|

Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad

This post may contain affiliate links which won’t change your price but will share a commission.

Make Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad for your next backyard barbecue! This simple pasta salad combines cooked pasta, sautéed cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and a creamy pesto sauce. So delicious and full of flavor!

Pesto sauce for the win! We love it on so many things, including my Pesto Vegetable Pasta, Shrimp Pesto Pasta, and my personal fav, Italian Minestrone Soup with Pesto.

A bowl of pesto pasta with shaved parmesan on top.

Pesto Pasta Salad

We are all about pasta salads, including a great Summer Pasta Salad, Chopped Greek Pasta Salad, and a delish Italian Pasta Salad. Carbs are a great thing, and what better way to eat them than in pasta form?!

I love making homemade pesto sauce, especially in the summertime when our basil plant is growing like crazy (or when my dear friend donates some to the cause). Fresh pesto is THE BEST, and is really simple to make. I often make large batches and freeze some for later (or for winter)! A little goes a long way.

While you CAN use store-bought pesto sauce in this salad, I really do think homemade is better. I’ve used store-bought in certain recipes, but each brand is so different and there are some “not so tasty” ones our there!

Pro-Tip: Buy your pine nuts at Trader Joe’s. Such a great deal, because as you may know, pine nuts can break the bank!

Two hands using salad spoons to lift some salad up.

Ingredients Used

Fresh ingredients take this salad from average to great! Fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, homemade pesto using fresh basil, and freshly grated parmesan cheese! Every ingredient counts.

  • Pasta – Any pasta will do, but I have a thing for orecchiette. If it’s not orecchiette, it’s rigatoni (the short kind)!
  • Tomatoes – The cherry tomatoes add incredible flavor to this salad. You’ll need to halve them, sauté in some olive oil, and save all those juices. You’ll use it all!
  • Mozzarella – Fresh mozzarella is key! I went with pearl mozzarella, but you could use any kind and slice it into chunks. Just make sure it’s FRESH.
  • Pesto Sauce – The pesto sauce is one I’ve been making for years. It’s a simple combo of fresh basil, toasted pine nuts, freshly grated parmesan cheese, garlic cloves, and extra-virgin olive oil. Simple and delicious.
The bowl of ingredients separated by ingredient.

How to make Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad

  1. Make pesto. Use my Homemade Basil Pesto Sauce recipe to make your pesto. I recommend making a large batch, if you have the ingredients, and freezing some for later.
  2. Cook pasta. Cook your pasta according to package directions. Use plenty of salt in the water because that’s the best time to add flavor. Strain the pasta and keep a little bit of pasta water in case you need it to thin the sauce. Let cool.
  3. Sauté tomatoes. Heat up a skillet over medium-high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and then add the halved tomatoes, cooking to soften. You should see some juices release as well, and they’ll be used in the salad. Let the tomatoes cool.
  4. Combine ingredients. In a salad bowl, combine the cooked pasta, the sautéed tomatoes, the pearl mozzarella, and the pesto sauce. Stir to combine. Add some pasta water if needed to thin the pesto sauce a bit.
  5. Serve. Serve pasta salad with some shaved parmesan cheese, and some extra freshly ground black pepper. You may also need to add some extra pesto sauce.

Pro-Tip #2: Always save some pasta water. You never know when you’ll need it when you’re making any pasta recipe. Trust me!

A bowl of pesto pasta salad.

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s talk about the star ingredient in this salad – pesto! There are always so many questions regarding this super sauce, and I’ll answer some of them below.

  • Can I use other nuts in my pesto sauce? YES, you can. Pine nuts is the classic nut to use in this magical sauce, but others work too. Try walnuts, pecans, or almonds!
  • Can I use other herbs? Again, yes, you can. I prefer basil by a long shot, but you could use spinach, kale, or arugula (among others).
  • Is it ok to use the powdered parmesan cheese? In my opinion, no. I love using freshly grated parmesan cheese in this and it’s usually cheaper to buy than the powdered stuff.
  • How do I store basil? I recommend wrapping them in a damp paper towel and place them in an unsealed plastic bag. They should stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days, but don’t wait too long to use them. They will eventually brown.
  • Why does my pesto turn dark? Similar to guacamole, when pesto is exposed to air (oxidation), a chemical reaction turns the pesto brown. To prevent this during storage, simply pour a thin layer of oil over the top of the pesto, cover with a lid, and store in the refrigerator.
  • Can I freeze pesto sauce? Yes, you can. Pesto will last in your freezer for three months or more.

What to pair this salad with

Side shot of a plate of pasta salad with a burger.

Kitchen Tools Used: (affiliate links)

xoxo ~Sue

A bowl of pesto pasta with shaved parmesan on top.

Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad

Make Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad for your next backyard barbecue! This simple pasta salad combines cooked pasta, sautéed cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and a creamy pesto sauce. So delicious and full of flavor!
No ratings yet
Print Pin Rate
Course: Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Italian
Keyword: creamy pesto pasta salad
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 392kcal
Author: Sue Ringsdorf

Ingredients

  • 1 pound orecchiette pasta – cooked
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes – halved
  • 8 oz. pearl mozzarella
  • 3/4 cup pesto sauce – or more
  • fresh basil and extra parmesan cheese – to serve

Instructions

  • Make pesto. Use my Homemade Basil Pesto Sauce recipe to make your pesto. I recommend making a large batch, if you have the ingredients, and freezing some for later.
  • Cook pasta. Cook your pasta according to package directions. Use plenty of salt in the water because that’s the best time to add flavor. Strain the pasta and keep a little bit of pasta water in case you need it to thin the sauce. Let cool.
  • Sauté tomatoes. Heat up a skillet over medium-high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and then add the halved tomatoes, cooking to soften. You should see some juices release as well, and they’ll be used in the salad. Let the tomatoes cool.
  • Combine ingredients. In a salad bowl, combine the cooked pasta, the sautéed tomatoes, the pearl mozzarella, and the pesto sauce. Stir to combine. Add some pasta water if needed to thin the pesto sauce a bit.
  • Serve. Serve pasta salad with some shaved parmesan cheese, and some extra freshly ground black pepper. You may also need to add some extra pesto sauce.

Notes

Pro-Tip #1: Buy your pine nuts at Trader Joe’s (if available to you). Such a great deal, because as you may know, pine nuts can break the bank.
Pro-Tip #2: Always save some pasta water. You never know when you’ll need it when you’re making any pasta recipe. Trust me!
 

Nutrition

Calories: 392kcal | Carbohydrates: 46g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 24mg | Sodium: 403mg | Potassium: 229mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 843IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 197mg | Iron: 1mg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating