This cold pesto pasta salad adds crunchy bites of bell pepper and sweet peas to make a quick and easy weeknight or potluck salad.
This recipe is brought to you by DeLallo Foods
I call this the 5-P’s pasta salad: Pasta, pesto, peppers, peas, and Parmesan. It’s an ode to one of my favorite pasta salads of yore, from our beach-bound days while living in Santa Monica, CA where every Angeleno’s culinary rite of passage is to take a number and stand in line at Bay Cities Italian Deli for one of their famous sandwiches. You haven’t really lived in LA until you’ve tried their Godmother Italian hoagie.
Because I’ve always been one who favors the side dishes over the main meal, even those storied sandwiches couldn’t pull my eyes away from the deli case set off to the side where bowls of freshly made deli salads tempted customers. Inevitably, a container of their pesto pasta salad was always added to our burgeoning bag.
This is my version of Bay Cities pesto pasta salad. I figured out how to make it at home, and for me, this salad is one of the top three pasta salads I make on regular rotation. It is supremely easy to make thanks to a short, but long-lasting ingredient list that’s pretty much always on hand. But more importantly, it’s simply delish.
What’s in Pesto Pasta Salad
My ideal pasta salads are the ones that are quick to make but full of flavor. In this pasta salad, most of that flavor comes from one of my pantry staple ingredients always on hand, DeLallo’s Simply Pesto Sauce. Made with handpicked Ligurian basil blended with olive oil, crunchy pine nuts, cashews, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano, the pesto sauce gives this pasta salad all of the fresh, herb and garlic flavor one expects from traditional pesto but with the convenience of coming from a jar.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Short semolina pasta noodles, such as DeLallo’s penne, fusilli, spiralli or shellbows
- Pesto of the traditional basil variety
- Bell peppers, use green or a combination of red, green, orange or yellow
- Parmesan cheese
- DeLallo extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
How to Make Pesto Pasta Salad
Use shorter pasta noodles. I like penne, fusilli, orecchiette, spiralli and the like for this type of pasta salad. Shorter noodles with holes, ridges, and crevices give the pesto area to cling to and places to hide for flavor in every bite.
Cook the pasta al denté. Nobody ever liked a mushy pasta salad. Cook the pasta so it is still firm or al denté, about 1-2 minutes shy of the cooking time on the package.
TIP: Thaw the frozen peas with the cooked pasta. When the pasta is done cooking, toss the frozen peas into the hot water with the pasta to quickly thaw in under a minute. Drain them both in a colander with a light rinse of water to cool the noodles and get rid of the extra starch that comes from cooking.
Bell Peppers for Color and Crunch
Dice the bell peppers in uniform bites. Texture is a big part of any salad, even pasta salads. This one gets its crunch from bite-size bits of bell peppers.
TIP: How to cut bell peppers. Set the pepper on its bottom stem. Starting at the top and to the side of the stem, slice down one side of the pepper to create a slab leaving the core with the seeds intact. Repeat with the remaining 3 sides of the pepper, then trim off the bottom and discard the cored stem and seeds.
Use bell peppers of any color or choose just one. The original version of this salad calls for green bell pepper, but I add red bell pepper for its sweetness and color. Feel free to use one, or both, or more.
Basil Pesto for Pasta Salad
Always have a jar of pesto on hand. I make a killer homemade basil pesto, but when I’m feeling pinched for time or ambition, a jar of DeLallo’s authentic Italian basil pesto in my cupboard makes this pasta salad even easier to make.
Thin the pesto sauce with olive oil before adding to the pasta. I love my sauce, so I want there to be plenty of it. For a silky feel, loosen the pesto by stirring in ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil before adding it to the pasta.
Don’t be chintzy with the pesto. As the pasta sits, the pesto absorbs into the noodles which can make a dry pasta salad if you don’t add enough pesto sauce.
Add the final seasonings. To finish up, season the salad with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, and sprinkles of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Don’t go too heavy with the Parmesan as it can dry out the salad if it absorbs the pesto sauce.
How Long Does Pesto Pasta Salad Last
The pasta salad can be made a day ahead of serving and will last in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
What to Add to Pesto Pasta Salad
This salad’s simplicity makes it the perfect blank slate for adding more ingredients.
Here are a few ideas:
- Diced chicken
- Canned tuna
- Garbanzo beans
- Fresh mozzarella balls
- Sun-dried tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
- Nuts such as almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts
What to Serve with Pesto Pasta Salad
- Italian Chicken Wrap
- Grilled Shrimp With Sweet Or Spicy Mustard Dipping Sauce
- Grilled Greek Chicken Kebabs
- 10-Minute Maple-Crusted Salmon
- Grilled Skirt Steak With Chimichurri
- Grilled Halibut with Tomato Avocado Salsa
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a star rating below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
Pesto Pasta Salad with Bell Peppers and Peas
- 1 pound DeLallo short pasta noodle such as penne, sprialli, or fusilli
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 1 red bell pepper , cored and diced
- 1 green bell pepper , cored and diced
- 1 6.35 oz jar DeLallo traditional basil pesto sauce
- ¼ cup DeLallo extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Cook the pasta in salted water according to package directions minus 2 minutes. Before draining, add the frozen peas to the hot water for 1 minute. Dump the pasta and peas into a colander, rinse lightly with cool water, and set aside to cool.
- Add the pasta and peas to a large bowl with the bell peppers. In a small bowl, mix the basil pesto sauce and olive oil to combine. Pour over the pasta and season with the kosher salt and black pepper. Toss to coat, adding more olive oil if the sauce is too thick. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.
More Pasta Salads Ideas
- Caprese Pasta Salad with Garlic Marinated Tomatoes
- BLT Pasta Salad with Avocado
- Creamy Avocado Pesto Pasta Salad with Roasted Vegetables
- Creamy Tuscan Pasta Salad
- Easy Italian Spaghetti Pasta Salad
We send good emails. Subscribe to FoodieCrush and have each post plus exclusive content only for our subscribers delivered straight to your e-mail box.
This recipe is sponsored by DeLallo Foods. As always, thank you for reading and supporting companies I partner with, which allows me to create more unique content and recipes for you. There may be affiliate links in this post of which I receive a small commission. All opinions are always my own.