Today’s pesto pasta salad recipe is going to show you how to make a delicious, herby, savory Italian sauce. All it needs is a few simple ingredients and a bit of effort.
Is Pesto Pasta Salad Healthy?
Traditional pesto contains mostly olive oil, roasted nuts, salt, and parmesan cheese. This can sometimes lead to it being high in saturated fat and sodium.
We follow our healthy eating guidelines and minimize the saturated fat and sodium content as much as possible. We want to make this recipe as healthy as we could while maintaining its delicious flavors.
This recipe ends up having about 3g of saturated fat and 311mg of sodium. With this amount of fat and sodium, the salad is well-seasoned without being too fatty or too salty.
In addition, our salad also contains basil, spinach, garlic, cherry tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers. These fresh fruits and vegetables can give you lots of essential nutrients such as vitamin C, K, B9, and calcium.
These micronutrients take important roles in maintaining healthy brain functions, immune system, metabolism, etc.
There are 241 calories in one serving of our pesto pasta salad recipe.
For a side dish, you want it to contain no more than 250 calories. Together with a 500-calorie main dish, they will make a 750-calorie meal.
This should be enough calories for an average adult to function properly without feeling fatigued.
Our salad contains about 20g of total carbohydrates, including only 1.7g of sugar. Most of these carbs come from the pasta and can make you feel full for a long time.
If you love similar healthy salad recipes, check out our quick and easy macaroni salad recipe. These carby recipes are reminders that you don’t need to eliminate carbs from your diet to stay healthy.
Ingredients for Pesto Pasta Salad
Here are the ingredients we used in our pesto pasta salad recipe:
For the pesto:
- Nuts: cashew.
- Herbs and vegetables: fresh spinach and basil.
- Fat: olive oil.
- Seasonings: salt, minced garlic, and grated parmesan cheese.
For the salad:
- Pasta: rotini.
- Main protein: shrimp.
- Vegetables: onions, cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers, and canned black olives.
Why Cherry Tomatoes?
Unlike regular tomatoes, cherry tomatoes are slightly sweet, tart, and tangy. They also contain less juice than regular tomatoes and won’t make the salad wet and soggy.
Another reason why we love cherry tomatoes is that they are the perfect bite size for salads. All you have to do is cut them in half and toss them in the salad.
Other Types of Seafood for Pesto Pasta Salad
Here are a few seafood ideas to customize this pesto pasta salad recipe to your liking:
Seared shrimp is simple to make and it pairs perfectly with pesto sauce.
You can use either fresh or frozen shrimp. All you have to do is peel and devein the shrimp and it’s ready to go into the pan.
Seasonings can be as little as salt and black pepper. Or you can add other spices such as cayenne, paprika, thyme, oregano, garlic and/or onion powder.
If you’re not a fan of that unpleasant fishy seafood taste, you’ll love salmon. This type of fish has an interesting flavor that is both rich and refreshing, and pairs well with pesto.
Salmon also doesn’t require much preparation. All you need to do is pan-sear the salmon fillet and season lightly with salt and pepper.
There are two ways to serve salmon and pesto salad:
- Break it down and toss it in the salad.
- Brush the fillet with pesto and serve it whole on top of the salad.
3. Canned Crab or Tuna
If you don’t have the time to prepare meat, shrimp, or fish, canned crab and tuna is the best pick.
The prepping is simple: drain the preserving oil/water in the can and transfer the meat to a bowl. At this point, you can break it down with a fork into small flakes or leave it big chunks.
Finally, mix the meat in with your pesto pasta salad and voilà— an easy, no-cook side dish!
What Else Goes Well with Pesto Pasta Salad?
Boneless skinless chicken breasts are the best pick for any salad.
It requires hardly any effort and seasonings to cook to perfection. Simply season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and sear with a little olive oil.
Allow the chicken to rest for a few minutes before cutting into it. You can cut it into cubes and mix it in, or slice and put it on top of the salad.
Whether your main protein is chicken, shrimp, or tuna, avocado can be a great addition to your pesto salad. Just remember to be extra gentle when you mix the avocado in the salad or it’ll become mushy.
You can even be creative and make avocado pesto dressing for the salad as well. Since the fruit is creamy and rich, it can replace oil in the pesto.
Simply blend avocado with nuts, basils, parmesan cheese, and a bit of lemon juice. You’ll have a creamy, flavorful, vibrant green pesto dressing for your salad.
3. Feta Cheese
Rich, creamy, savory, and tangy— feta cheese always adds a wonderful touch to any salad.
Keep in mind that our recipe is well-seasoned and contains the right amount of sodium. If you want to add feta cheese, leave out the salt and/or reduce parmesan cheese.
