Pasta Salad with Pesto

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Zesty pesto, green peas, pine nuts, and mozzarella pearls make a flavorful and pretty pasta salad.

Though pasta salad is a staple at every summer cookout, most of them are (forgive me) pretty horrible. The usual formula — cooked pasta, raw vegetables, and tangy salad dressing — just doesn’t work well. The key to making a delicious pasta salad is to replace the sharp salad dressing with a flavorful sauce, and to use cooked vegetables instead of raw.

This is my favorite pasta salad of the moment. Zesty pesto, mellowed and thickened with a little mayonnaise, makes a lovely sauce. I go all-out green by adding sweet peas to both the pesto sauce and the pasta. Toasted pine nuts add flavor and crunch. And, finally, mozzarella pearls and fresh basil jazz the whole dish up.

Go ahead and make all of the components of the salad a day ahead of time, if you’d like. Just keep everything separate and toss together right before serving.

What You’ll Need To Make Pasta Salad with Pesto

ingredients for pasta salad with pesto

The best pasta to use for this salad is corkscrew-shaped fusilli, which has plenty of surface area and groves for capturing the pesto sauce. Rotini is another good option.

For the pesto, I use my Best Basic Pesto recipe, which is in my fridge practically all summer long, but store-bought will work, too.

For the cheese, use the real-deal imported Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy; domestic Parmesan pales in comparison. You can always tell if it’s authentic by looking at the rind, which is embossed with the name over and over. If the cheese is already grated, it should be labeled “Parmigiano-Reggiano,” not “Parmesan.”

How To Make Pasta Salad with Pesto

drained pasta

Begin by boiling the pasta in salted water. Be sure it is fully cooked, as pasta firms up at room temperature (you don’t want al dente-cooked pasta for pasta salad). Set aside to cool.

toasted pine nuts

Next, toast the pine nuts in a skillet over medium heat until golden. Keep a close eye on them, as they burn quickly, and then transfer them to a plate as soon as they are cooked. If you leave them in the hot pan, they will continue to cook.

Pesto and peas in food processor

Next, make the pesto sauce. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine the pesto, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of the peas. Purée until smooth, then add the mayonnaise.

puréed pesto and peas plus mayonnaise

Process again until the sauce is smooth.

pesto sauce for pasta salad in food processor

Toss the cooled pasta with the olive oil.

pasta tossed with olive oil in mixing bowl

Add the pesto-pea mixture to the pasta, along with the Parmesan, 3/4 cup of the peas, 3 tablespoons of the pine nuts, the mozzarella, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

pasta, peas, cheese, and nuts in mixing bowl

Mix well, then taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. (I usually add 1/4 teaspoon each more salt and pepper, but it will depend on the saltiness of the pesto you’re using and how heavily the pasta water was salted.) Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle the remaining peas, pine nuts, and basil over top. Serve at room temperature.

This dish would pair nicely with my lemon grilled chicken breasts and grilled flank steak with garlic and rosemary.

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Pasta Salad with Pesto

Zesty pesto, green peas, pine nuts, and mozzarella pearls make a flavorful and pretty pasta salad.

Servings: 8 to 10
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Total Time: 30 Minutes


  • 1 pound fusilli pasta
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup homemade or store-bought pesto
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from 1 lemon
  • 1-1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted, divided
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted (see note)
  • One 8-oz package mozzarella pearls
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil, for serving


  1. Cook the fusilli in a large pot of boiling salted water until fully cooked, 10 to 12 minutes (you don't want al dente pasta here). Drain and toss into a bowl with the olive oil. Cool to room temperature.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, purée the pesto, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup of the peas. Add the mayonnaise and purée until smooth.
  3. Add the pesto-pea mixture to the cooled pasta, along with the Parmesan, 3/4 cup of the peas, 3 tablespoons of the pine nuts, the mozzarella, the salt, and the pepper. Mix well, then taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. (I usually add 1/4 teaspoon each more salt and pepper, but it will depend on the saltiness of the pesto you're using and how heavily the pasta water was salted.) Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle the remaining peas, pine nuts, and basil over top. Serve at room temperature.
  4. Note: To toast the pine nuts, place them in a small dry skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until golden. Watch the nuts carefully, as they can burn quickly, and transfer them to small bowl immediately after cooking (they will continue to brown in the hot pan).
  5. Make-Ahead Instructions: The components of this pasta salad can be made ahead a day ahead of time; just keep everything separate and toss together right before serving.

