How to Make Delicious Pesto Pasta Salad

pesto ingredients

I am going to move to a new place. It’s not a farmhouse with loads of character, but it is a beautiful, functional space with an open kitchen and clean white walls. I am so excited.

My current kitchen has grown over the cookbook-making process to complete abhorrence. It’s dark in there, no matter what wattage I use in the single overhead light. The water from the faucet tastes funny to me, so I go back and forth to the bathroom tap all day. The grout falls off between tiles under my feet. It’s gross and dungeon-like and the last place I want to be.

pesto ingredients

I have to say, it’s become a career hazard, and I’m psyched to finally have an exit plan. Woohooooo! I’m going to be much more inspired to cook up new recipes for you guys in there, and to invite friends over for dinner. I can’t wait to decorate, too. I’m eager to sell the stuff I don’t love and transition from an eclectic thrift-store look to a more grown-up, cohesive style. It’s time.

Ok, I have a pasta salad recipe for you now. It’s prime time for fall picnics, and this light and fresh pesto pasta salad is just the ticket. Inspiration for the recipe came from a new cookbook called Vegan Goodness by Australian food blogger Jessica Prescott of Wholly Goodness. The book offers over 60 plant-based recipes, accompanied with bright and colorful photos that show off the beauty of the ingredients and final dishes. Carrots can be so pretty, can’t they?

vegan goodness cookbook

I am pretty lousy at cooking a recipe straight from a book, and I tinkered with this quite a bit. I added more pesto and cherry tomatoes, and changed up some of the add-ins—her recipe calls for sautéed mushrooms and asparagus, but I can’t find asparagus this time of year, and I didn’t love it with mushrooms alone. Instead, I added olives, and chickpeas, and cheese, which are all lovely, but I’ll let you choose your own adventure with this one. Enjoy!

how to make pesto pasta saladThis pesto pasta salad recipe is bursting with bold, fresh flavors! It's light, healthy, and sure to please everyone. Vegan and easily gluten free.

Pesto Pasta Salad
Author: Cookie and Kate
Recipe type: Salad
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 to 8 servings
This pesto pasta salad recipe is bursting with fresh flavor. It’s light, healthy and easy to make. Perfect for picnics and potlucks! Recipe yields 6 to 8 side servings.
  • 1 pound whole grain pasta (fusilli, rotini, penne or farfalle)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 3 handfuls baby arugula or spinach
  • Optional: ½ cup thinly sliced Kalamata olives
  • Optional: 1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained (or 1½ cups cooked chickpeas)
  • Optional: Crumbled feta cheese, little mozzarella balls or diced mozzarella or grated Parmesan
  • Freshly grated black pepper
  • ½ cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)*
  • ½ cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • ¼ cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente according to package directions. Before draining, reserve about ½ cup pasta cooking water, then drain and immediately rinse the pasta under cool water to prevent the noodles from sticking to one another. Transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, to prepare the pesto: In a small skillet, toast the pepitas over medium heat, stirring often, until they are fragrant and making little popping noises, about 5 minutes. Pour half of the pepitas into a bowl for later (we will use them as garnish).
  3. Pour the remaining pepitas into a food processor. Add the basil, parsley, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Process while slowly drizzling in the olive oil, stopping to scrape down the sides as necessary, until the pepitas have broken down to create a pretty smooth sauce.
  4. To assemble the pasta salad, pour all of the pesto over the pasta and toss until the pasta is lightly and evenly coated, adding a tiny splash of reserved pasta cooking water if necessary to thin it out. Then add the cherry tomatoes, arugula, remaining toasted pepitas, and any optional add-ins (olives, chickpeas and/or cheese).
  5. Toss again to combine, then season to taste with pepper. If the pasta needs a little more flavor, add salt or lemon juice to taste, or if the flavors are too bold, let it rest for a few minutes, and add a little splash of olive oil if necessary to tone down the rest.