Pesto Pasta Salad is full of rotini pasta, mozzarella pearls, olives, cherry tomatoes and basil, then tossed with fresh basil pesto. It's an easy side dish for your next picnic or potluck.
You can't go wrong with a great pesto pasta salad full of fresh ingredients. Some of our other favorite pasta salad recipes are Southwest Pasta Salad, BLT Pasta Salad, and cold pasta salad with veggies.
Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe:
Pasta salad might just be one of my all-time favorite Spring and Summer meals. It's light, easy to prepare, full of flavor, and the varieties are endless. This pesto pasta salad is right up at the top of the list when is comes to flavor and being easy to make.
I love this pasta salad, because the "sauce" is made with basil pesto which is one of the best pasta sauce options in my opinion. A little goes a long way and adds a ton of flavor. The tomatoes, olives, and basil blend well together, then toss in some mozzarella pearls for a touch of cheese.
If you want some crunchy texture, toasted pine nuts are a great option. I love to serve this dish with extra fresh basil and pine nuts on top. It's great as a side dish or an entree.
Ingredients for Pesto Pasta Salad:
- Rotini Pasta: Rotini pasta is perfect for this pasta salad. It's just the right size and holds onto the pesto nicely.
- Cherry Tomatoes: Not only do cherry tomatoes add a ton of color, but the flavor blends nicely with the pesto.
- Basil Pesto: Basil pesto is the way to go! It has a fresh flavor, is slightly salty, and coats the other ingredients well.
- Mozzarella Pearls: These are perfect for getting just the right amount of cheese in the pasta salad without overdoing it. Mozzarella is subtle, soft, and adds a touch of saltiness.
- Olives: My favorite ingredient! These little gems pack big flavor and have a nice briny taste that's brings the right amount of contrast to this dish.
- Fresh Basil: Just like the tomatoes, the basil adds a layer of freshness that is perfect in the dish.
- Salt and Pepper: Just a pinch is all you need to enhance all the other flavors.
How to Make Basil Pesto Pasta Salad:
- Cook the pasta, drain, rinse with cool water, drain again, and transfer to a large bowl.
- While the pasta cooks, prep the other ingredients.
- Add the tomatoes, pesto, mozzarella pearls, olives, and basil, to the bowl.
- Toss to combine. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
- Serve immediately with extra basil.
Pesto Pasta Salad Tips and Variations:
- Noodles: Rotini is our pick, but any small, short noodle will work. Penne, ziti, medium shells or even rigatoni are good options.
- Pesto Sauce: To keep this recipe super simple, jarred basil pesto sauce is a great option. If you have time to make homemade pesto sauce, it is oh so good!!
- Olives: Use your favorite kind of olives or whatever you have handy. Sliced olives work well, since they're bite-sized. However, jarred olives that are halved will also work. Kalamata olives are my most favorite for this dish, but black olives are a great second option.
- Fresh Basil: Load in the fresh basil! There's no other substitution here.
- Garnish: Fresh basil, toasted pine nuts, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese are some of our favorite toppings for pasta salad.
- Extra Pesto Sauce: Keep some extra pesto sauce on the side to add to leftover pasta salad.
Room Temperature: We do not recommend leaving the pasta salad at room temperature for more than 2 hours. According to the USDA, "bacteria grows rapidly between the temperatures of 40° F and 140° F. After food is safely cooked, hot food must be kept hot at 140° F or warmer to prevent bacterial growth. Within 2 hours of cooking food or after it is removed from an appliance keeping it warm, leftovers must be refrigerated."
Refrigerator: This pasta salad should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and enjoyed within 3 to 4 days.
Freezer: We do not recommend freezing the pesto pasta salad.
Recipe Card with Ingredient Amounts and Instructions
- 12 ounces uncooked short pasta, rotini, penne, ziti, etc.
- 8 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
- 8 ounce basil pesto, 1 jar
- 8 ounces mozzarella pearls, drained (1 package)
- ½ cup olives, sliced, any variety
- ½ cup fresh basil, chiffonade
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Cook the pasta noodles to al dente. Drain, rinse with cold water, drain again, and transfer to a large bowl.12 ounces uncooked short pasta
- To the bowl of pasta, add the tomatoes, pesto, mozzarella pearls, olives, and basil. Stir to combine, taste, and season with salt and pepper.8 ounces cherry tomatoes8 ounce basil pesto8 ounces mozzarella pearls½ cup olives½ cup fresh basilSalt and pepper
- Serve chilled, and store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.