It wouldn’t be summer without cookouts and family gatherings and what goes better with a burger and dogs than a creamy pesto pasta salad? I know, potato salad is the king of many cookouts, but I love the simplicity of a simple pasta salad.
Honestly, I don’t want to spend hours in a hot kitchen so the easier and faster my side dishes are the better. This dish takes all of 15 minutes to whip together; 20 – 30 if you want to make your own pesto.
What Shape of Pasta is Best for Pasta Salad?
There are so many varieties of dried pasta to choose from today! Rotini and farfalle seem to be classic choices but my favorite and the one I’ve been using most recently for my pasta salads is Cavatappi. I love the swirls and all the “nooks” and ridges that the dressing can cling to.
Any short pasta that has lots of twists and turns, like rotini, fusilli, or macaroni will work. You want a pasta shape where the sauce and the vegetables can get into all the nooks and crannies. Each bite will deliver a burst of flavor!
How long do you cook the pasta
Ahh, the number 1 question… al dente or tender? I prefer al dente. Once you drain the pasta (and don’t you dare rinse it!), it will continue to cook a bit making it perfect when you are ready to serve. For the best directions on the best way to cook pasta check out Sharethepasta.org. You’ll find everything you need to cook your pasta perfectly.
A few quick pointers though:
- Make sure you have enough water – 4 – 6 quarts per pound. Yes, that is right – don’t try to squash it into a small pan. Pasta needs room to move around to cook evenly.
- Don’t add oil to your water – no matter what your mom told you! The sauce will not stick – and that is most important – you want your sauce to cling, otherwise, what’s the point?
- Add salt. I know, I’m a dietitian and I’m telling you to add salt. Salted water makes a huge difference in the flavor of the pasta. You’ll notice if you skip it, and not in a good way!
Ingredients you’ll need for the Pesto Pasta Salad
Pasta salad is an easy dish to modify and use what you have on hand. For this one I used:
- 1 pound of pasta
- lots and lots of broccoli
- kalamata olives
- a pint of grape tomatoes (2 might be better!)
- little mozzarella balls (or cubed fresh mozzarella)
- Pesto (I had some in the freezer. You can use store-bought or homemade – either works!)
- Mayonnaise – I prefer real mayonnaise instead of salad dressing. Salad dressing is too sweet for me and I don’t think it works well in pasta salads, but use what you like best! Hellmann’s Mayonnaise made with olive oil is my go-to.
- A little salt and pepper
Mix it up and add other vegetables too. Zucchini and yellow squash would be delicious in this. Red and Yellow peppers would add some more color and sweetness to it. Look in your fridge and add what you like. I liked the olives – they added a little sharpness and saltiness which I thought was a nice addition but you could skip them if they don’t float your boat.
I used some homemade pesto I had in the freezer. I made a toasted walnut arugula pesto earlier this spring and it added a nice peppery bite to this salad. But a store-bought or homemade basil pesto would work beautifully too. Then, just mix the pesto with mayonnaise and your dressing is ready to go.
How Long Does Pasta Salad Keep?
Pasta salad will keep for a few days, covered tightly, in the fridge. The nice thing about this pasta salad is that it actually is better if it is made ahead. You can make it the day of, but making it a day ahead and let it sit in the fridge allows the flavors to really pull together! The bonus is that it frees you up and keeps you out of a hot kitchen the day of the event!
So, if you are heading to a summer bbq this weekend, give this salad a try. It is sure to satisfy a hungry crowd!
Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad
- 1 lb short cut dry pasta rotini, cavatappi, fusili work well
- 6 cups chopped broccoli
- 1/2 cup light real mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup pesto
- 1/4 cup kalamata olives halved
- 1 pint grape tomatoes halved
- 8 oz. mozzarella balls halved
- Cook pasta according to package directions to the al dente stage. During the last 2 minutes of boiling the pasta, add the chopped broccoli to cook slightly.
- Drain pasta and broccoli and place in a large bowl.
- Mix mayonnaise and pesto together. Add 1/2 the mixture to the cooling pasta and broccoli. Reserve the rest to mix in later. Cover and place pasta and broccoli in the refrigerator to cool for about 30 minutes.
- Remove from the refrigerator and mix in the tomatoes, olives and mozzarella pieces. Add the remaining mayonnaise and pesto sauce and mix together thoroughly. Cover and place back in the refrigerator until completely chilled (about 4 hours).