This inexpensive pasta salad recipe is flavorful and perfect for summer picnics!
This easy summer pasta salad side dish comes together in 15 minutes! It’s so great for summer picnics because it can be prepared ahead of time and served chilled or at room temperature. Simply toss farfalle pasta with basil pesto, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, halved fresh cherry tomatoes and fresh basil for a caprese-inspired summer dish.
Pasta – I use farfalle, bowtie shape pasta for this recipe, because the pesto coats the shape well and makes the pasta salad easy to eat in forkfuls. Other short pasta shapes like fusilli and penne (both with spirals that hold the herby sauce) work well. Pasta salad is best made using dried pasta. Since it is served cold or at room temperature, fresh pasta doesn’t hold up as well.
Spinach – I love sneaking some greens into this recipe. Baby spinach is added to the colander when the pasta drains so as the pasta water is poured over it, it cooks and wilts.
Pesto – Basil pesto gives this easy pasta salad recipe so much flavor and keeps it from drying out. I prefer to use homemade pesto, which can easily be made in a food processor using my recipe here, though store-bought works just fine!
Sun-dried tomatoes – I prefer using oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes in this recipe. I find the tomatoes more tender and additional oil helps to flavor the pasta.
Cherry tomatoes – I like using a combination of sun-dried and fresh halved cherry tomatoes to add a contrast of textures to this pasta salad. Diced Roma tomatoes can also be used in place of cherry tomatoes if needed.
Mozzarella – I use Ciliegine, small mozzarella balls sometimes known as cheese pearls, in this recipe. If needed, chop fresh mozzarella into ½” cubes.
How to Make Pesto Pasta Salad
Step 1: Cook the pasta.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium high heat. Cook the pasta until just al dente, about 8 minutes.
Step 2: Drain the pasta over the spinach.
Arrange the spinach at the bottom of a colander then drain the pasta over the top so the spinach wilts.
Step 3: Toss in oil and pesto.
Add the pasta and spinach to a large bowl, then toss them in the oil and pesto until combined while the pasta is still warm.
Step 4: Combine ingredients and serve.
Next, add the sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve at room temperature or chilled.
Tips and Tricks for This Recipe
Mistakes to Avoid
Keep an eye on your pasta as it cooks. Overcooking the pasta can lead to a mushy pasta salad. You want it to have just a little bite and texture to it. Same goes for undercooking the noodles – careful or they can be too hard!
Under-seasoning – Cold pasta dishes can stand a bit more salt for flavoring. I like to season with additional salt just before serving to ensure it has the right balance.
Dressing the pasta cold – Rather than rinsing the pasta in cold water I simply drain it and dress it while the noodles are warm. I do this immediately, so the pasta doesn’t have time to stick together and I find it helps to evenly distribute the pesto.
Swaps and Substitutions
Feel free to swap the sun-dried tomatoes with diced roasted red peppers (or adding them in addition to the tomatoes).
Try adding diced grilled chicken over the top to serve this as an entrée.
If using store-bought pesto, add a squeeze of lemon to brighten the taste.
How Long Can the Pasta Be Made in Advance?
I prefer to make this pasta salad up to a day in advance. Any longer and it may become mushy. Store refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to serve.
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