This Pesto Pasta Salad recipe is the one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. It’s loaded with fresh veggies, and tossed with a fast basil vinaigrette that will make you want to lick the bowl clean. All you need is a few minutes to throw it all together!
How to Make a Healthy Pesto Pasta
What sets this recipe apart from others, is that it’s bulked up with lots of fresh veggies. This adds extra texture and nutrition, and also means it’s bursting with flavor!
Instead of using pine nuts and Parmesan in the sauce, this pesto pasta salad is lightened-up with a fresh basil vinaigrette.
It’s super-duper flavorful, and also lower in calories than a traditional pesto recipe.
Here’s what you’ll need for the basil dressing:
- Shallot (or red onion)
- Fresh basil leaves
- Olive oil
- Red wine vinegar
- Red pepper flakes
Just blend everything together, and you’ll have a fast, flavorful sauce that’s perfect for pouring over pasta. You can enjoy it warm or cold!
What Goes With Pesto Pasta?
Fresh cherry tomatoes are the perfect addition in pesto pasta. I also like to add a few extra veggies, like crunchy bell peppers, sweet red onions, and baby spinach, or arugula.
I usually add the veggies in raw, because it’s the fastest method, but you can roast them first, for a Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad, if you prefer.
Make this salad more hearty by adding in a can of drained chickpeas (here how to cook chickpeas, if you’d rather make them from scratch), which adds extra protein and fiber.
Do you Let Pasta Cool Before Making Pasta Salad?
Adding the dressing to the pasta while it’s still warm will allow it to soak up the flavors, making your pasta salad extra delicious. You can even serve this pasta salad while it’s slightly warm, or at room temperature.
A Note About Chilled Pasta Salad
It’s important to note that cold food tastes different than warm food. (Or food that is at room temperature.) This pasta salad will taste unbelievably good when you first mix it together, but if you don’t plan on serving it right away, you can store it covered in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.
When you take the pasta salad out of the fridge, it’s important that you taste it again and adjust the seasoning to taste. It will probably taste slightly more bland than when you first stirred it together, so I recommend seasoning with an extra dash of salt, or a splash of lemon juice to brighten it up again.
You can taste as you go, so it’s hard to mess it up.
Add Cheese if You Want To
This pesto pasta salad is so flavorful, you really don’t need the cheese that is typically called for in pesto recipes. As written, this recipe follows food combining principles that may help to streamline your digestion and reduce bloating.
If you prefer a pasta salad with cheese, feel free to sprinkle in crumbled feta or grated Parmesan. They both add an extra salty flavor to this dish, which might help with the “chilled pasta” issue I mentioned above.
Pesto Pasta Salad (in 30 minutes!)
- 8 oz. Rotini pasta (use brown rice or chickpea pasta, if you're gluten-free)
- 1 shallot (55 grams; 1/2 cup chopped)
- 1 clove garlic (6 grams)
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves (27 grams; or 2 small boxes)
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (56 grams)
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (34 grams)
- 2 teaspoons salt (14 grams)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes (286 grams)
- 1 red bell pepper , chopped (113 grams)
- 1/2 cup chopped red onion (100 grams)
- 2 cups fresh arugula (100 grams)
- 1 (15 oz) can chickpeas , rinsed and drained
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. (Be sure to use only half the package, if you have a 16 oz. box of pasta.)
- To prepare the dressing, add the shallot, garlic, basil, red pepper flakes, olive oil, vinegar, and 1 teaspoon of salt to the blender. Blend until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides if needed to get everything blended smoothly. (I use my narrow Vitamix to blend this, but if you have a wider blender base, you might need to add 1 extra tablespoon of oil or water to help this blend. Use as little liquid as is necessary.)
- I like to chop the vegetables while I wait for the pasta to cook, to be as effecient with my time as possible. Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, red onion, and arugula to the bowl as you go. When the pasta is done, drain and rinse it to cool it off, then add it to the bowl with the vegetables, along with the drained chickpeas.
- Pour the dressing over the pasta, beans, and vegetables and toss well to coat. I like to season it with an additional teaspoon of salt, to make sure the flavors pop. Allow the salad to marinate for at least 15 minutes, then give it another good stir before serving.
- You can serve this pasta salad at room temperature, or chilled from the fridge. Keep in mind that flavors mellow significantly when cold, so you might want to taste and adjust before serving again straight from the fridge. A squeeze of lemon juice can brighten things up, if you find the flavor isn't tangy enough, or you can extra salt to bring out the flavors again.
- Pesto pasta salad can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
If you try this Pesto Pasta Salad, please leave a comment below and let me know how you like it! And if you make any modifications, I’d love to hear about those, too. We can all benefit from your experience!