Pesto pasta salad is a super easy cold salad perfect as a side or as a meal on it’s own. Packed with cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil pesto, this dish is always a hit at parties and barbeques but also makes a great lunch.
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This has to be hands down one of my favorite cold sides. It’s fast and easy, and both the child and the husband love this recipe!
Often we make this pasta salad as a side. We’ll grill chicken and other vegetables, and this will be the side.
But the great part is this pasta salad is also amazing warm. In the colder months we’ll have it for dinner warm, and the leftovers get packed away into lunchboxes.
No matter how you make it, this pasta salad is delicious! It’s the perfect quick and fresh meal you can mix up in a large bowl fast.
What Do You Need To Make This Recipe?
This pesto pasta salad is super easy, you’ll want the following ingredients.
- Basil Pesto Sauce (jarred or homemade)
- Fresh Mozzarella Balls
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Pasta- Larger, chunkier shape with ridges or grooves
- Optional- parmesan cheese
Optional Swaps Or Additions To Try
This recipe is so easy to make lots of easy swaps with, and it’s delicious no matter what! Try some of my favorite swaps and items to add!
- Add sliced black olives
- Add chickpeas
- Add raw zucchini- diced
- Add any grilled vegetables
- Add roasted asparagus
- Add chopped sundried tomatoes
- Swap mozzarella cheese cut into cubes or mini mozzarella balls
- Swap sundried tomato pesto
- Swap tortellini for regular pasta
- Squeeze a little lemon juice over top to brighten the flavor
- Sprinkle pine nuts or chopped walnuts over top for crunch
What type of pesto do you use?
I usually purchase a store bought pesto as we make this pasta salad year roun. I like basil pesto that says it is “Genovese style.” My favorite is this version from Cucino and Amore. Aldi and Sprouts also both have a delicious house brand basil pesto.
You can also make your own pesto, which can be super easy to do in the summer when basil is fresh and plentiful. This pesto recipe is very similar to how I make pesto when making fresh. Try it with walnuts, it’s delicious.
What Sides Go With Pesto Salad?
Try this pesto pasta salad as a side for any grilled protein like chicken, shrimp, or even as a side to burgers. (Try it with my turkey burger sliders!)
Grilled veggies like mushrooms, zucchini, asparagus and grilled corn all make great sides for this pasta salad. It’s also delicious as a side next to leftover pulled pork sandwiches made from the crockpot.
What Kind Of Pasta Goes best with This Pesto Pasta Salad?
Fusilli, cavatappi, and rotini are all great shapes to pick. They have wide ridges and grooves that hold the pesto sauce well. Any larger, chunkier pasta shape works well though. I’ve used a rotini.
Will My Child Like This Pasta Salad?
I started my kid with pesto pasta salad when she was small. In the beginning, I gave her just a little bit of pesto on her portion. Over time I added a little more at a time.
Pesto can have a stronger flavor, but it isn’t too much for little tastebuds if you start small.
Different kids are different, but if your child loves pasta this is a great pasta salad to try. It’s a favorite for lunchboxes too!
(This is one on my favorite lunchboxes because it holds hot or cold! Check it out here.)
How Long Does This Pasta Salad Last?
Stored in the fridge this pasta salad lasts between 2-3 days. IT can be made ahead easily the night before.
If you choose to use an alternative pasta (like Banza or lentil pasta) expect that the pasta will start to fall apart a little faster and is usually best when consumed in 24 hours.
Pesto Pasta Salad
- 16 Ounces Uncooked Pasta 1 pound
- 6.7 Ounces Pesto Sauce About 3/4 cup
- 8 Ounces Fresh Mozzarella Balls
- 1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes
- Parmesan Cheese to taste
- Cook your pasta in boiling water according to the package. Most recommend between 8-11 minutes depending on the shape of pasta.
- Drain the pasta well, then place in a large mixing bowl.
- Slice the cherry tomatoes into halves or quarters and add to the pasta. Drain mozzarella well and add to the bowl also. Mix well!
- Add the pesto to the bowl while the pasta is still warm and mix well so it coats the pasta, mozzarella and tomatoes evenly. If your sauce feels too thick (depending on the brand) see the notes for how to adjust.
- Serve warm or cold, sprinkle with parmesan cheese. You can also add a little salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!
- A squeeze of lemon juice can brighten up pesto and make it extra delicious.
- Cook pasta until al dente which means it's cooked through but is still firm.
- Feel free to swap other veggies in and out. I"ve used raw chopped red bell pepper, raw zucchini, and grilled asparagus and it is all equally delicious.
- If you prefer a thinner sauce, reserve a 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. After you add the pesto to the pasta, add the starchy water a little at a time to the pasta until it is your desired smoothness. The starchy water works much better than regular water, but the amount of water can vary from 1/4- 1/2 cup depending on the brand of pesto.