4. Vegetables: Broccoli/Asparagus/Peas/Cucumber/Arugula
These vegetables are crunchy, crispy, and can intensify the texture of your salad.
Broccoli and asparagus need cooking before added to the salad. You only need to cut them into bite-sized pieces and steam for 5 minutes.
With frozen peas, you want to blanch them for 1 minute in boiling water and rinse under running water. This will stop them from cooking further and lose their texture.
Cucumber and arugula require the least preparation. Simply cut them and toss them in the salad.
How to Make Pesto Pasta Salad
Step 1: Roast the cashew nuts.
Step 2: Blanch the spinach.
Step 3: Make pesto sauce.
Step 4: Cook the pasta.
Step 5: Season and sear the shrimp.
Step 6: Mix the salad.
Step 7: Serve.
This is a brief summary of our pesto pasta salad, just to give you an idea of the cooking process. Detailed instructions and full measurements are available below.
How to Make Pesto Sauce
To make pesto sauce, you’ll need:
- Roasted cashew nuts.
- Spinach (for color.)
- Fresh basil leaves.
- Olive oil (extra virgin, if available.)
- Raw garlic.
- Grated parmesan cheese.
- And salt.
All you need to do is put all of these ingredients in a food processor and blend. You shouldn’t blend the sauce completely smooth— it should be fairly thick and slightly grainy.
How Long Does Pesto Pasta Salad Last?
Our pesto pasta salad can last up to 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator. If you’ve mixed the salad, put it in an airtight container and it’ll stay good for 3 days.
If you haven’t mixed the salad, keep the pasta, sauce, vegetables, olives, and shrimp in separate containers. They’ll last for 5 days in the fridge.
The purpose of keeping the ingredients in different containers is because they reheat at different rates in the microwave. For example, pasta takes longer to reheat than the sauce, and the veggies may not need reheating at all.
Can You Freeze Pesto Pasta Salad?
Yes, you can if you want to. However, we don’t recommend freezing our pesto pasta salad as the flavors won’t be as good.
Cooked pasta and shrimp have a delicate texture. Once you freeze and defrost them, you’ll risk ruining this delicate texture and lowering the food’s quality.
Furthermore, pasta and shrimp don’t take much time to cook. It would be best to make them fresh every time you eat them.
Pesto sauce, on the contrary, freezes and defrosts well without losing its flavor. You can make a big batch and keep it in the freezer.
You can pour the sauce in an ice tray, freeze, and transfer the ice cubes to a ziploc bag. If you don’t have an ice tray, you can simply put the sauce in an airtight container.
Pesto sauce can last up to 3 months in the freezer without losing its quality.
Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe
- 0.4 oz cashew nuts raw
- 0.4 oz spinach fresh, leaves only
- 0.7 oz fresh basil
- 2 1/2 tbsp olive oil divided
- 1/4 tsp salt divided
- 2 tsp garlic divided, minced
- 3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese divided
- 3 oz dry rotini pasta
- 3.5 oz raw shrimp peeled and deveined
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/4 tsp thyme fresh
- 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 0.5 oz onions diced
- 2 oz cherry tomatoes cut in half
- 1.2 oz red bell peppers diced
- 1.2 oz black olives pitted, sliced
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- Roast the cashew nuts: in a dry skillet, add cashews and cook on medium heat for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Blanch the spinach: bring a pot of water to a boil. Add spinach and blanch for 1 minute. Remove spinach from the pot. Rinse under running water until no longer hot. Drain and squeeze well to extract all the water out. Set aside.
- Make pesto sauce: in the bowl of a food processor, combine spinach, basil, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/8 tsp salt, 1 tsp garlic, 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese, and cashew nuts. Blend until smooth. Set aside.
- Cook the pasta: bring a pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add the pasta and cook according to packet instructions (ours took 8 minutes.) Drain and set aside.
- Season and sear the shrimp: in a skillet, heat 1/2 tbsp olive oil and unsalted butter over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp, garlic powder, black pepper, paprika, thyme, 1/8 tsp salt, and onion. Sear the shrimp for 2 minutes per side. Once the shrimp turn pink around the edges, flip, add 1 tsp minced garlic, and cook for 1 more minute. Turn off the heat and transfer to a plate once cooked through.
- Mix the salad: in a large mixing bowl, combine the shrimp, pasta, cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, canned olives, and pesto sauce. Mix well to coat the sauce evenly.
- Serve: transfer the salad to a serving platter. Sprinkle the remaining 1 tbsp grated parmesan cheese on top and serve.
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