Nutrition Information

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  • Per serving (10 servings)
  • Calories: 544
  • Fat: 36 g
  • Saturated fat: 8 g
  • Carbohydrates: 40 g
  • Sugar: 3 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Protein: 15 g
  • Sodium: 591 mg
  • Cholesterol: 29 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Reviews & Comments

  • I tried this recipe and it turned out very good! Easy with good summery flavor!! I only wish I had used home made pesto. Your basic pesto recipe has so much more flavor. Also, after boiling the pasta I rinsed it in cold water and then pour some olive oil to keep it moist. Not sure if that was the right thing to do? I did it because as the pasta sat to cool, it started looking a bit “foggy”, so I decided to rinse it in cold water and then added some olive oil to keep the pasta moist.
    Please let me know what you think..
    And thank you again for another great recipe!

    • — Pooja on August 15, 2021
    • Reply
    • Hi Pooja, Sometimes adding oil to pasta makes it more difficult for the sauce to adhere as the pasta is a little slippery. It probably wouldn’t have hurt here because the pesto already has a good bit of oil but just keep that in mind for next time. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

      • — Jenn on August 16, 2021
      • Reply
  • In a summer cabin with no food processor. Would a blender work?

    • — Diana on July 26, 2021
    • Reply
    • It should work if you have a really powerful blender. Hope you enjoy if you make it!

      • — Jenn on July 27, 2021
      • Reply
  • This is an absolutely fabulous salad, and I know that I will be making it multiple times over these warmer months. I already have a glut of fresh basil so it was the perfect time to try it. So yummy and a much more sophisticated (and less gloopy) pasta salad to take to family gatherings or just for a nice side to some grilled chicken or salmon.

    • — Angel on June 24, 2021
    • Reply
  • I love this salad! This time I outlined it with grilled pesto shrimp to bring to a potluck. Subbed in feta cheese and pecans.

    • — Marty on June 23, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made this for a beach trip side dish and it could not have been better and more of a hit! It is excellent hot or cold and is great as leftovers. It is truly amazing and will be a staple for my family. Your website is my go to for all of my recipes. Tonight our dinner is your Peruvian chicken, Caesar salad (with your dressing recipe) and your red smashed potatoes. Your recipes are amazing! Every time I serve something from your website, someone always asks for the recipe. Thank you!

    • — Kammi Updyke on May 27, 2021
    • Reply
    • 💕

      • — Jenn on May 27, 2021
      • Reply
  • Made this today and it got gobbled up. Delicious. Unfortunately, I didn’t have pine nuts or mozzarella so I left them both out but will include next time (and there will be a next time!).

    • — Miriam on April 17, 2021
    • Reply
  • There is so much to love about this dish! I initially tried this recipe as a way to use a little leftover pesto from the Heirloom Tomato Salad featured in your cookbook. It instantly became my husband’s favorite pasta dish, and now it’s in our regular rotation. I love this pasta as a follow up to the tomato salad because it feels like a totally unique dish even with many similar ingredients. It’s also very easy to adjust for one or two servings.

    • — Shell Coltrin on February 3, 2021
    • Reply
  • Thank you very much! This is amazing and we have made it twice in one week! It is super delicious! And fast and easy!

    • — Holly on September 12, 2020
    • Reply
  • Have you ever used GF pasta for this dish?

    • — Darlene on September 8, 2020
    • Reply
    • I haven’t but I think you could. 🙂

      • — Jenn on September 8, 2020
      • Reply
  • Hi. I made your pesto pasta salad for my friends. It was a hit — had to send everyone the recipe.

    I fed my kids (3, 5, and 6) the leftovers and they clamored for more!

    I have your cookbook but gave it to a friend who struggles in the kitchen. I told her all your recipes turn out great. Thanks 🙏

    • — Janice White on July 18, 2020
    • Reply
    • Glad this was a hit and thanks for sharing the love with the cookbook! 🙂

      • — Jenn on July 19, 2020
      • Reply
  • I made this and it was delicious! I used walnuts and light Hellmann’s mayo. I also added broccoli florets to the salad. Even though I own your cookbook and use it frequently, I still enjoy the emails and try to make something from each of them. Though I’m a novice cook, but getting better, I am able to prepare great meals from your cookbook. Did I say I love your cookbook? Thank you for your guidance.

