Fresh basil for garnish
- Start by preparing the pasta according to package directions, generously salting the water.
- When pasta finishes cooking, drain, rinse thoroughly, drain again, and let cool.
- In a large bowl combine cooled pasta, mayo, and pesto.
- Stir in tomatoes and cucumbers, stirring gently so as not to crush the tomatoes.
- Stir in mozzarella cheese.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Garnish with fresh basil sliced into chiffonade.
- Serve immediately.
Our recipe card software calculates these nutrition facts based on averages for the above ingredients, different brands, and quality of produce/meats may have different nutritional information, always calculate your own based on the specific products you use in order to achieve accurate macros for this recipe.
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