This simple Summer Pesto Pasta Salad requires only six ingredients. Conveniently made using store-bought pesto, this recipe saves time and dishes. Full of juicy cherry tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, toasted pine nuts, and arugula, this cold salad is the ultimate summertime side dish!
Summer is all about salads. This pesto pasta salad is vibrant, fresh, and perfect for summertime. It is made using store-bought, premade pesto, saving time and hassle. The pesto-coated noodles combine with fresh cherry tomatoes, arugula, and mozzarella. There are even nutty, toasted pine nuts for crunch.
Like my Greek Orzo Salad, this pasta salad is perfectly dressed, vibrant, and full of fresh ingredients. Easily make this salad ahead of time for meal prep.
This six-ingredient, flavorful pasta salad is ready in just thirty minutes. It is the ideal side for a summer bbq but makes a great lunch too. If you love this delicious salad, you will also love my Spinach Pesto Pasta.
Easy Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe
This simple pasta salad recipe is quick to prepare thanks to premade pesto. The fresh basil pesto sauce coats the noodles and inclusions in flavor. The inclusions in this salad are carefully selected for texture and taste. Here is why you and your family will love this fresh, delicious recipe:
- Easy Recipe - With only a handful of ingredients and premade pesto, this is my go-to recipe for a last-minute delicious pasta salad.
- Perfect Side Dish - Enjoy cold pasta salad as a delicious side dish for grilled meats or other cooked proteins. It is the perfect side dish for summer barbecues or get-togethers.
- Meal Prep - This make-ahead pasta salad is a delicious meal prep option. Separate portions for easy lunches, or enjoy a leisurely dinner with chicken.
- Cellentani Pasta (or your favorite pasta shape) - Cook pasta to al dente.
- Prepared Pesto (store-bought) - Use your favorite brand.
- Pine Nuts - Toasted pine nuts add a nutty flavor and delicious crunch.
- Cherry Tomatoes (or grape tomatoes) - Cut the tomatoes in half.
- Fresh Mozzarella Balls - Cut mozzarella into bite-sized pieces or use fresh mozzarella pearls.
- Arugula - The leafy green adds a fresh bite in taste and visual appeal to this salad.
See the recipe card for the ingredient quantities.
STEP 1 (BOIL PASTA) - In a large pot of salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta and allow it to cool.
STEP 2 (TOAST PINE NUTS) - In a small skillet over medium-low heat, cook the pine nuts. Stir frequently to avoid burning.
Hint: You will know the pine nuts are ready when they are fragrant and golden brown.
STEP 3 (COMBINE) - Transfer the cooked al dente pasta to a large bowl. Gently stir in the cherry tomatoes, sliced mozzarella, and toasted pine nuts. Pour in the pesto and toss to coat. Gently toss in the arugula.
STEP 4 (GARNISH) - Transfer the pasta salad to a serving dish. Garnish it with fresh basil leaves, shredded parmesan, and a pinch of red pepper flakes if desired. For added flavor and visual appeal, sprinkle freshly cracked black pepper over the top too.
- Cellentani Pasta - Rotini, penne, farfalle, or large macaroni
- Store-bought Pesto - Homemade pesto
- Mozzarella - Feta cheese or shredded parmesan cheese
- Cherry Tomatoes - Sun-dried tomatoes, roasted bell peppers, artichoke hearts, or kalamata olives
- Pine Nuts - Walnuts, pecans, or almonds (chopped)
- Arugula - Kale or baby spinach
- Add-Ons - Chopped chicken, chickpeas, corn, summer squash, peas, red bell peppers, or cucumber
- Gluten-Free - Not all gluten-free pasta varieties taste good cold. Use a gluten-free alternative pasta like Banza.
- Meat - Toss in or garnish with grilled chicken slices or chopped rotisserie chicken for chicken pesto pasta salad.
- Roasted Vegetable - Omit the fresh tomatoes. Toss in roasted cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and/or asparagus.
See my Italian Pasta Salad variation of this recipe. It uses premade Italian dressing.
- Cuisinart Chef's Classic 6-Quart Nonstick-Hard-Anodized Stockpot
- Cuisinart Anodized Nonstick 8-Inch, Stainless Steel Skillet
- Pyrex Prepware 4-Quart Rimmed Mixing Bowl
- OXO Good Grips 12-Inch Tongs with Silicone Head
What to Serve with Pesto Pasta Salad
Pasta salad is a delicious side to almost any protein (especially grilled) or sandwich, great during hot summer months. I love it with grilled chicken and burgers. Enjoy a serving for a leisurely meal-prepped lunch too. While delicious on its own, it is a yummy side to these recipes:
- Slow Cooker BBQ Chicken Thighs
- Cracker-Crusted Chicken Nuggets
- Sheet Pan Sausage and Peppers
- Crockpot Turkey Meatball Subs
Transfer the pasta salad to an airtight container. Store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. *For best results, wait to add arugula until service. Can you freeze pesto pasta salad? No, do not freeze this pasta salad.
Delicious Salad Recipes
- Salt the pasta water. For the best-flavored pasta, once the water is boiling, salt it and then add the pasta.
- Wait to add arugula until you are ready to serve the pasta salad. Waiting to add the leafy green until service helps reduce its chance of wilting.
- Store salad in jars for easy lunches. Place portions of pasta salad into jars. Evenly distribute the arugula over each serving. To Serve: Pour contents onto a plate and gently toss them together.
- Freeze extra pesto. If you are like me, you buy a big jar of pesto from Costco. Portion pesto into containers or a large ice cup tray and freeze for future use. How else can you use store-bought pesto? Try it in my 20-Minute Pesto Potato Salad and Chicken Pesto Naan Pizzas.
Frequently Asked Questions
Pasta salad is great with cooked or grilled chicken. Serve it as a side dish to any grilled meat, protein, or burger.
This pasta salad is served cold. However, you can certainly toss warm pasta with the other ingredients and enjoy it as a hot dish too.
Feel free to make pasta salad the night before. The flavors are even more pronounced on the next day. Wait to add the arugula until service to avoid wilting, and refresh the salad with a little olive oil if needed.
Add a small amount of lemon juice alongside the pesto when mixing the pasta salad. The acid in lemon juice helps prevent oxidation and keeps the pesto green in color. It also adds a nice boost of flavor, creating a zesty pesto.
Summer Pesto Pasta Salad
- 8 oz cellentani pasta
- 2 tablespoon pine nuts
- 8 oz cherry tomatoes halved
- 6 oz mozzarella cheese sliced or cubed (depending on size)
- ½ cup prepared pesto or homemade
- 4 oz baby arugula
- For Garnish: fresh basil, shredded parmesan cheese, and crushed red pepper flakes
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, salt the water. Cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta and allow it to cool.
- While the pasta is cooking, toast the pine nuts. In a small skillet over medium-low heat, cook the pine nuts. Stir frequently to avoid burning. Cook until golden brown and fragrant, about 5-7 minutes.
- Transfer the cooked pasta to a large mixing bowl. Gently stir in the cherry tomatoes, sliced mozzarella, and toasted pine nuts.
- Pour the pesto over the pasta and toss to coat. Add the arugula and toss only until incorporated.
- Garnish with fresh basil and shredded parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
- If not serving right away, wait to toss in arugula until service.
- STORE: Transfer pasta salad to an airtight container. Store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.