    • — Harvey on July 9, 2020
    • Reply
    • 😊

      • — Jenn on July 9, 2020
      • Reply
  • WOW..this is fantastic. I didn’t have pine nuts so used what mixed toasted nuts that I done for something else. Great recipe, thank you very much. It was put out for a girly lunch get together and was enjoyed by all. Served with caprese salad on a small kabob..

    • — Bernie on July 5, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen – If a friend is allergic to pine nuts, would you sub another nut or just omit them entirely?

    • — Katie F on June 30, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Katie, It’s fine to omit them or feel free to substitute with a different nut. Hope everyone enjoys!

      • — Jenn on July 1, 2020
      • Reply
    • Remember that a typical pesto is made with pine nuts.

      • — Betsy on August 14, 2020
      • Reply
  • Our new favorite salad! I cheated and used pesto from jar with the mayo. Added extra peas. Didn’t have pine nuts but still great!! A keeper!!

    • — Norah Molinari on June 25, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn – this was amazing! I made homemade pesto using Ina Garten’s pesto recipe and it was perfect… to make her pasta, pesto & pea recipe, she adds spinach, but I love that you used peas. It was a great complement to the peas in the dish. If you can make the pesto fresh, it is a must-do, especially on the summer when basil is plentiful. 🙂

    • — Jenn Kratsa on June 15, 2020
    • Reply
  • This pasta salad is truly amazing. It has become a family favourite. It’s easy to make and impressive when served. Jenn, thank you for all the wonderful, foolproof recipes on your website. I come here first when looking for ideas and inspiration.

    • — Cheryl B on June 11, 2020
    • Reply
  • Are mozzarella pearls the same as bocconcini? If I can’t get mozzarella pearls if I cut cubes of mozzarella, would that have the same effect?

    • — David on May 26, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi David, I believe that mozzarella pearls and bocconcini are pretty interchangeable, but you could also cut a larger piece of mozzarella into cubes. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on May 27, 2020
      • Reply
  • I haven’t made this recipe yet but plan on making it this coming week. It sounds really tasty! I’m just not sure about the mozarella balls. Would feta work as well?

    • — Susan McConnell on May 24, 2020
    • Reply
    • Sure! Hope you enjoy. 🙂

      • — Jenn on May 25, 2020
      • Reply
  • This salad is the best pasta salad I have ever tasted!! You’re right, no need to make any other. It looks so pretty too! It is also super easy.

    • — Alyssa Wise on May 20, 2020
    • Reply
  • This recipe is absolutely divine & so easy to make. It’s now my favourite pasta salad to bring along to BBQ’s. I love the addition of peas in the pesto! Absolutely genius. Would highly recommend people to make this salad!

    • — Vanessa McGregor on April 26, 2020
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn! I’m making this for Easter and I forgot to get the mayo. I won’t be able to get any for Sunday (no last minute grocery pickup times available). Is there anything you’d suggest to replace the mayo? More olive oil and salt? Appreciate your help!!

    • — Kate on April 10, 2020
    • Reply
    • Hi Kate, I think yogurt will work in a pinch (although I may be weighing in too late to be helpful)!

      • — Jenn on April 12, 2020
      • Reply
  • Love this pasta salad . Will make definitely make this salad again. Everyone really loved it.

    • — Sjerry on January 21, 2020
    • Reply
  • I will never make any other pasta salad. I made this for a 40 person birthday party.—tripled the recipe, and barely had any left over. I wasn’t paying attention to the advance preparation directions and ended up adding it all together the day before. No problem—just took it out the morning of the party and let it set for several hours. However, my husband ate the leftovers cold and still thought it was great. Easy dish to dress up by adding some shrimp or lobster.

    • — Lori on October 26, 2019
    • Reply
  • Awesome, unique pasta salad! Making this on repeat for pitch-ins lately. It does not disappoint

    • — Leah S on October 4, 2019
    • Reply
  • You said to serve room temperature. If you make everything ahead of time and refrigerate, should I let everything come back to room temp before I assemble? Or can it be served cold?

    • Hi Carol, I like it best at room temperature, but it’s certainly fine to serve it cold if you’d prefer. Hope you enjoy!

      • I let everything come to room temperature. It was delicious! I even forgot to add the mozzarella pearls, and didn’t miss them. Will add them to what little is left over!

        • Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  • Absolutely delicious and easy!!!!

  • Excellent! I also made a version in which I replaced 2/3 of mayo with sour cream and used toasted pecans instead of pine nuts – even better.

