Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta Salad

This post has been sponsored by Simply Beverages®. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Perfect for picnics, parties, and potlucks, this Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta Salad is big on flavor. Tossed with a homemade pesto sauce made from basil and sunflower seeds, every swirled piece of pasta is coated with the unmistakable flavor of basil. We added brightly sweet tomatoes and asparagus for even more fresh flavor.

Pesto Pasta Salad


Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta Salad

If you are a fan of basil, you are going to love this flavorful Pesto Pasta Salad. Seriously addictive for pasta lovers, too. Paired with Simply Lemonade®, this is the perfect summer dish.

The main flavor base for this pasta side dish is, of course, a homemade pesto. Making your own pesto sauce is one of the easiest things ever.


Pesto Pasta Salad

So exactly What is Pesto?

Pesto is a traditional Italian sauce made by using a mortar and pestle to crush the ingredients together. Most pesto recipes start with a base of garlic, pine nuts, fresh basil leaves, grated hard cheese and coarse salt. Olive oil is added and the entire mixture is blended to the desired consistency.

Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it?

Making homemade pesto is so easy. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, no worries. You can achieve a similar consistency with a food processor. Just toss the ingredients in, whizz until the mixture is the consistency of a paste, and drizzle in olive oil. Granted, I think that the mortar and pestle technique gives a deeper flavor, as the oils of the garlic and basil and nuts are released as they are pressed and blended.

The fragrant basil and garlic come together to create such a simple and delicious combination that is excellent with pasta, vegetables, and more.


Fresh basil, garlic and parmesan in a food processor

Can I switch up the pesto ingredients?

Absolutely. One very common switch is regarding the pine nuts. Some people even leave the nuts out altogether, which is more like a pistou versus a pesto. But..that’s just geography and taste.

You can swap the pine nuts out for walnuts, almonds, cashews, even pecans. In our case, we swapped them out for roasted sunflower seeds. Why? They are less expensive than pine nuts, and I love the flavor of sunflower seeds. No other reason than just experimenting in the kitchen.

You can use different herbs with basil, or even greens such as arugula.

I like to add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to my pesto sauce to brighten the flavors. I also like black pepper added in.


fresh asparagus blanched and shocked in an ice bath

How to make Pesto Pasta Salad:

  1. Make the pesto by combining garlic, nuts or seeds, fresh basil, and salt in a food processor. Blend until a paste, then drizzle in olive oil and blend to desired consistency. Set aside
  2. Prepare your favorite spiral pasta to package directions for al dente. Rinse with cold water and drain.
  3. Blanch asparagus and shock in ice water. Chop into bite-sized pieces. (See directions on how to blanch asparagus at the bottom of this post.)
  4. Slice tomatoes in half.
  5. In a large bowl, toss together the prepared pasta and vegetables with the homemade pesto sauce.
  6. Top with a fresh squeeze of lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, and a generous addition of cheese before serving.


A close up shot of a bowl of Pesto Pasta Salad


I especially love this Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta Salad for parties, potlucks and picnics. We made this recipe for a fun backyard picnic with the family.

This pesto salad is perfect for picnics. Since there is no mayo in the salad, it doesn’t have to be kept chilled. (For general food safety purposes, you will want to refrigerate the pasta salad after long periods of time.)

The olive oil base of the pesto allows it to be served at room temperature if needed. Plus, this recipe makes enough pasta salad for a large family. They are going to love this fun twist. But one cannot picnic on pasta salad alone. You’ve gotta have drinks, sammies, and snacks.To get all of our picnic items, we went to our local Sam’s Club. I had to have my fave, Simply Lemonade®. Seriously, you can’t have a real picnic without sweet and refreshing lemonade, can you?


Grab all of your picnic faves from Sam's Club, including Simply Lemonade and Cheez Its.


The kids? They had to have their Cheez-It Duoz® snacks. (My husband is crazy about the Cheez-It Duoz® snacks, too.) I grabbed this 30 pack to take advantage of Sam’s Club savings and plan on using these snack packs for lunches and after-school munchies. And more picnics and summer adventures.


A picnic basket with Simply Lemonade


Chilled tart Simply Lemonade® served over ice is the perfect drink to serve with our Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta Salad. Actually, it is a great drink to serve with just about anything, now that I think of it.

Take advantage of your Sam’s Club savings and pick up plenty of Simply Lemonade® and Cheez-It® snacks for all of your summer gatherings, picnics and parties. I love Sam’s Club for all of the great deals on my family’s favorite foods and drinks. (Plus they always seem to find great deals on outdoor gear like pool floats, games, and more.)Use Sam’s Club Scan and Go or In-Club Pick Up services to make your shopping experience even better. Find your Sam’s Club here.


Pesto Pasta Salad


Look at how the homemade sunflower seed and basil pesto clings to the pasta and vegetables. So good! Can’t wait for you to try this one. I know all of you basil lovers are going to love it.


A picnic table with an ice cold glass of lemonade next to a plate of pesto pasta salad.


Every bite of this pesto pasta salad is loaded with the delicious pesto flavor, a slight crunch from the roasted sunflower kernels, and the fresh vegetables. Enjoy this delicious twist on a classic side dish.


A fork full of pasta salad.


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Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta Salad
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5 from 4 votes

Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta Salad

Every bite of this pesto pasta salad is loaded with homemade pesto sauce. Made with sunflower seeds, fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, this easy pesto pasta recipe will be a crowd pleaser. Tossed with grape tomatoes and asparagus.
Course Salad
Cuisine Italian
Keyword pesto pasta salad
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Servings 10
Calories 428kcal
Author Buy This Cook That


  • 4 cups basil leaves
  • 2/3 cup sunflower seeds or pine nuts
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese grated, fresh, divided
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 lemon juiced, divided
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt more or less to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper more or less to taste
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil plus additional for serving
  • 16 ounces spiral pasta fusili, cellentani, rotini, etc.
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes halved
  • 1 pound asparagus


  • In a food processor, combine the basil, seeds or nuts, 2/3 cup of the Parmesan cheese, garlic, HALF of the lemon juice, salt and pepper until it is a paste-like consistency. Scrape down the sides and pulse several times to ensure the mixture is well combined.
  • Drizzle in the olive oil slowly, pulsing and processing until the mixture is smooth and of desired consistency. Set aside.
  • Boil the pasta to directions for al dente. Rinse with cold water and drain well. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, prepare an ice bath of cold water with ice cubes. Set aside. 
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Break off the woody ends of the asparagus and discard. Add the asparagus to the boiling water. Cook for 3 minutes.
  • Transfer the asparagus to the water bath until cool. Drain and pat dry. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
  • In a large bowl, toss together the prepared pesto sauce, pasta, halved tomatoes and chopped asparagus. Combine well so that every piece of pasta is coated with the pesto sauce.
  • Before serving, top with the remaining lemon juice, the rest of the Parmesan cheese, and a drizzle or two of olive oil. Toss and serve.


The pasta an be made ahead of time and chilled before serving. 
Pasta can be served at room temperature. I like to let mine sit for at least 30 minutes, covered, at room temperature so the flavors and develop and soak into the pasta.


Serving: 1g | Calories: 428kcal | Carbohydrates: 41g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 6mg | Sodium: 400mg | Potassium: 422mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 1320IU | Vitamin C: 17.2mg | Calcium: 174mg | Iron: 2.8mg

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