Pesto pasta salad is a simple and delicious pasta salad recipe using fresh basil pesto as the dressing. It’s an incredibly flavorful and fresh summer recipe that’s perfect for cookouts. Plus it’s really hard to argue with basil pesto, tomato, and fresh mozzarella in every bite.
This recipe takes your standard Italian pasta salad ingredients (cucumber, kalamata olives, red onion, cherry tomatoes) and turns it on its head with the addition of fresh mozzarella and basil pesto. My favorite side for grilled chicken, steak tips, and a watermelon margarita. For best results, make your own pesto.
Homemade Basil Pesto
Homemade pesto is really easy to make and is so much better than store-bought. My basil pesto consists of fresh basil, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and pepper. Everything is blended together in a food processor to render a smooth, yet slightly granular sauce. If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a standard blender or single-serve blender instead. Just don’t blend too aggressively or it will turn into a creamy paste.
Sometimes small grocery stores or local farmer’s markets will have fresher locally made pesto that is usually better than brand-name pesto sauce. You can usually tell how fresh pesto is by how green it is. Old pesto will take on a duller and deeper dark green color.
Choosing the Right Mozzarella Cheese
You have some options when it comes to fresh mozzarella. The target amount is 8 ounces of fresh mozzarella per batch. You can use mozzarella pearls (the best option as they’re small), cherry-sized mozzarella balls (I usually cut them in half), or a chopped 8-ounce ball of fresh mozzarella. Long story short, always use pillowing soft fresh mozzarella in place of low-moisture mozzarella.
More Pesto RecipesPrint
A simple rotini pasta salad recipe made with fresh basil pesto as the dressing. Cucumber, kalamata olives, red onion, cherry tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella all come together for a fresh and flavorful side dish.
- 1 pound regular or tricolor rotini
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella pearls, cherry-sized balls (halved), or chopped large ball
- 1 cup basil pesto, or more to taste (about 7–8 ounces)
- 1 medium cucumber, quartered and chopped
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup chopped red onion (half a medium red onion)
- 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives (look for 6-ounce jar)
- Optional shredded parmesan cheese
- Extra optional olive oil if pesto is too thick
Homemade basil pesto
- 3 loosely packed cups of basil leaves, about 2.5 ounces
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta al dente. Strain and rinse with cool water. Place in a large bowl.
- Add all remaining ingredients and toss until fully coated in pesto sauce. Start with about 1 cup and add more to taste. You can add additional olive oil to extend or thin the pesto sauce if it’s too thick.
Homemade basil pesto
- Combine all pesto ingredients except for the olive oil in a food processor or blender. Blend/pulse until mixed and smooth.
- With the motor running, add olive oil in a slow stream until combined. Pesto should not be too soupy or fine. Set aside. Can be made a day in advance and stored in the fridge in a tightly sealed container. Cover with plastic wrap seated directly on top of the surface to prevent browning/air exposure.
The recipe above is a rough estimate of ingredients. Add more or less of anything you like to taste. You can’t really go wrong. Can be made a day in advance.
You have some options when it comes to fresh mozzarella. The target amount is 8 ounces of fresh mozzarella per batch. You can use mozzarella pearls (the best option as they’re small), cherry-sized mozzarella balls (I usually cut them in half), or a chopped 8-ounce ball of fresh mozzarella.
- Serving Size: 1/10th
- Calories: 334
- Sugar: 3.1g
- Sodium: 321mg
- Fat: 15.2g
- Saturated Fat: 4.1g
- Carbohydrates: 35.7g
- Fiber: 4.1g
- Protein: 14.3g
- Cholesterol: 32mg
Keywords: pesto pasta salad, italian pasta salad, rotini pasta salad