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Pesto Pasta Salad with Peas, Pine Nuts & Mozzarella Pearls

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Zesty pesto, 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 bad. The usual formula – cold cooked pasta, raw vegetables, and an oil-and-vinegar salad dressing – just doesn’t work well. The key to making a delicious pasta salad is to replace the sharp vinaigrette with a rich and flavorful sauce. In this pesto pasta salad recipe, zesty pesto mellowed and thickened with a little mayonnaise makes a lovely sauce. Peas and pesto go well together, so I add peas to both the sauce and the pasta. Crunchy toasted pine nuts and creamy mozzarella pearls fill the salad out. Go ahead and make all of the components of the salad a day ahead of time; just keep everything separate and toss together right before serving.

What You’ll Need To Make Pesto pasta Salad with Peas, Pine Nuts & Mozzarella Pearls

ingredients for pesto pasta salad

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 go-to pesto recipe, which is in my fridge practically all summer long, but store-bought will work, too.

For the cheese, use 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.”

Step-by-Step Instructions

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.

drained pasta

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.

toasted pine nuts

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.

Pesto and peas in food processor

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 grilled chicken breasts or grilled flank steak with garlic and rosemary.

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Pesto Pasta Salad with Peas, Pine Nuts & Mozzarella Pearls

Zesty pesto, 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

Ingredients

  • 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
  • 1½ cups frozen peas, defrosted, divided
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
  • ⅓ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • ⅓ cup pine nuts, toasted (see note)
  • One 8-oz package mozzarella pearls
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil, for serving

Instructions

  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 ½ 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, ¾ 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 ¼ 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

Powered by Edamam

  • 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, Edamam.com. 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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Comments

  • Looks amazing 👍👍👍can I add chick peas and some chilli infused oil into it without ruining it ?

    • — Mark Johnstone on November 12, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, Mark, that should be fine. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on November 14, 2022
      • Reply
  • Delicious recipe! I often turn to Jenn and Once Upon a Chef for tasty dishes to make for family or for an event. This pesto pasta dish was simple to make and looked amazing. Full of flavor, and just the right amount of texture, it was not too salty or bland. I followed your recipe exactly except for one small addition. Since it was close to Halloween, I topped with a handful of orangey-red cherry tomatoes for a pop of color. Several people commented on the dish and asked for the recipe. Thanks again!!

    • — Russell J. on November 2, 2022
    • Reply
  • I have made this for several parties and ALWAYS get asked by tons of people for the recipe. It’s delicious!

    • — Ali on September 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • Another winner! I added some leftover chicken and cherry tomatoes and we had it as a main course. Delicious – love your recipes!

    • — Esty on September 14, 2022
    • Reply
  • This is delish as usual with your recipes! I made the entire recipe…didn’t look at the servings…and it’s just two of us. Any chance this would freeze?

    • — Kristy on September 13, 2022
    • Reply
    • I don’t think this is the best candidate for freezing, but if it’s going to go to waste otherwise, I think it’s worth a try. If you do freeze it, I’d love to hear how it is once you thaw it!

      • — Jenn on September 14, 2022
      • Reply
  • This is the 3rd recipe I’ve made from your collection, and yet again it is scrumptious. I don’t normally love pesto, but adding the mayo and lemon juice to make it creamy rather than oily was delicious! That’s how I’ll make pesto from now on. 3 great recipes is enough to convince me….I went ahead and bought one of your cookbooks!

    • — Heather on September 11, 2022
    • Reply
    • Glad you’re enjoying the recipes — thanks for your support of the cookbook! 💗

      • — Jenn on September 12, 2022
      • Reply
  • I LOVE this pasta salad! I like the green “theme” and the different textures. It’s got the al dente pasta with the creamy cheese and a little crunch from the pine nuts. And I’m not alone – I took it to a labor day get together and it disappeared quickly! This will be on my go-to list and has changed my mind about pasta salad!!

    • — Aaron on September 7, 2022
    • Reply
  • I found this recipe just too rich. (The pesto recipe was great on its own.) I knew when I was adding the mayo it was too much for me. Should have listened to my instinct there. Will try again without mayo next time or maybe just 1/4 c

    • — Elizabeth on September 6, 2022
    • Reply
  • This is a fan favorite – even picky eaters love this!! My “20-something” children and their friends cannot get enough!!
    Kat D

    • — Kathleen Dwyer on September 4, 2022
    • Reply
  • Loved this recipe however some members of my family will not eat peas. Can I sub or eliminate them?
    PS, never disappointed with your recipes, tks for sharing.

    • — Camile on September 4, 2022
    • Reply
    • Glad you liked it! You could replace the peas with corn for a similar texture. Diced bell pepper would also work, but will add a little crunch.

      • — Jenn on September 6, 2022
      • Reply
  • Key word in your Pesto Pasta Salad is PESTO , Jenn !!! … mine uses 13 fresh whole genovese basil leaves chopped extra fine for thorough (complete ) coating mixed with a quarter cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil , And real Parmesan cheese ( parmigiano reggiano that is grated extra fine) … I sprinkle a dash of onion powder and a dash of garlic powder in the fusilli pasta after running cold water on the al dente pasta … no peas in my pesto pasta ‘ cause I save the peas for tuna salad !!! … still , I do accent the green and white salad with a quarter teaspoon of paprika, for color and for taste … everyone raves about my pesto pasta salad and especially liked the fact that I don’t add pine nuts to it , that upset some folks stomachs !!! … bob walters

    • — robert j. walters on September 4, 2022
    • Reply
  • We’ve been making pesto for many years but never heard about anyone using mozzarella, besides the P.R. Cheese, nor adding mayonnaise to recipe. Our favorite sauce, but why use soy bean oil mayo? You should use better ingredients for this wonderful sauce.

    • — Poms on September 4, 2022
    • Reply
  • Oh my goodness! I have been making Basil Pesto for years, this recipe tops them ALL! I could have eaten spoonful after spoonful.

    I have YET to be disappointed by any of your recipes they’re all fabulous!

    • — Joan Raiti on September 2, 2022
    • Reply
  • Oh my goodness! I have been making Basil Pesto for years, this recipe tops them ALL! I could have eaten spoonful after spoonful.

    I have YET to be disappointed by any of your recipes – they’re all fabulous!

    Thank you…. You make cooking a real joy!

    • — Joan Raiti on September 2, 2022
    • Reply
  • Another huge hit with our friends!

    • — Kelly on August 16, 2022
    • Reply

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