Whip up a mouthwatering bow tie pasta salad with basil pesto in no time. This recipe is packed with fresh basil and spinach and of course garlic and pine nuts. Add some cherry tomatoes for an ideal summer salad. Perfect for busy cooks, you can have it on the table in less than 30 minutes!
Try a Refreshing Summer Pesto Pasta Salad
Basil pesto pasta salad is a flavorful and colorful side dish that’s great for all those summer cookouts and picnics. It combines the aromatic flavors of basil, garlic, and olive oil with brightly acidic cherry tomatoes and perfectly al dente bow tie pasta.
The pesto uses spinach in addition to fresh basil, which gives it a milder flavor as well as some extra nutrition. Pesto that is 100% basil can be a little strong. By adding a little fresh spinach to the mix, it helps balance the flavors and makes your basil for further. Make extra and use it to stuff chicken breasts or make an amazing cream sauce with chicken.
This bow tie pasta salad recipe is super simple to put together, and it doesn’t take much time at all. The longest step is waiting for the pasta to cool to room temperature, which is the perfect opportunity to make the pesto, get a head start on clean-up, or fix yourself a cold drink.
The pesto is so easy to make in a food processor – put everything in the bowl and give it a few pulses. This recipe is excellent for making ahead of time and is impressively tasty without being overly complicated.
Pesto pasta salad is great for taking along to a potluck or dinner with friends. The pesto has a little mayo but it can withstand the heat and stay fresh for an outdoor cookout or picnic.
You can serve it with some grilled chicken and a fruit salad for a casual summer meal. Throw together some fluffy cornbread biscuits and you’ve got a simple dinner for friends that will keep you out of the kitchen. Try adding a peach cobbler and you’ll have a truly Southern summertime dinner.
What goes into pesto?
Pesto is an Italian sauce that is made of crushed pine nuts, basil, salt, olive oil, and parmesan cheese. It’s traditionally made with a mortar and pestle (the word ‘pesto’ means ‘to crush’) but it’s much easier when made in a food processor.
What can I do with extra basil?
Basil freezes well so you can pull it out and make pesto at any time of the year. Place the basil onto a baking sheet and place it into the freezer. Once the basil is fully frozen, you can place it into a freezer bag and store it for up to six months.
Why You’ll Love Bow Tie Pasta Salad
- Quick and easy: It takes very little time to make this recipe – just cook the pasta, blend up the pesto, toss everything together, and you’re ready to serve.
- Fresh and flavorful: The combination of fresh basil, spinach, and cherry tomatoes makes this fresh pesto sauce super flavorful and bright.
- Versatile: You can enjoy it as a side dish or make it a complete meal by adding some protein of your choice, making it suitable for any occasion!
What are pine nuts? Are pine nuts really a nut?
Pine nuts are the edible seeds of pine trees. They’re small, long, thin seeds with a buttery and mild flavor, commonly used in a variety of culinary dishes. Pine nuts have a unique and delicate taste.
A nut is a hard-shelled fruit containing a single seed, where the seed and the fruit wall remain fused together. In this sense, pine nuts do fit the definition of a nut, although we don’t generally eat them the way we do cashews, peanuts, or almonds.
It’s important to note that some people may have allergies to pine nuts, just as with other nuts, so be very careful if you or someone you know has a history of nut or tree nut allergies. Otherwise, for the majority of people, pine nuts can be enjoyed in a wide range of dishes, like pesto, salads, desserts, and as a garnish for savory dishes.
They can be a little pricey, so if you make a lot of pesto, you can substitute walnuts. for the pine nuts.
Basil Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe Ingredients
- Bow-tie pasta: I like bowtie pasta for this recipe, but you can use any small pasta shape like penne, small shells, rigatoni, wagon wheels or classic elbow pasta.
- Basil leaves: Basil provides a fresh aromatic flavor to the pesto. There’s no substitute for the flavor, but you can also make pesto from parsley, it will just have a milder flavor.
- Baby spinach: Adds a subtle earthiness and even more green color.
- Garlic cloves: Garlic tastes good! I recommend using fresh garlic cloves for the best flavor.
- Olive oil: Brings everything together and adds a luscious texture and slightly spicy flavor.
