Pesto Pasta Salad

updated Jun 23, 2020
summer
Pesto Pasta Salad

Nothing says summer like tendrils of pasta, fresh mozzarella pearls, juicy tomatoes, and crunchy cucumber dressed in a basil pesto sauce.

Serves8

Makes9 cups

Prep25 minutes to 30 minutes

Cook8 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Platter of pesto pasta salad with plates, forks, and napkins
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Few weeks go by during the summertime months that I don’t have a big bowl of pasta salad in my fridge. This saucy pesto number (my family’s current favorite) is as verdant and vibrant as they come — corkscrew noodles are dressed with a vibrant basil pesto sauce, then tossed with sweet, juicy cherry tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers, and pearls of fresh mozzarella.

Pasta salad lasts for days in the fridge, making it great for potlucks and picnics. But this year, with large gatherings off the table, you can still take advantage of its make-ahead qualities by serving a batch for Sunday dinner and again for lunches throughout the week. It’s the tastiest form of meal prep there is.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

The Very Best Pesto Sauce for Pesto Pasta Salad

While other pasta salads span the spectrum of overly oily to dry and flavorless, this version is dressed to perfection, thanks to a flavorful jazzed-up pesto sauce. If your patio garden is quickly turning into a jungle of basil stalks, make your own pesto with a shower of Parmesan, pine nuts, and a glug of good olive oil. There’s also no shame in leaving the pesto-making to the pros and buying a bottle from the store instead.

Before tossing the pesto with the pasta, you’ll add three simple upgrades: lemon juice, mayo, and spinach. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice brightens the pesto’s flavor, a spoonful of mayo adds body to the sauce without weighing it down, and blending in a few handfuls of baby spinach is an easy way to work in veggies — and keeps it green for days.

This pasta salad is best served at room temperature, but the lemony basil flavor is still strong straight from the fridge.

Pesto Pasta Salad

Nothing says summer like tendrils of pasta, fresh mozzarella pearls, juicy tomatoes, and crunchy cucumber dressed in a basil pesto sauce.

Prep time 25 minutes to 30 minutes

Cook time 8 minutes

Makes 9 cups

Serves 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1/2

    medium lemon

  • 5 ounces

    baby spinach (about 5 cups)

  • 1/2 cup

    basil pesto

  • 1/4 cup

    mayonnaise

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more for cooking pasta

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 pound

    dried short pasta, such as fusilli, rotini, or cavatappi

  • 1/2

    medium English cucumber

  • 1 pint

    cherry or grape tomatoes (10 ounces)

  • 8 ounces

    mini mozzarella cheese balls

  • Torn fresh basil leaves, for serving

Instructions

  1. Bring 2 quarts heavily salted water to a boil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, juice 1/2 medium lemon until you get 1 tablespoon juice, and add the juice to a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Add 5 ounces baby spinach (about 5 cups), 1/2 cup basil pesto, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Process until smooth, about 20 seconds.

  2. When the water is boiling, add 1 pound dry short pasta and cook until al dente — soft with just a bit of chew — about 8 minutes or according to package directions. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.

  3. Drain the pasta in a colander and run under cold water until no longer steaming. Dunk the colander in the ice bath and set aside to cool for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, quarter 1/2 English cucumber lengthwise, then thinly slice crosswise (1 cup). Halve (or quarter if large) 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes. Drain and halve 8 ounces mini mozzarella cheese balls.

  4. Drain the pasta well and transfer to a large bowl. Add the spinach pesto and toss to coat. Stir in the cucumber, tomatoes, and mozzarella. Garnish with torn basil leaves.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The pasta salad can be made up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated. Stir in all but 1/2 cup of the spinach pesto before storing. Stir in the reserved pesto just before serving.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.