Pesto Pasta Salad

Tossed with a vibrant basil pesto and filled with veggies, this pesto pasta salad is fresh and delicious. Serve it for dinner, or pack it up for a picnic!

pesto pasta salad

When life gives you basil, make this pesto pasta salad recipe!

It’s my favorite time of year: the time when our deck turns into a verdant garden. We have thriving pots of kale and tatsoi, twisting vines of summer squash, cherry tomatoes, a fig tree(!), and ALL the herbs. Our basil plants have been doing especially well lately, which is fine by me, because in mid-July, there’s nothing I’d rather eat.

I first made this pesto pasta salad late last week, when I was dreaming up ways to use the pile of basil I’d just picked. I was in the mood for something light, yet satisfying, fresh, and fun, and this pesto pasta salad completely hit the spot. Jack and I shared it for lunch, and neither of us could resist going back for seconds. …Ok, more like thirds. 🙂

Pesto pasta salad recipe ingredients

Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe Ingredients

To let the fresh basil flavor shine, I keep this pesto pasta salad recipe simple. It only calls for a handful of ingredients:

  • Pasta, of course! I recommend choosing a fun, curly pasta shape. We love cellentani, but fusilli would be good too.
  • Basil Pesto – To give the pasta salad a lightly creamy texture, I add an extra 1/4 cup olive oil to my regular basil pesto recipe.
  • Zucchini and summer squash – You’ll be adding them to the salad raw, so make sure to slice them really thinly. I recommend using a mandoline if you have one.
  • Lemon juice – It makes the salad nice and bright.
  • Toasted pine nuts – For crunch.
  • Fresh basil leaves – They’re a pretty, aromatic finishing touch for this pesto pasta salad.
  • And salt and pepper – To make all the flavors pop!

If you like, you can add a pinch of red pepper flakes for a hint of spice.

Find the complete recipe with measurements below.

Noodles, pesto, pine nuts, and sliced summer squash in a large bowl

How to Make Pesto Pasta Salad

To make this pesto pasta salad, you’ll start by cooking the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water.

  • Make sure to cook it a little past al dente so that it doesn’t harden as it cools.
  • And before you drain it, reserve 3/4 cup of the starchy, salty pasta cooking water. It’s a key ingredient in this recipe – it helps the pesto coat the noodles and veggies, creating a rich, lightly creamy pesto sauce for the salad.

After you drain the pasta, toss it with a little olive oil and spread it on a large baking sheet to cool. Allow the reserved pasta water to cool too.

Tossing pasta with zucchini and pesto in a large bowl

When the pasta is cool, add it to a large bowl with the pesto, zucchini, squash, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Last but not least, add the reserved pasta water and toss to combine.

Season to taste, and top with the pine nuts, basil, and a pinch of red pepper flakes, if you like. Enjoy!

Hands tossing pesto pasta salad in a large bowl

Pesto Pasta Salad Serving Suggestions

I typically think of pasta salad recipes as side dishes, but this one is so fresh and satisfying that it could easily pass as lunch or a light summer dinner. Pair it with a simple green salad, a chopped salad, or grilled veggies. If you’re really flush with basil, it’d be delicious with a Caprese salad, too.

That being said, you shouldn’t hesitate to serve this recipe as a side dish at a potluck or picnic. It’s great with all the cookout classicsveggie burgers, corn on the cob, fruit salad, you know the drill. It’s guaranteed to be a hit!

I love this recipe as written, but if you want to get creative with it, feel free. Try tossing in mini fresh mozzarella balls, shaved pecorino, or sun-dried tomatoes. Roasted cherry tomatoes would be a delicious addition too. Let me know what variations you try!

Pesto pasta salad recipe

More Favorite Summer Salads

If you love this pesto pasta salad, try one of these summer salad recipes next:

For more summer salad ideas, check out this post!

Pesto Pasta Salad

rate this recipe:
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 12 mins
Serves 4 to 6
This pesto pasta salad recipe is a fresh, delicious summer side dish! Make it gluten-free by using your favorite gluten-free rotini pasta. Vegan.

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe Basil Pesto, made with an additional ¼ cup olive oil (½ cup total)
  • 12 ounces Cellentani, Cavatappi, or Fusilli pasta
  • ¾ cup pasta water
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced into very thin rounds*
  • 1 small yellow squash, sliced into very thin rounds*
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • ½ cup fresh basil
  • Red pepper flakes, optional

Instructions

  • Prepare the pesto and set aside.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare the pasta according to the package directions, or until slightly past al dente. Before draining the pasta, scoop ¾ cup of the starchy pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta and toss it with a little olive oil so that it doesn’t stick together. Spread the pasta on a baking sheet and let it (and the reserved pasta water) cool to room temperature.
  • In a large bowl combine the pasta, zucchini, yellow squash, pesto, the reserved pasta water, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and toss. Season to taste. Top with the pine nuts, fresh basil, and red pepper flakes, if using. Serve the salad at room temperature.

Notes

*I like to slice these on a mandoline so that my slices are thin enough to enjoy raw in this pasta salad.

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A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.