Pasta salads have long been the first choice for lunches, summer picnics and BBQ parties. Easy to make in advance, packed with lots of different vegetables and delicious to eat in any alfresco situation, our Summer Pesto Pasta Salad features summer season favourites: fresh basil, green courgettes and juicy cherry tomatoes! Mixed with pesto dressing instead of a more traditional mayonnaise-based salad dressing, this pesto pasta salad with mozzarella is sure to impress both as a vegetarian lunch or as a side dish at your next garden party!
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Ingredients and Substitutions
Fresh ingredients mixed with pasta and pesto make the best summer salad! Here are the simple ingredients that you will need for this delicious pasta salad recipe:
- pasta: any dried pasta will do just fine. Don’t worry about using fresh pasta here – there are enough lovely ingredients in this pesto pasta salad to justify using the cheaper pasta 🙂
- green courgettes: use young fresh courgettes with less tough skin. 2 small courgettes, weighing approx 400g will be a perfect amount.
- extra-virgin olive oil: or rapeseed, avocado, or grapeseed oil.
- cherry tomatoes: can be substituted with baby plum tomatoes or simply chopped up salad tomatoes.
- large mozzarella ball: can be substituted with mini mozzarella balls / pearls. Choose full-fat cheese – it really makes a difference in this salad.
- baby spinach
- fresh basil leaves.
- pesto: ideally freshly made, but if you are using a shop-bought one we highly recommend buying one that’s in the chilled section (next to fresh pasta) and not the one with long shelf life. Fresh basil pesto will taste a lot better with this option. If you want to make your own, here’s our homemade basil pesto recipe.
- pine nuts: toasted. Adds a lot of texture and nutty flavour to the salad!
If you want to add something extra to your pesto pasta salad recipe, add some finely chopped red onion, red peppers or sun-dried tomatoes and scatter the top with grated parmesan cheese.
Cook pasta following the package directions in a large pot of salted water. Once cooked, run cold water through the pasta to cool it down and remove the starch (it will prevent the pasta from sticking together). Stir in a tablespoon of olive oil and set the pasta aside.
In a large mixing bowl mix the courgette cubes with a tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread the courgette on baking parchment in a single layer and place it in the oven for 15 minutes.
Once cooked, leave the courgette cubes to cool down slightly.
Place the pasta, courgette, fresh cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil leaves, and pesto in a large bowl, and gently mix until all the pasta and vegetables are coated in pesto.
Scatter the spinach on the bottom of a serving bowl or individual bowls, then top it with summer pesto pasta salad and scatter the toasted pinenuts on top!
Making Your Own Pesto
If you are considering making homemade pesto sauce for this delicious vegetable pesto pasta salad, then you definitely should! Homemade pesto stands head and shoulder above the shop-bought one! We personally think this dish works best with basil pesto, so here are a couple of recipes for you to consider:
Summer Pesto Pasta Salad Serving Suggestions
As An Easy Summer Side Dish
Pesto Pasta Salad with Mozzarella is a wonderful summer side dish to serve at any garden party. It is an excellent sidekick to your BBQ meats, especially Mediterranean-style grills (think, Spiedini or Greek-style kebabs). It is also a great salad to serve as part of a buffet-style lunch!
As The Main Dish
We tend to enjoy this Summer Pesto Pasta Salad at room temperature as a vegetarian main on hot days in the garden! The recipe below served 3-4 as a delicious meal in its own right. It’s a crowd pleaser! And the leftovers will keep well for a day or two in the fridge, and can be packed for the office lunch the next day!
If you want to make it more substantial (which it already is, in our opinion), add some cooked prawns or shredded chicken to the creamy pesto pasta salad!
Any! But note that shapes with lots of nooks and crannies (like farfalle, fusilli or conchiglie) will attach more pesto to them, so each bite will be even more delicious 🙂 We like penne or farfalle pasta.
Yes, make this pasta up to 2 days ahead, but only add the spinach and basil before serving. Yes, make this easy recipe up to 2 days ahead and store it in an airtight container, but only add the spinach and basil before serving for best results, but only add the spinach and basil before serving.
Other Summer Salad Ideas
Is there anything better than a lovely summer salad enjoyed for lunch on a hot day? We think not! Some of our favourite hot-season salads include:
- Grilled Chicken and Peach Salad
- Classic Creamy Tuna Pasta Salad
- Paneer Salad With Mango Chutney Dressing
- Summery Watercress, Cucumber & Strawberry Salad
- Watermelon & Feta Salad with Prosciutto and Balsamic Reduction
Summer Pesto Pasta Salad
- 300 g pasta uncooked dried pasta weight
- 2 courgettes approx 400g, cut into 1cm cubes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 200 g cherry tomatoes halved
- 125 g mozzarella ball torn into bite-size pieces
- 100 g baby spinach
- 15 g basil leaves only
- 150 g pesto ideally freshly made
- 20 g pinenuts toasted
- Cook your pasta following the package instructions. Once cooked, run cold water through the pasta to cool it down and remove the starch (it will prevent the pasta from sticking together). Stir in a tablespoon of olive oil and set the pasta aside.
- In the meantime, preheat the oven to 220°C Fan. Line a large baking tray with baking parchment.
- In a large bowl mix the courgette cubes with a tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread the courgette on a baking parchment in a single layer and place in the oven for 15 minutes. Once cooked leave the courgette cubes to cool down slightly.
- Place the pasta, courgette, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil leaves, and pesto in a large bowl, and gently mix until all the pasta and vegetables are coated in pesto.
- Scatter the spinach on the bottom of a serving bowl or individual bowls, then top it with summer pesto pasta salad and scatter the toasted pinenuts on top!