This Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad recipe is the perfect quick and easy summer side dish. Filled with bite-sized pasta, creamy pesto dressing, tomatoes, spinach and mozzarella cheese, it tastes great served with grilled chicken, burgers, kabobs and more.
Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad
Just about any time, there is a summer BBQ, this Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad makes an appearance. It’s one of those simple side dishes that goes with absolutely anything and everyone loves it. The dressing is made with pesto, mayo, buttermilk, and ranch dressing seasoning, so it’s super creamy and flavorful.
This delicious recipe is very versatile, so you can mix it up depending on what you’ve got in the fridge and what sounds good to you. You can even toss on a little grilled chicken or steak; voila, you’ve turned this cold pesto pasta salad into a full meal.
Feel free to use store-bought pesto, or go ahead and try our easy basil and pine nut Homemade Pesto recipe.
Ingredients in Pesto Pasta Salad
- Pasta - you can use any dried pasta you’d like. I find bowtie pasta, or farfalle, to be really cute in this recipe. I have also used penne, fusilli, rotini, mostaccioli and macaroni.
- Mayonnaise - full fat, regular mayo is best, but you could definitely substitute a low fat mayo if you are looking to cut some calories.
- Buttermilk - this adds a great tangy flavor and extra creaminess. If you don’t have any buttermilk on hand, you can easily make your own simply by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 1 cup of milk. Mix, then let it sit for about 10 minutes and voila!
- Ranch Dressing Seasoning - you can find the dried seasoning mix in the salad dressing aisle at the grocery store.
- Pesto - use your favorite brand of store bought pesto, or make your own Homemade Fresh Basil Pesto.
- Mozzarella Cheese - most often, I cut mozzarella cheese sticks into small bite-sized pieces. You could also cut pieces from a brick of cheese, use small fresh mozzarella balls or even use shredded cheese.
- Cherry Tomatoes - you can use any color or type of cherry tomatoes. I usually cut them in half so that they are easier to eat.
- Spinach - baby spinach from the bag works great, or you could use large leaf spinach.
- Salt and Pepper - finish seasoning the salad with salt and pepper to taste.
How to Make This Cold Pesto Pasta Salad
- Cook the pasta. Cook the pasta until al dente, according to package directions, then run cold water over the cooked pasta to cool.
- Add the veggies and cheese. Place pasta in a large mixing bowl, then add the cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and spinach.
- Make the creamy pesto dressing. In a blender, combine the mayonnaise, buttermilk, and ranch dressing mix. Pulse until the ingredients are mixed and creamy, then add the pesto and mix again.
- Mix. Pour the creamy ranch pesto dressing over the pasta and vegetables and mix until everything is evenly coated. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
- Refrigerate. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Enjoy!
- Veggies. Add red peppers, olives, cucumbers, celery, sliced zucchini, or pickled pepperoncini.
- Meat. If you want to turn this into a complete meal, try adding grilled chicken, grilled steak or cubed salami.
- Cheese. You can feel free to switch up the cheese and add something like pepper jack for a little extra zing.
Frequently Asked Questions
First of all, you want to be sure and use dry pasta when making pasta salad. Fresh pasta doesn’t hold up nearly as well. Regarding the best shape for pasta salad, you want to choose something smaller with little nooks to hold the creamy pesto sauce. I recommend using farfalle, rotini, macaroni, fusilli or penne.
If you want to make Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad ahead of time, you can do a couple of things. First, you could cook the pasta in advance, mix it with a dash of olive oil so it doesn’t stick, and store it in the fridge for up to 2 days. Or, if you want to make and dress the entire salad the day before, we just suggest holding off on adding the spinach until just before eating so it doesn’t get too wilted.
If you overcook your pasta for pasta salad, it will become too mushy and end up breaking apart when you mix everything together. If you cook it al dente, it will be soft enough to eat but firm enough to hold up well in the salad.
- Refrigerator: store leftover pasta salad in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- Make-Ahead: you can make this salad up to 24 hours in advance, but we suggest leaving the spinach out and adding that last minute. You could also cook the pasta up to 2 days in advance, mix with a dash of olive oil and store it in the fridge.
Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad Recipe
- 16 oz Pasta cooked al dente
- ½ cup Mayonnaise
- ½ cup Buttermilk
- 1 ½ Tablespoons Ranch Dressing Seasoning Mix
- ¼ cup Pesto
- 1 cup Mozzerella Cheese cubed, pearls or shredded
- 1 ½ cups Cherry Tomatoes cut in half
- 2-3 large handfuls Spinach
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- Cook the pasta until al dente, according to package directions, then run cold water over the cooked pasta to cool. Transfer cooled pasta to a large mixing bowl.
- Add the cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and spinach to the bowl with the cooked pasta.
- In a blender, combine the mayonnaise, buttermilk and ranch dressing mix. Pulse until the ingredients are mixed and creamy, then add the pesto and mix again.
- Pour the creamy ranch pesto dressing over the pasta and vegetables and mix until everything is evenly coated. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve. Enjoy!
More of Our Favorite Salad Recipes
- Fall Harvest Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing
- Berry Salad
- Winter Fruit Salad
- Chicken Salad
- Grilled Chicken BLT Salad
- Cucumber Avocado Salad
- Warm Potato Salad
- More Salad Recipes
- More Side Dish Recipes
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Our Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad recipe is made with your favorite pasta noodles, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and spinach all mixed in a creamy pesto ranch dressing. It's perfect for summer BBQs or any family gatherings.