A simple pasta salad recipe using fresh basil pesto as the dressing. It’s an incredibly flavorful and fresh summer recipe that’s perfect for cookouts. Plus it’s really hard to argue with the pesto, tomato, fresh mozzarella, and pasta combo in every bite.
This recipe takes your standard Italian pasta salad ingredients (cucumber, kalamata olives, red onion, cherry tomatoes) and turns it on its head with the addition of fresh mozzarella and basil pesto. My favorite side for grilled chicken, steak tips, and a watermelon margarita. For best results, make your own pesto or buy it as fresh as possible.
I did not add green or red bell peppers to mine, however, a lot of recipes call for it if you’d like to substitute.
Fresh Basil Pesto
Homemade pesto is really easy to make and is so much better than store-bought. My basil pesto consists of fresh basil, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and pepper. Everything is blended together in a food processor to render a smooth, yet slightly granular sauce. If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a standard blender or single-serve blender instead. Just don’t blend too aggressively or it will turn into a creamy paste.
Sometimes small grocery stores or local farmer’s markets will have fresher locally made pesto that is usually better than brand-name pesto sauce. You can tell how fresh pesto is by how green it is. Old pesto will take on a duller and deeper dark green color.
You have some options here. The target amount is 8 ounces of fresh mozzarella per batch. You can use mozzarella pearls (the best option as they’re small), cherry-sized mozzarella balls (I usually half them), or a chopped 8-ounce ball of fresh mozzarella. Moral of the story, always go FRESH.
More Pesto RecipesPrint
A simple rotini pasta salad recipe made with fresh basil pesto as the dressing. Cucumber, kalamata olives, red onion, cherry tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella all come together for a fresh and flavorful side dish.
- 1 pound regular or tricolor rotini
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella pearls, cherry-sized balls (halved), or chopped large ball
- 1 cup basil pesto, or more to taste (about 7–8 ounces)
- 1 medium cucumber, quartered and chopped
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup chopped red onion (half a medium red onion)
- 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives (look for 6-ounce jar)
- Optional shredded parmesan cheese
- Extra optional olive oil if pesto is too thick
Homemade basil pesto
- 3 cups basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta al dente. Strain and rinse with cool water. Place in a large bowl.
- Add all remaining ingredients and toss until fully coated in pesto sauce. Start with about 1 cup and add more to taste. You can add additional olive oil to extend or thin the pesto sauce if needed.
For homemade pesto
- Combine all pesto ingredients except for the olive oil in a food processor or blender. Blend until mixed and smooth. With the motor running, add olive oil in a slow stream until combined. Pesto should not be too soupy or fine.
The recipe above is a rough estimate of ingredients. Add more or less of anything you like to taste. You can’t really go wrong.
Can be made a day in advance.
- Serving Size: 1/10th
- Calories: 334
- Sugar: 3.1g
- Sodium: 321mg
- Fat: 15.2g
- Saturated Fat: 4.1g
- Carbohydrates: 35.7g
- Fiber: 4.1g
- Protein: 14.3g
- Cholesterol: 32mg
Keywords: pesto pasta salad, italian pasta salad, rotini pasta salad