- Lemon juice: Brightens up the pesto and provides acidity.
- Mayonnaise: Gives the sauce a creamy and rich consistency.
- Parmesan cheese: Provides cheesy, nutty flavor to the pesto.
- Pine nuts: Pine nuts add a nutty, creamy flavor to the pesto. You can substitute with walnuts.
- Cherry tomatoes: Sweet-tart cherry tomatoes add color and flavor to the salad.
Easy Steps to Make a Flavorful Bow Tie Pasta Salad Recipe
Step 1: Boil the pasta.
Boil some water with a handful of salt and cook the pasta according to directions for al dente. Drain the pasta and immediately toss with olive oil, then spread it out on a baking sheet to fully cool. Reserve a little of the pasta water.
Step 2: Make the pesto.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil, lemon juice, cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, and pepper and pulse to combine. Then, add the mayonnaise and parmesan cheese and blend until smooth.
Step 3: Toss the salad.
Once the pasta has cooled to room temperature, toss it in a large bowl with the pesto and reserved pasta water.
Toss in the cherry tomatoes at the end. Top the salad with more pine nuts, and enjoy.
Tips for Making Pasta Salad
- When making the pesto, start with a small amount of salt and add more if needed. The parmesan cheese is naturally salty, so adjust it to your taste.
- Toasting the pine nuts enhances their flavor. Keep an eye on them while toasting, as they can burn quickly. Let them cool before adding them to the pesto.
- Reserve some pasta water to add to the salad if it feels dry. The starchy water helps bind the ingredients together and enhances the sauce’s creaminess.
How to Store Cold Pesto Pasta Salad
Store any leftover pasta salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. This salad isn’t going to freeze very well, as it will be soggy when it thaws.
How to Freeze Pesto
Though the salad doesn’t freeze well, you can freeze any extra pesto, or make a double batch so you can make some zucchini tarts. You can freeze the pesto flat in a freezer bag, or you can portion it by spooning any leftover pesto into ice cube trays and placing them in the freezer. Once they’re frozen solid, you can pop the pesto cubes out of the tray and store them in a freezer bag or airtight container.
You can stir a few pesto cubes into hot pasta, thaw them on the counter to enjoy with crusty bread, or stir in a little extra olive oil and drizzle it over grilled chicken.
How can I keep pasta salad cold at a picnic?
Pasta salad is a favorite choice for picnics and cookouts, and keeping it cold and fresh is important both so that it tastes the best, and so that it remains safe to eat. To keep your salad nice and cold for an extended period of time, find a Tupperware container or large metal bowl bigger than your serving bowl.
Fill the larger bowl with ice and set your serving dish down into the ice. This will keep the bowl nice and cold as you serve it. Add more ice to the bowl as needed to keep the salad chilled.
Bow Tie Pasta FAQs
Can I add extra veggies to the salad?
Of course! Feel free to add your favorite veggies to customize the pasta salad to your liking. Chopped bell peppers, cucumbers or fresh corn.
Can I make the pesto ahead of time?
Yes, you can prepare the pesto a day before and store it in the fridge. Store it in a an airtight container or cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Can I serve this pasta salad warm?
This pasta is fabulous, both warm and cold, so feel free to enjoy it right after mixing or let it chill in the fridge first. For a hot dish, just toss the pesto with the hot pasta and serve immediately.
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Bow Tie Pasta Salad with Basil Pesto
- 1 pound bow-tie pasta
- ¼ cup pasta water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
For the Pesto
- 3 cups packed basil leaves
- 1 cup packed baby spinach
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ¾ cup pine nuts toasted, divided
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 lemon
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise
- ¾ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- Cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Reserve ¼ cup pasta water and drain. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and spread on a rimmed baking sheet to cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
For the pesto:
- Add basil, spinach, garlic,¼ cup of the pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add parmesan and mayonnaise and process until combined.
- Once the pasta has cooled to room temperature, toss it in a large bowl with the pesto and reserved pasta water. Add cherry tomatoes and sprinkle with remaining pine nuts.
Barbara’s Tips + Notes
- Be careful when toasting the pine nuts, they will burn quickly.
- Don’t forget to reserve some pasta water, it helps the sauce stick to the pasta.
- You can use walnuts instead of pine nuts.