This creamy pesto pasta salad is an easy and healthy version of your favorite side dish. It’s chock full of roasted summer vegetables for a subtle sweetness.
Separately those words make sense.
But together I’ve got the mental image of a heaping bowl of spaghetti and tomato sauce mixed with hunks of iceberg lettuce.
I guess the good news is that’s not actually what pasta salad is. And it’s certainly nowhere near what’s in this pesto pasta salad recipe.
I do have a not-so-secret secret though…I don’t like pasta salad.
Maybe it’s the coldness.
Or the gloopy sound it makes when you toss it around with a spoon.
It’s tough to say but it’s probably the same reason I don’t typically like potato salad either.
My hubby Tim, on the other hand, is the first one in line at a BBQ when the potato salad makes an appearance. I much prefer a warm version, like my Rosemary Roasted Potato Salad.
So if you’re weird about temps and textures like me, this creamy pesto pasta salad has all the best things about pasta and summer salads. Just tasty BFF’s happily unified in a warm bowl. Win, win.
Choosing and cooking your pasta
Ok so at the beginning of this post I said this is a healthier version of your favorite pasta salad.
So how do you make pasta less calorie dense?
Swap it for an alternative pasta! If you’re new to eating non-traditional pasta varieties, I always say you should start with brown rice pasta.
The taste and texture of brown rice pasta is most similar to standard pasta but the only ingredient in it is brown rice : )
There are all types of alternative pastas made from plants and grains like black bean pasta, chickpea pasta, quinoa pasta. I’ve even seen corn pasta at Whole Foods!
Try a few different types and see what you like the most.
The most important thing about the pasta you choose for this creamy pesto pasta salad is the style/shape. You want to choose a noodle that has a lot of nooks and crannies for this cashew arugula pesto to soak into.
Look for these pasta types for your pesto pasta salad:
- Good ol’ fashioned elbow macaroni
In addition to switching up your pasta, this pesto pasta salad gets an extra bright and healthy boost from roasted tomatoes and asparagus. YUM!
Making the Cashew Arugula Pesto
For this simple side dish recipe, I make my own cashew arugula pesto (recipe included below!) but if you want this to be made even quicker you can toss this pasta salad in your favorite store-bought pesto.
Some benefits of making this pesto from scratch though are:
- It’s dairy-free and vegan
- Maintains the bright green color better
- You can control the levels of salt and oil
Get creative, see what you like and most importantly happy eating! Yay for creamy pesto pasta salad!
- 3 cups brown rice pasta, fusilli or bowtie
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, multicolor
- 1 bunch asparagus
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- pinch black pepper
- pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 1/2 cups pesto
- 1/4 cup greek yogurt I use dairy free coconut milk yogurt, the Coyo brand
Cashew Arugula Pesto
- 2 1/2 cups arugula
- 1 cup parsley or basil Basil is more traditional for pesto but I like the flavor of the parsley with the arugula
- 2 small garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 1/2 tbs olive oil
- 2/3 cup raw cashews
- 1/2 lemon, juice only
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
Cashew Arugula Pesto
- Add all of the pesto ingredients to a blender or food processor. Puree for 1-3 minutes (depending on the power of your machine) until the cashew bits are essentially smooth.
Pesto Pasta Salad
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatoes and asparagus on a parchment lined sheetpan. Toss with 1 tsp olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt, oregano, pinch of red pepper flakes and pinch of black pepper. Spread the veggies out across the cookie sheet into one even layer. Bake about 15 minutes until slightly golden.
- Boil the pasta according to the package instructions and be sure to salt the boiling water with at least 2 tbs of salt. When th pasta is cooked, strain it and rinse under cold water;
this stops the cooking process and keeps the pasta from getting mushy. Tip: If you go with brown rice pasta add 1 tbs of olive oil to the water and stir the pasta every 2-3 minutes so that it doesn't stick together.
- In a large bowl add the slightly warm pasta, pesto, yogurt, roasted vegetables, 1/4 tsp salt and a pinch of black pepper. Stir until everything is evenly combined. Enjoy!
Did you try this recipe? I’d love to see how it turned out! Snap a picture and tag @brightrootskitchen or use #brightrootskitchen on Insta.