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This Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad is made with fresh ingredients bursting with the flavor of pesto for a full meal or a hearty side dish for any BBQ!
Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad is a mainstay at our house! Made fresh with a homemade pesto sauce tossed with tomatoes, mozzarella and chicken that comes together in no time! The pesto sauce packs a flavor punch with the fresh herbs, tangy parmesan cheese, and fresh chopped garlic. Olive oil acts as a binder and also helps coat the pasta evenly.
What is Pesto?
- Pesto is a Genovese sauce made with basil, nuts, parmesan, olive oil, and garlic. The ingredients are blended together in a food processor to create the sauce.
- You can either blend finely or pulse the processor to get more of a coarse ground pesto.
- Traditional pesto is made with fresh basil but other herbs such as cilantro or parsley may be added or substituted
- Pine nuts are traditionally used, but walnuts, cashews or even sunflower seeds can be substituted.
- You do not cook pesto, but it can be added to cooked tomato or cream sauces.
- Pesto can be made in big batches when basil is plentiful and frozen for quick use at a later date.
How to Make Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
This recipe starts with freshly made pesto sauce tossed with cooked pasta. To make it a complete meal we add fresh tomatoes, Mozzarella cheese and tender chunks of chicken. It’s great for a light summer dinner or lunch, or as a hearty side dish for potlucks and picnics.
- Cook the pasta. Boil water and cook according to package instructions. Then rinse the cooked pasta with cold water. Normally you don’t want to rinse pasta but this removes the starches and keeps the pasta from sticking together, as well as stopping the cooking process. You’ll save about ¼ cup of the pasta water for thinning the pesto sauce.
- Make the Pesto. Using a food processor, pulse walnuts, garlic, fresh basil, olive oil and parmesan cheese together. If you have nut allergies, you can use my nut free pesto recipe instead, or you can use a jarred variety to save on time.
- Pesto Pasta Salad Assembly. Add the pesto to the pasta and combine, making sure to coat evenly. Add the remaining ingredients and garnish with fresh strips of basil and freshly grated parmesan cheese for added flavor and color.
Top Tips and FAQs
- Mix pesto and pasta together first, before adding other ingredients to ensure that the pesto is evenly distributed. If it’s too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water or a little extra olive oil.
- Cut all tomatoes, mozzarella and chicken into uniform bite-sized pieces.
- For added flavor, add some thinly sliced strips of fresh basil on top.
- Make ahead of time and store in the fridge until ready to serve. Serve Pesto Pasta Salad chilled or at room temperature.
- Do not freeze. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. If the pesto pasta salad appears dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and toss.
More Summer Cookout Recipes
Complete your picnic or backyard barbecue menu with these other family favorites!
- Beer Can Chicken
- Macaroni Salad
- Grilled Chicken Kabobs
- Blackberry Lemonade
- Jalapeno Popper Deviled Eggs
- Creamy Grape Salad with Walnuts
- Gouda Ham and Potato Casserole
- Mayo Free Caesar Potato Salad
- 31 Simple Summer Dinners
- 31 Recipes for Grilling
Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 5-10 garlic cloves peeled
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves packed, stems removed
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan Cheese
- 1/4 cup Olive Oil or more as needed
- 1 pound pasta any bite sized pasta will work
- 8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast shredded (ok to sub thighs)
- 1 cup grape tomatoes cut in half
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese cubed to bite sized pieces
- 4 basil leaves sliced thinly to strips (garnish)
- 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese for garnish
- In a large pot bring water to boil to cook the pasta. Cook to al dente, then drain pasta saving ¼ cup of the water for later. Rinse with cold water to remove starch and stop the cooking process.
- Meanwhile, In a food processor, pulse walnuts and garlic to small bits. Then add basil leaves and pulse until well blended. Start with ¼ cup of olive oil and slowly add to the basil mixture, with the food processor on low speed. Add the grated parmesan cheese and pulse until combined evenly. If mixture seems to dry, add additional olive oil until it looks easily spreadable.
- Place pasta back in pot, then add pesto mix and stir to coat evenly. If the pesto isn't covering evenly, add in reserved pasta water a spoonful at a time until it looks even. If you forgot the pasta water, add a little bit of olive oil.
- Toss in shredded chicken, halved tomatoes, cubed mozzarella and stir until well combined. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.
- Sprinkle strips of basil and fresh parmesan over the top for garnish if desired just before serving.
- Freezing is not recommended.
- Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. If the pesto pasta salad appears dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and toss.
- For walnut allergies, use our Nut Free Pesto or a jarred sauce that you enjoy.