Made with just 6 simple ingredients and a dash of salt and pepper, this pesto pasta salad recipe is ready in minutes and perfect for summer picnics, quick lunches, fancy dinners, and more!
What Is Pesto?
Pesto is a bright green sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy, and is commonly found in Italian recipes. When translated, the word pesto means “to crush,” which makes sense, because it is made by crushing ingredients in a mortar and pestle. Traditionally, pesto sauces are made with a combination of pine nuts, basil, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. Today, there are endless variations, but they all resemble the original version in one way or another!
Ingredients You’ll Need for Pesto Pasta Salad
For this recipe, we kept the ingredient list short and sweet. Of course, you can add ingredients to make it your own, but we’ll get into more on that later. For now, you’ll need:
- Pesto – We prefer to use homemade pesto, but storebought works just as well. Either way, it adds tons of flavor and healthy fats to this dish and keeps the pasta moist.
- Lemon Juice – The acidity in lemon juice helps cut through the heaviness of the pesto and cheese, creating a light and refreshing taste.
- Pasta – It wouldn’t be pasta salad without past would it? We like bow-tie shapes, but any other short shapes like fusilli, farfalle, or penne. Also, feel free to use different variations like whole wheat pasta or veggie-infused noodles for added nutrients and fiber!
- Romaine Lettuce – Romaine adds a refreshing crunch to this pesto pasta salad recipe. However, it also provides a great source of vitamins and minerals! That said, it can easily be swapped out for another green like spinach or arugula.
- Croutons – Crunchy, garlicky, and delicious, croutons take this recipe to the next level. Use whatever flavors and variations you like best. Or, swap them out for tortilla chips!
- Shredded Parmesan Cheese – Parmesan adds a nice salty and slightly nutty flavor but can easily be replaced with any other cheese you prefer.
More Ways to Add Variety
If you’re looking for even more ways to add flavor to your pesto pasta salad recipe, try including one or more extra ingredients.
Protein sources like grilled shrimp or diced chicken are a great way to bulk up this recipe transforming it from a side dish to a main course with minimal effort on your part.
Or, if you want to make this dish stretch, bulk it up with extra veggies. Red onion, cucumber, tomatoes, and peas are all great options! However, feel free to include whatever you have on hand. It’s a great way to use up leftovers.
How to Make a Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe
- Start by preparing the pasta according to the package instructions.
- Next, prepare the pesto if you are making it from scratch. Combine the ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until smooth. Then, drizzle in your olive oil, and pulse again. See here for the full recipe.
- Then, create the dressing base for the pasta salad. To do so, combine the pesto, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk until the ingredients are well combined.
- Layer the remaining ingredients. Start with the cooked pasta, then add the lettuce, croutons, and Parmesan.
- When you’re ready to serve, flip the bowl over to mix the ingredients. Toss until they are completely coated with the pesto dressing.
This pesto pasta salad is filling enough to be served as a main course. However, it also pairs perfectly as a side dish or appetizer! To create an irresistible meal, try pairing it with the following items.
- Bruschetta Brushed Chicken is a quick and easy main course full of flavor and baked in the oven for an extra juicy texture.
- If you’re looking for a kid-friendly option, this Ground Beef Philly Cheesesteak is absolutely divine. Loaded with ground beef and stuffed with cheese, it’s a fun take on a classic sandwich!
- A healthy crowd-pleasing dish that makes for a great side, White Bean Dip with Roasted Tomatoes comes together with a single piece of equipment and is ready in less than 30 minutes.
- Don’t forget dessert! Made with a specialty Oreo crust and topped with a delicious pudding and whipped topping, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie is absolutely sensational!
Do I Serve Pesto Pasta Salad Cold or Warm?
Due to the fact that it contains lettuce, this pasta salad is best served cold.
Can I Add Pesto to Cold Pasta?
For the best results, save a bit of the pasta water. Then, toss the pasta with the reserved water and a bit of olive oil before adding the pesto. This will help it stick to the noodles!
Can I Make this Salad Ahead of Time
Yes! This recipe is best eaten right away. However, if you want to make it ahead of time, it can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days. If you can, refrain from adding the lettuce until just before serving to prevent it from wilting.
More Salad Recipes You’ll Love
Can’t get enough salads? Try some of these fan favorites as well!
Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe
- 1/3 cup homemade or store-bought pesto or store-bought ((See notes))
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- 1 pound bow tie pasta (cooked al dente)
- 6 cups romaine lettuce
- 2 cups croutons
- ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- Cook the pasta according to package instructions.
- Add the pesto, lemon juice, salt, and pepper to a large bowl. Whisk until combined.
- Layer the pasta, lettuce, croutons, and Parmesan on top of the pesto mixture.
- Flip the bowl over, spreading the salad onto a serving platter. Toss to combine.
- Make homemade pesto with this recipe.
- The ingredients are layered in order to make this salad ahead of time without getting soggy.
- if you love a heavily dressed salad, increase the pesto to 1/2 cup.