Pesto Pasta Salad with Tomatoes & Mozzarella

Zesty homemade pesto, juicy tomatoes and creamy mozzarella all come together to make this tasty dish!

Pesto pasta salad sitting in a white bowl next to wooden sereving utensils and fresh cherry tomatoes

Pasta salads are always a go-to for our family during summer. And this tasty pesto pasta salad with tomatoes and mozzarella is a tried and true favorite! (Side note – what is it about pesto, tomatoes and mozzarella that just make your taste buds sing?! Because I swear if you put that combination on anything I’d proabably eat the entire thing… 😉 ) Anywhoo, if you’re looking for a super simple salad for entertaining or just want a delicious side dish for dinner, then you NEED to try this pasta salad asap!

Close up photo of pasta salad made with mozzarella balls, tomatoes, red onion, basil and pesto

Ingredients for pesto pasta salad

  • Rotini pasta: These are the best noddles for this pasta salad because the pesto gets in to all the little nooks and crannies!😉 Feel free to use your favorite type of short pasta though. (Some of my other favorites are farfalle (bowtie), gemelli or cavatappi!)
  • Cherry tomatoes: Tomatoes and pesto were made for each other! I’d suggest using some type of smaller tomato (like cherry or grape) for this recipe because they have so much more flavor.
  • Mozzarella pearls: Provides a touch of creaminess to balance out your zesty pesto flavors! (You can also use larger mozzarella balls too. Just cut them in half or in quarters before adding them to your salad.)
  • Red onion: Adds a little bit of color and crunch to your salad!
  • Kale pesto: Used as the dressing to tie it all together. (Store bought pesto can be used instead too!)
Side angle of a large white bowl filled with pasta salad sitting next to a blue linen napkin and lemon wedges

How to make pesto pasta salad

  1. Cook the pasta. Boil your noodles according to the package’s directions then drain and set them aside to cool completely.
  2. Make your pesto. Place all your pesto ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Set it aside. (Skip this step is using store bought pesto.)
  3. Prepare the rest of your ingredients. Slice your tomatoes, red onion and fresh basil.
  4. Mix your salad. Once the pasta is cool, add it to a large bowl with your tomatoes, onion, mozzarella balls and basil and pour your desired amount of pesto over the top. Toss your salad until everything is fully coated. Serve immediately or keep it chilled in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.

Do I have to use kale pesto?

Absolutely not! I personally love kale and always have an abundance on hand so making kale pesto is a great way to use up any leftovers we have. That being said, you can always replace the kale in my pesto recipe with more basil or even spinach! (Or if you’re in a pinch, store bought pesto works just fine too!)

Rotini pasta, sliced tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, red onion and basil tossed in a homemade kale pesto sauce

Variations & Add-ins

  • Love pesto but not a fan of pine nuts? Try replacing them with almonds, walnuts or even pecans! (Note that switching the nuts will also change the flavor of your pesto. I ‘d still suggest toasting the nuts the same as you would the pine nuts to bring out more flavor.)
  • Add more veggies! Summer squash, zucchini and asparagus would pair so well with this pesto pasta too!
  • Add some protein to make it more of a meal! Chicken, Italian sausage or even shrimp are all great options to add to your pasta salad!
Pesto pasta salad served in a large bowl surrounded by fresh basil leaves, tomatoes on the vine and lemon wedges

What do I serve with my pesto pasta salad?

Pesto pairs well with so many things! So this pesto pasta salad is always a great option to take to bbqs, potlucks or any fun get together. And it’s an easy side dish to make at home too! Here’s a few of our favorite entrees to serve with it:

  • Chicken (Pesto or my balsamic chicken breast recipe would be amazing with this!)
  • Italian Sausage (pork, chicken or turkey)
  • Steak
  • Shrimp
  • Salmon
  • A side dish for burgers

Why you’ll love this pesto pasta salad recipe

  • Quick & easy! Boil, chop, mix and that’s it! (Any leftovers are great for lunches too!)
  • Loaded with flavor! Zesty pesto, juicy tomaotes, creamy mozzarella balls and sliced fresh basil… There’s so much flavor you’re taste buds won’t know what to do!
  • So versatile! This recipe can easily be altered to fit your specific tastes and preferences! From the pesto to the add-ins, you can really make this salad your own!

Need it gluten free? Use your favorite gluten free pasta brand instead!

Need it dairy free? Use your favorite vegan pesto and dairy free mozzarella! (We love using BUF Creamery for lactose free mozzarella & Trader Joe’s has a great vegan pesto too!)

More pasta salad recipes you might like:

[Made one of my recipes? Make sure to tag my social media @kalefornia_kravings – I love seeing what you create!]

Pesto Pasta Salad with Tomatoes & Mozzarella

Rotini pasta, juicy tomatoes, creamy mozzarella balls and fresh sliced basil all tossed in the best homemade kale pesto! It's an easy and tasty side dish that perfect for any occasion! (Plus any leftovers are perfect for lunches too!)
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time11 mins
Total Time26 mins
Course: Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: fresh mozzarella, kale pesto, pasta salad, pesto pasta salad, roasted tomatoes
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Caitlin Monson

Ingredients

For the pasta salad:

  • 1 lb. dry rotini pasta
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella pearls
  • ¼ of a red onion, sliced thin
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil, sliced (plus more for garnish)
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

For the kale pesto:

  • ½ cup kale leaves, cut of the stem & chopped
  • ½ cup basil leaves, chopped
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted* (toasting is optional, see notes section below)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  • ¼ cup olive oil (or more depending on how "liquidy" you want it)
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

Instructions

To make the kale pesto:

  • Place your kale, basil, garlic, parmesan, lemon juice, pine nuts and olive oil in a food processor and blend until smooth. Season it with salt and pepper to taste and add any additional olive oil (if needed). Blend again. Set it aside while you prepare the rest of your salad.

To make your pasta salad:

  • Boil your pasta according to the package's directions, then drain it and set it aside to cool.
  • Once completely cooled, add your pasta, tomatoes, red onion, mozzarella and fresh basil to a large bowl and pour your desired amount of pesto over the top. Toss the salad until it's fully coated and season it with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve immediately or keep it chilled in the fridge until you're ready to eat. Garnish with extra basil right before serving

Notes

To toast your pine nuts:
  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the pine nuts out on the sheet and toast them in the oven for 5-6 minutes. (They should be slightly golden brown.) Remove the nuts from the oven and let them cool completely before adding them to your pesto.

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