Nothing says summer like a cold pesto pasta salad! This delicious dish is the perfect side for any outdoor gathering or cookout. It’s made with rotini pasta, a medley of squash, cherry tomatoes, and mozzarella balls tossed in a homemade pesto dressing. Not only is it packed with flavor, but it also looks beautiful when served – making it an ideal option for entertaining guests.
A cool, basil pesto pasta salad with homemade pesto dressing
Whether it’s a casual girl’s night or a big party, this pesto pasta salad is sure to be a hit. Made from simple pantry ingredients, it’s easy to throw together and can be prepped ahead of time.
All you have to do is boil some noodles, add the vegetables and cheese, then top it off with the homemade pesto dressing. The result is a colorful plate filled with fresh vegetables and creamy cheese, all tossed in a delicious pesto sauce.
In just under an hour, you’ll have a delicious side salad that will be enjoyed by everyone. Serve it up with your favorite summer dishes, and you’ll have a meal everyone will love!
This pesto pasta salad recipe is made in two parts: the salad and the dressing. We’ll start with a veggie-rich salad and will top it off with a delicious combo featuring basil, pine nuts, lemon, and more!
Here’s a bit more about what I used:
- Pasta: For the main base of the salad, grab 12 oz of your favorite dried pasta. I used brown rice fusilli to keep this recipe gluten-free.
- Zucchini: Add one small zucchini for some crunchy texture. This green vegetable is known to have anti-inflammatory properties and is rich in vitamin C.
- Yellow Squash: For a bit of color, add 1 small yellow squash along with the zucchini.
- Cherry Tomatoes: For a burst of sweetness, quarter one pint of cherry tomatoes.
- Mozzarella Balls: One of the best cheeses for pasta salad is mozzarella balls. It’s a great addition to this recipe and will give it some melt-in-your-mouth texture. You’ll need 1.5 cups cut in half.
- Pine Nuts: 1/4 cup of pine nuts add a yummy crunch and texture! You can also use cashews or almonds or a combo of the three. Not only will you need pine nuts for the salad, but you’ll also need 1/4 cup to make the pesto dressing.
- Italian Seasoning: Add 1 tsp of Italian seasoning to the salad. Usually, a medley of Italian seasoning has oregano, parsley, basil, garlic, and pepper. You can also easily make your own!
- Basil: To make the pesto dressing, you’ll need a handful of fresh basil leaves.
- Parmesan Cheese: To add some nutty flavor, you’ll need 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese.
- Olive Oil and Vinegar: Add in 1/2 cup of olive oil and two teaspoons of red or white wine vinegar. The oil helps to emulsify the dressing, while the vinegar cuts through any richness and adds a nice zing.
- Lemon: For a tangy flavor, include the juice from 1 lemon.
- Garlic: Add 1 garlic clove. You can throw in extra if preferred!
- Salt and Pepper: A must! Add salt and pepper to taste.
Kitchen tools required
Here’s a bit more information about what I used to make this cold pesto pasta salad.
- Large pot
- Cutting board
- Saute pan
- Large bowl
- Immersion blender (you can also use a blender or food processor)
For measuring, you will need a cup, 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup, a teaspoon, and 1/4 teaspoon.
How to make a summer pesto pasta salad
Start put by preparing the pasta as per the instructions on the package. Once it’s done, rinse with cold water and drain. Pour the noodles into a large bowl.
Then, cut zucchini and yellow squash into bite-sized pieces and sauté them on the stove with a small amount of oil, salt, and pepper. Keep stirring occasionally for around 10 minutes or until they become soft.
Add the sauteed zucchini and squash, tomatoes, mozzarella balls, pine nuts, and Italian seasoning. Mix all the ingredients well and keep them aside.
Now it’s time to make the pesto dressing!
Blend all the ingredients using an immersion blender until it is smooth. Once it’s ready, pour the dressing over the pasta and vegetables and toss well until everything is coated.
Finally, sprinkle extra pine nuts and parmesan cheese on top.
Serve and enjoy!
Below are some common pesto pasta salad questions. Don’t see the answer you’re looking for? Leave a comment at the bottom of this post!
What type of noodle shape is best for pasta salad?
The most popular type of noodle shape for pasta salad is rotini or fusilli. The grooves and curves in each shape are perfect for the dressing to cling to. You can also use bowtie, penne, farfalle, and macaroni noodles–the choice is yours!
Can I use other vegetables in this pasta salad recipe?
Yes, feel free to add in your favorite veggies. Green beans, bell peppers, mushrooms, and more would all make great additions.
What type of protein can I add in?
You can add in cooked chicken, shrimp, smoked salmon, or canned tuna for some extra protein.
Do I have to use mozzarella cheese?
No, any cheese of your choice will work. Some favorites are feta, cheddar, and goat cheese.
Instead of making homemade pesto, can I use storebought?
Storebought pesto works just as well.
Can I make this salad ahead of time?
Yes! This pesto pasta salad is a great make-ahead dish. The flavors of the pesto dressing become more intense when it has time to marinate.
This pasta salad recipe is easy to store! If you want to keep it simple, cover the bowl with tin foil or plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge. If you’re meal prepping, divide the salad into separate Tupperware containers, with enough for each day.
Keep it refrigerated, and you can enjoy it for 3-4 days. Although, keep in mind that pasta should only be kept at room temperature for about two hours, so make sure to refrigerate it until it’s time to eat.
If you liked this recipe, you’ll want to try these!
Here are some of my favorite salad recipes you should make next. Enjoy!
- Easy Italian Pasta Salad
- Buffalo Chickpea Pasta Salad
- Healthy Tuna Pasta Salad
- Gluten-Free Greek Pasta Salad
- Grilled Veggie and Shrimp Orzo Salad
Recipe by Erin Morrissey and Photos by The Mindful Hapa
- 12 oz dried pasta (I used brown rice fusilli)
- 1 small zucchini
- 1 small yellow squash
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1.5 cups mozzarella balls, cut in half
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 1/2 cup fresh basil
- 1/4 cup pine nuts (or cashews/almonds)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 tsp red or white wine vinegar
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- optional: 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
- Cut zucchini and yellow squash into bite size pieces and then saute on stove top with a little oil, salt, and pepper for about 10 minutes, or until softened.
- Add your pasta to a large bowl, and add the zucchini, squash, tomatoes, mozzarella balls, pine nuts and Italian seasoning. Set aside.
- Using an immersion blender, regular blender, or food processor, combine all of your pesto ingredients and blend until completely smooth. I use an immersion blender.
- Pour dressing over top of pasta and veggies and toss until completely coated.
- Top with more pine nuts and parmesan cheese.
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