This salad is known in our house as Ryan’s last meal. Of all the dishes I make, he asks for this pasta salad the most. It’s his comfort food and packs really well for his long road trips. My mom was the first person that made this salad for me and for the past 10 years I’ve been testing new ingredients and bringing as my go-to dish to potlucks and parties. The combination of bright pesto flavors with al dente whole wheat pasta and lots of veggies is a great dish for anytime of the year.
The basics you need for this recipe are good quality pesto and some kind of short noodle (make it whole wheat). In my opinion you could stop there and have a great dish. It could be served warm, room temp or right from the fridge and taste great. I find this salad always tastes better after a day in the fridge. The pesto stays bright and soaks in to the pasta beautifully. Here is a list of items I most frequently add:
- Whole wheat noodles (bowtie, penne, rotini etc – don’t overcook them)
- Pesto (I either make or get Costco’s)
- Chicken (I usually get a rotisserie chicken)
- Sliced grape tomatoes
- Shredded cheese or Feta (think aged and salty like Romano, Parmesan)
- Green peas (you can throw them in with the pasta for last minute of cooking time)
- Sliced olives (not the gross diced ones I accidentally bought for this batch)
- Diced green onions
- Diced bell pepper
- Marinated mushrooms
- Artichoke hearts
- Sun dried tomatoes
- Red pepper flakes
I usually mix all the ingredients except the pasta together first. I like making sure that all the goodies are covered in pesto before adding pasta to the mix. If your pesto is a little thick you can use a little of the pasta water or olive oil to thin it out. If you find the pasta has dried up a bit the next day, just add a bit of olive oil and mix it together.
What else would you add? Send me your thoughts and I’ll add them to the list!