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! 

overhead image of a white serving platter full of pesto pasta salad made with lettuce, noodles, croutons, and Parmesan

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. 
close up image of pesto pasta salad topped with lemon wedges

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. 

a rectangular white serving platter full with pesto pasta salad made with lettuce, noodles, Parmesan, croutons, and a pesto sauce topped with lemon wedges

How to Make a Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe

  1. Start by preparing the pasta according to the package instructions. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. Layer the remaining ingredients. Start with the cooked pasta, then add the lettuce, croutons, and Parmesan. 
  5. When you’re ready to serve, flip the bowl over to mix the ingredients. Toss until they are completely coated with the pesto dressing. 
a close up image of a pesto pasta salad recipe on a white platter

Serving Suggestions

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! 
overhead image of a white serving platter full of pesto pasta salad made with lettuce, noodles, croutons, and Parmesan

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. 

a white serving platter full of pesto pasta salad recipe with forks in the corner and lemon wedges on the side

More Salad Recipes You’ll Love

Can’t get enough salads? Try some of these fan favorites as well! 

overhead image of a white serving platter full of pesto pasta salad made with lettuce, noodles, croutons, and Parmesan

Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe

5 from 1 vote
Author: Food Dolls
Servings: 8
Prep: 2 minutes
Cook: 12 minutes
Total: 12 minutes
This Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe comes together in minutes with 6 simple ingredients for a healthy side dish or easy appetizer everyone will love!


  • 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.

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Serving: 8g | Calories: 247kcal | Carbohydrates: 49g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 59mg | Potassium: 223mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 2g | Vitamin A: 3070IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 29mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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Meet Alia & Radwa

Welcome to Food Dolls! We’re so glad you found us. We are Alia and Radwa, sisters who want to share simple and easy recipes with you. We hope you find recipes here that you enjoy making as much as we do! Learn more about us!

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    1. Hi Jamee,

      We use the pesto to make a sort of dressing. It’s in step 2 in the recipe card at the bottom of the post. 😊

      Alia & Radwa