This easy Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad with Peas and Sun-Dried Tomatoes is ideal for picnics and potlucks, barbecues and birthday parties. A simple dressing of pesto, mayonnaise, and lemon juice cloaks this family-favorite pasta salad. Sweet and chewy sun-dried tomatoes, and vibrant green peas round out this versatile side dish.
There’s a time and a place for pasta salad, and that is any time and anywhere. Summer is perhaps the most ideal season for this creamy pesto pasta salad. Fresh basil is plentiful in backyard planters, and farmers’ markets.
You can easily make this salad with homemade pesto or store-bought. If you decide to make your own, use any variety of basil you like. I often use Armenian basil, which is a more purple-and-green variety than traditional basil.
I make tons of nutless pesto (it’s lower in fat and cheaper this way) and then freeze it (without cheese) in ice cube trays. Then I simply defrost, mix in some Parmesan and I’m ready to go. This way you can have homemade fresh pesto any time of year!
Sweet peas and sun-dried tomatoes are great additions to this less-traditional spin on pasta salad. Not only do they both add a burst of color, but they are a perfect pair flavor-wise. This recipe is so simple to make with ingredients you may already have on hand (especially easy if you freeze pesto like I do!).
How to make pesto pasta salad
Pasta salad can have a reputation for being pretty boring. A lot of times it’s either drowned in mayonnaise or bottled Italian dressing (or maybe both). Either way, it needs a makeover. I start by using gemelli pasta, which is a short, chewy, twisted pasta shape. It’s a bit less traditional, but it’s a great choice for pasta salad!
Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until almost al dente. In the last minute of cooking, add your peas and blanch for just a minute until heated through but still bright green. Drain the pasta and peas in a colander, and run cold water over them to stop the cooking process, and cool them down.
Mix equal parts pesto and mayonnaise to make the dressing. Add just a bit of lemon juice to brighten up the flavor. The mayonnaise makes the pasta salad glossy and creamy. Using light mayonnaise works just fine for me. Saving a few calories never hurts.
Transfer the drained pasta and peas to a mixing bowl, and add the creamy pesto dressing and sliced sun-dried tomatoes. Toss to combine. This pasta salad is best the day it’s made. After a while it will begin to absorb the dressing, but is still delicious.
Make-ahead instructions & variations
To prepare this recipe in advance, make all the components but don’t mix the dressing in with the pasta, peas, and sun-dried tomatoes. Store it in a separate container and stir it all together before serving. This will yield the perfect texture for your creamy pesto pasta salad!
If you’d like, add cubed cooked chicken breast to add some protein. Leftover grilled or roasted chicken would be ideal to save time. If you add a lot of chicken, you may want to slightly increase the quantities for the dressing, just to make sure it’s enough to coat the additional ingredients.
Other recipes you may like
- Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad
- Armenian Grilled Vegetable Salad
- Spanish Potato Salad
- Lola Rosa Salad
- The Original Hollywood Brown Derby Cobb Salad
- Curried Tomato Salad
- Caesar Salad Le Cirque
- Honey Apple Cider Vinaigrette
- Tomato Bulgur Pilaf
What are your favorite side dishes for parties like potlucks and barbecues? Do you enjoy eating pasta salad at picnics? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to rate this recipe if you’ve tried it! Thank you.
Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad with Peas and Sun-dried Tomatoes
- 1/2 cup basil pesto (store-bought or homemade)
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound short pasta such as gemelli, rotini, or farfalle
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
- 18 sun-dried tomatoes sliced
- To make the dressing, stir together the pesto, mayonnaise, and lemon juice. If your pesto is homemade, it should already be well-seasoned, but if not, adjust the seasoning as necessary. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until a minute shy of al dente. Add the peas and blanch them during the final minute of cooking, just until the peas are heated through, but still bright green. Drain the pasta and peas in a colander. Run cold water over the colander to shock the cooking process and cool the pasta and peas.
- Add the drained pasta and peas to a large mixing bowl and add the dressing and sun-dried tomatoes. Mix until well combined. The pasta salad is best the day it is made, before it begins to absorb the dressing, although it’s still tasty the next day.