  • I am wondering if plain yogurt could be substituted for the mayo?

    • Hi Kay, I like the flavor of mayo here but I think yogurt will work. Please let me know how it turns out if you try it. 🙂

  • This looks delicious! I would like to make it for a bbq, but one of my guests is allergic to peas. Would it still be good without peas or is there something I can substitute? Love your recipes! 🙂

    • Hi Fiona, I think that steamed broccoli would work as a substitute for the peas. I’d slightly overcook the broccoli that gets added to the pesto so that it’s mushy and easier to process (but don’t that for the portion that goes into the salad.) Please LMK how it turns out if you make it with broccoli!

      • There’s a recipe for broccoli pesto included in the recipe for “Double Broccoli Quinoa” on 101 Cookbooks (.com). I use it frequently, in a variety of recipes, especially in winter, when basil is scarce. In my opinion, it’s excellent!

        • — Kathy K. on July 2, 2020
        • Reply
  • I’m enjoying Jenn’s salads this summer. I used this salad as a vegetarian main dish and we enjoyed it a lot. My lazy girl take on this was to make a double batch of Jenn’s basic pesto, save half, with olive oil to seal, then have a second meal of shrimp with pesto linguine a few days later.

  • This is the best pasta salad pesto I’ve ever had! The mayonnaise isn’t an ingredient I’d ever think to include, but it makes all the difference. Thanks, Jenn for another simple, great tasting recipe!

  • Don’t make the amount it shows in the recipe, double it, it will only help! I made this for a neighborhood get together (that we had at my house) and it has a little bit of something that everyone likes and loves and I only made one batch and actually had to make another batch during the party per request!

  • Made this pasta salad to bring camping. Thought I brought too much. It disappeared so fast, we all loved it. Making it again for the 4th of July picnic.

  • Great salad. Easy to assemble and very tasty. I didn’t change a thing and I won’t the next time I make it, which will be soon.

    • — Pearl McElheran
    • Reply
  • This is amazing! I can’t leave it alone….
    I cut the recipe in half. Thank you Jennifer for another five star recipe

  • This pasta salad made me very popular at our church potluck over the weekend! I must have given the recipe to 20 people. Yummy!!

  • Made this recipe the other night. Not one of my favorites that’s for sure. Followed the recipe but I just did not care for the flavor. Family agreed.

  • Absolutely perfect! I love pasta salad and am always looking for ones I love. This one fits the bill. Thanks, Jenn.

  • I did make my own pesto. I planted many many pots of basil this summer and wanted to use it all the time. I love this recipe. I will make it again. And Again….

    • — pamela m rider
    • Reply
  • I made this over the weekend for my niece’s bridal shower and it was a huge hit. I can’t wait to make it again!

  • I LOVE every one of your recipes! I am excited to try this but I don’t usually have good results with store bought pesto. Is there a brand you recommend?

    • Hi Julia, I like Mama’s pesto from Whole Foods. Another reader mentioned that the Delallo brand is good. Hope that helps!

      • Thank you!

  • I made this last night for a potluck dinner. Fantastic! Everyone loved it. While I’ve made my own pesto before, I used store bought for this recipe. It was the only thing I changed. It turned out delicious. In my opinion, the best store bought is Delallo Simply Pesto brand. Nothing artificial – all real ingredients. This recipe has been added to the rotation. Thanks.

    • — Cathy Krawczyk
    • Reply
  • Was really delicious!

  • Looks fantastic! Cant wait to try it. Just have a question – what nut would you recommend for the salad if you didn’t want to use pine nuts (just like in the pesto sauce). Roasted walnuts?

    • Yep, toasted walnuts will work nicely.

  • Pasta? Pesto? Soft mozzarella? YES PLEASE! This looks delicious!!

    In your pesto recipe you recommend not using pine nuts because of their potential long lasting bitterness….. do you think they’re still okay to use in this salad? Perhaps walnuts as the substitute? Or is it a small enough amount?

    • Hi Barb, It only happened to me once, and I think it was because I consumed a large amount when I was testing a recipe. I mostly use walnuts in the pesto because they are more affordable. I think you are fine to use pine nuts here. But, that said, walnuts would be delicious, too (just not as pretty).

  • Looks delish, Jenn! Love pesto and a pasta salad with it sounds divine….on the list! Thanks!


    • — Karen Sarnowski
    • Reply

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