This pesto pasta salad recipe is full of fresh summer flavours! First there’s homemade pesto (so easy to make!). Then there are super sweet and juicy summer tomatoes. I like a mix of heirloom cherry tomatoes. Plus peas. Yes, peas, they are great in pasta salads. And if you can get them fresh, definitely do so! And what’s a pasta salad without a few more Mediterranean flavours like olives, parmesan and roasted pine nuts. All together this makes a light, easy to make pasta salad that’s perfect for summer picnics and BBQs.
Choosing the right parmesan
For the cheese, I always use the real Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy. It is always made without additives and preservatives (whereas in the production of Grana Padano they are allowed — usually lysozyme) and Parmigiano-Reggiano cows must only feed off grass and cereals grown in the area and are grazing on different pastures, different soil. Parmigiano Reggiano has a strong, complex, nutty and salty taste – it’s bursting with umami! Which is exactly what I love about it. You can always tell if it’s authentic by looking at the rind, which is embossed with the name over and over. If you are looking for vegetarian parmesan, there are some brands available (e.g. Montello). Or for vegans, try using nutritional yeast. You can make your own vegan parmesan by blending together nutritional yeast (2 Tbsp), raw cashews (50 g), sea salt (½ tsp) and pinch of garlic powder.
How to adapt this pesto pasta salad
- Want more cheesy flavour? Add some mini mozzarella balls.
- Chop up a handful of marinated sun-dried tomatoes and add them to the mix.
- Add some plant-based protein by throwing in a can of chickpeas.
- Have some meat lovers at the table? Chop up some prosciutto, sauté it in a skillet to crisp it up a bit, then toss it in the salad.
- This easy pesto pasta salad is one of my favourites during the summer months when we aren’t in the mood to cook but still want a delicious and satisfying meal that also satisfies picky teenagers. The chili is really subtle, but if serving younger kids, it could be skipped.
Hope you enjoy this pesto pasta salad as much as we do. Otherwise try one of my other pasta salad recipes. Some favorites are:
Pesto Pasta Salad with Peas and Tomato
For the fresh pesto dressing (200 ml):
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (2 large bunches)
- 1 shallot, finely diced
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper chili flakes
- 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 100 ml extra-virgin olive oil
for the pasta salad:
- 500 g dried pasta (such as volanti, fusilli, penne or farfalle)
- 45 g pine nuts, lightly toasted
- 1 cup frozen peas, defrosted (or fresh peas!) (ca 130 g)
- 350 g cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved or in thin slices (50 g)
- 35 g parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Handful of small basil leaves, to garnish
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente (according to package directions). Remove pasta from heat, drain and immediately rinse the pasta under cool water to prevent the noodles from sticking to one another. Drain well and transfer to a large serving bowl.
Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium-high heat (this only takes a few minutes, so keep your eyes on them). Transfer to a plate to cool.
Make the pesto by adding basil, shallot, garlic, chili flakes, lemon juice, and salt to a food processor and blending to combine. Stream in the olive oil until creamy and smooth, scraping down sides as needed. It should be thick but pourable. (Alternatively the pesto can be made using an immersion blender).
Add the pesto to the bowl with the pasta. Toss until well-combined. Now add the peas, tomatoes, olives, parmesan and pine nuts to the bowl. Gently mix to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with more basil leaves and serve at room temperature.
- I used volanti pasta which can be bought made from durum wheat semolina, spelt, red lentils (gluten-free!) I buy my basil at the market which is sold in large bunches.
- 2 cups packed is probably about two small plants worth of basil leaves.
Half of the basil can also be substituted with spinach, if desired.
- If you can’t get your hands on enough basil to make your own pesto, then I recommend buying freshly made pesto from the farmer’s market, a delicatessen or look in the refrigerated section at your local supermarket or organic food store, they often sell high-quality pesto. Don’t forget to add some chili flakes!
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