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Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe

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Earlier this summer, I hosted a backyard garden dinner party for my birthday. To make the whole night easier and run more smoothly, I decided to serve items I could prepare ahead of time and just pull out of the fridge to serve. One of those was this delicious and crazy simple pesto pasta salad recipe made with fresh ingredients and delicious pesto.

garden party food

It only requires a few ingredients and comes together in about half an hour! This is one of those “no recipe” recipes that makes for the perfect summer side dish. You can even prep this one a couple of days in advance! It’s customizable too—if you want more pesto, go for it, more prosciutto, add it! Parmesan instead of mozzarella—you do you! It’s customizable no matter what your tastes are.

This is the perfect side dish to bring to a potluck dinner, backyard BBQ, or to throw together for easy lunches all week long.

What you need for pesto pasta salad

1. Homemade Pesto or Store-Bought Pesto

Since I was aiming to keep things as easy as possible, I went with store-bought pesto, but if you want to make your own fresh basil pesto at home, you’ll need a few simple ingredients. Tradtional pesto is incredibly simple to make:

  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, raw or toasted (you can sub for walnuts or another neutral nut)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

If you plan on toasting your pine nuts or whatever nut you’re using, start by heating a skillet over medium heat and gently toasting until golden brown. Don’t let these sit alone, they will burn quickly!

Put ingredients through salt into a a food processor, I love my Cuisinart, and pulse until finely chopped. With the food processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil until it reaches the desired consistency. That’s it! If you have a ton of basil in your garden, this is a great way to use it up. You can freeze leftover pesto too for use in the colder months.

If you are dairy-free or vegan, skip the cheese and add 1 more Tbsp of lemon juice—it’s so delicious! If you are nut-free, swap the nuts for pepitas. These make an amazing pesto as well and are so healthy for you!

RELATED: 5-Minute Herb Pesto

2. Pesto Pasta Salad Ingredients

For this pesto pasta salad recipe, you’ll also need:

  • small noodle of choice
  • prosciutto or pancetta
  • fresh arugula
  • mini mozzarella balls
  • more fresh basil leaves

When picking your noodle, opt for something small and bite-sized that also has crevices to grab all the yummy sauce. Some favorites include gemelli, fusilli, macaroni, ditaloni, casarecce and farfalle.

I recommend staying away from gluten-free noodles unless you plan on eating immediately as they tend to get squishy and regular pasta holds up better.

The crispy prosciutto adds a nice crunch and chew to the dish as well as a salty bite that I absolutely love! The arugula adds some peppery flavor and some greens. If you can’t find arugula, you can swap it for baby spinach. And lastly, the fresh mozzarella pearls, well it’s just delicious, so duh!

How to Make Pesto Pasta Salad

Gather all your ingredients and put a large pot of water on the stove to boil while you prep your other ingredients. Make sure to use salted water to flavor your pasta from the start. If you’re making homemade pesto, go ahead and make it.

Next, preheat your oven for your crispy prosciutto. Line a baking sheet with cooling racks or parchment paper and lay your prosciutto on top. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 400 degrees and make sure to keep an eye on it, these can go from being perfectly crispy to burnt very fast.

Add pasta to boiling water, cook pasta according to the package instructions. I find that cooking it to al dente is best as the pasta will continue to absorb moisture from the sauce sitting in the refrigerator.

After your pasta has cooked, set aside a little bit of pasta water, about 1/4 cup, then drain it and rinse it with cold water to stop the cooking process and rinse any excess starch off the noodles. This will help keep them from sticking together. Make sure to fully strain and let all the cold water drip off as much as possible.

Put the drained cooled pasta in a large mixing bowl and drizzle the pesto over the top, you may not need all of it—just taste along the way.

Toss to combine, if it’s too thick, use a little bit of the reserved pasta water to thin it out. Add a few handfuls of baby arugula, mozzarella balls and add the crispy prosciutto right before serving. It’s fine if the prosciutto is mixed in, but it stays more crunchy if you wait to add it just before serving it. Season with salt or black pepper if necessary and there you have it! One of the easiest pesto pasta salad recipes you’ll ever make!

garden party food

Pesto Pasta Salad

This is a super simple side dish that you can whip together quickly and easily!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb. pasta small noodle
  • 1/2 cup pesto more as needed
  • 1 pack prosciutto
  • 2-3 handfuls fresh arugula
  • 1 handful fresh basil
  • 1 container mini mozzarella cheese balls
  • kosher salt as needed

Instructions
 

  • Cook the pasta according to instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Save about 1/2 cup of pasta water in case you need to thin your pesto.
  • Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use cooling racks. Lay prosciutto on it flat and bake for 10–15 minutes until crispy. Remove from oven and let cool. Crumble once cool.
  • Add pasta to a large mixing bowl, add pesto and toss to coat, adding any pasta water to thin as necessary. Add arugula, basil and mozzarella cheese. Season to taste.
  • Right before serving, add your prosciutto crumbles and toss once more. Serve and enjoy!
Keyword pasta salad, pesto, prosciutto
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Variations

This recipe is highly versatile, so add whatever you want to make it your own, or to suit what you have in your fridge at the moment. Here are some ideas:

  • grilled and chilled zucchini & squash
  • blanched asparagus, cut into small pieces
  • add cherry tomatoes (I actually was planning on doing this, but served a tomato salad too and it felt like too much tomato)
  • add chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • add white beans for additional protein
  • add grilled and cooled chicken cubes for additional protein
  • swap the pasta for tortellini to make it more substantial
  • swap the fresh mozzarella cheese for feta cheese or goat cheese

What to Serve it With

Pesto pasta salad pairs well with grilled chicken, salmon or burgers. Or, let it stand on it’s own and serve another hearty salad along side it. It’s the perfect tasty side dish for bringing to a potluck and so easy and impressive. It also makes for a yummy make ahead lunch that will get you through the weke!

Storing Leftover Pesto Pasta Salad

You can store leftover pesto pasta salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. If you made your own homemade basil pesto and have some leftover, it will keep for a week in the fridge, or for a few months in the freezer.

I hope you try this recipe for your next party and enjoy these fresh flavors as much as we do! It’s easy to pull together and so delicious!

BTW, pesto turkey meatballs, and grilled peach and tomato salad.

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