Pesto Pasta Salad with Chicken

Pesto pasta salad with chicken is a quick, easy, and wildly flavorful pasta salad recipe! A great option for potlucks, picnics, BBQs, or as a light summer meal.

close up of a serving dish filled high with pesto pasta salad with chicken. The bowl is surrounded by a white linen, plate of pasta, small bowl of pesto, and jar of pesto.

Pasta salad is a summertime staple for so many occasions. And this chicken pesto pasta salad has it all. Quick and easy to make? Yes! Lots of fresh veggies? Yep! Tons of flavor? You bet!

I like to use grilled chicken in this pesto caprese pasta salad recipe to really give it that summertime feel. But baked chicken, or store-bought rotisserie chicken, are also great choices. Using leftover chicken, or chicken that you batch-cooked for easy meal prep, is also a great option in this recipe.

Wow your friends and family at your next potluck, tailgate, or picnic with this delicious chicken pesto pasta salad recipe!

TELL ME ABOUT THIS CHICKEN PESTO PASTA SALAD RECIPE

Level of difficulty: Easy. Cook your pasta, chop your ingredients, mix, and enjoy!

Flavor & Texture: The basil pesto is the main flavor, with pops of tomato, mozzarella, and chicken shining through with each bite.

Time: It will take you approximately 25 minutes to prepare your pesto pasta salad. Note, this time assumes you already have cooked chicken, as there are several options of how to prepare this recipe ingredient.

ingredients needed to make pesto chicken pasta salad.

INGREDIENTS NEEDED

  • Farfalle pasta, aka bowtie pasta
  • Cooked chicken breast (grilled, baked, or rotisserie chicken all work)
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Spinach
  • Fresh mozzarella pearls (or fresh mozzarella that has been small cubes, roughly ½”)
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • Basil pesto (store bought or homemade)
  • Italian dressing
  • Salt
  • Pepper

PASTA OPTIONS FOR PESTO CHICKEN PASTA SALAD

You have several options for the type of pasta to use in this pesto pasta salad with chicken:

  • Whole Wheat Pasta – whole wheat pasta is a great option in pasta salads! It’s higher in fiber, higher in protein, and higher in vitamins and minerals than enriched pasta.
  • Regular Pasta – not into whole grain pasta? No worries! Select your favorite standard pasta and enjoy.
  • Gluten Free Pasta – selecting a gluten free pasta is a great option if you’re serving this chicken pesto pasta salad recipe to someone with celiac disease. 
  • Chickpea or Lentil Pasta – there are more and more plant-based pastas on the market these days. Selecting a lentil or chickpea pasta can be a great way to add more plant-based protein and fiber to your diet!

There are also several shapes of pasta that work well when making pasta salad. I recommend choosing one of the following:

  • Farfalle (Bowtie) Pasta – this is the shape I’ve used
  • Fusilli Pasta
  • Rotini Pasta
  • Cavatappi Pasta
  • Rotelle Pasta, also called Wagon Wheel or Ruote Pasta

Not seeing your favorite pasta shape on this list? You can still give it a try. Making pasta salad is pretty forgiving and you should have fun with it!

top down view of a serving dish filled high with pesto chicken pasta salad. The bowl has a white linen, plate of pasta, and small bowl of pesto around it.

OVERVIEW: HOW TO MAKE THIS PESTO PASTA SALAD WITH CHICKEN

  1. Cook pasta: Cook your pasta according to the package directions. Rinse the pasta with cold water and place it in a large bowl. If you’re still chopping the other ingredients, place the bowl of pasta in the fridge to stay cool.
  2. Chop the chicken and veggies: While the pasta is cooking, chop the cooked chicken, cherry tomatoes, and spinach.
  3. Prepare the dressing: In a 2 cup sized liquid measuring cup, mix together the pesto and Italian dressing.
  4. Mix it up: Place all of the ingredients into the large bowl with the pasta, stir to evenly coat the pasta, chicken, mozzarella balls, and veggies. 
  5. Chill until ready to serve: If not enjoying right away, place the pesto chicken pasta salad into the fridge until ready to serve.
  6. Store leftovers: Store leftover pasta salad in the fridge. Enjoy within 2-3 days.

HOW TO SERVE PESTO PASTA SALAD WITH CHICKEN

This easy pasta salad recipe is a great summer side salad for a variety of dishes. It can also be enjoyed as a main dish. A few serving ideas include:

  • Bring this pasta salad along to a potluck, picnic, tailgate, or BBQ.
  • Enjoy as a light lunch or summer dinner as-is! 
  • Enjoy as a main dish paired with grilled summer veggies or a lettuce salad. I love eating this chicken pasta salad with pesto with grilled corn on the cob!
a serving dish filled high with chicken pesto pasta salad. The bowl has a serving spoon in it, and has a white linen, plate of pasta, and bowl of pesto around it.

See a quick story series on this pesto pasta salad recipe here!

RECIPE VARIATIONS AND SUBSTITUTIONS

  • Make it with more protein. Add more chicken, or use a protein pasta.
  • Add more vegetables: You can increase the amount of tomatoes and/or spinach. You could also mix in some chopped fresh arugula for a little spice and crunch.
  • Include fresh herbs: Fresh basil would be excellent in this summer pasta salad. You could also include some fresh parsley.
  • Add pine nuts: sprinkle some pine nuts on top of your pesto pasta salad with chicken for some added crunch and nuttiness. 
  • Use more parmesan. I’ll never judge you for using more cheese! Mix an additional ¼ cup into the pasta salad, or sprinkle additional on top for serving.

MODIFICATIONS FOR DIETARY RESTRICTIONS: GLUTEN FREE, VEGETARIAN

This chicken pesto pasta salad recipe can be made gluten free or vegetarian to meet varying dietary needs:

  • Selecting a gluten free pasta will make this into a gluten free pasta salad. If you are serving this chicken pasta salad with pesto to someone with celiac disease, it would also be wise to ensure the Italian dressing and pesto that you use is gluten free (most should be).
  • Make this into a vegetarian pasta salad by eliminating the chicken, or by serving the chicken on the side for people to mix in themselves.

EXPERT TIPS

Cook your pasta to al dente. Since pasta absorbs liquid, cooking it to just al dente will prevent your pasta salad from becoming too soft! Overcooked pasta has the risk of turning to mush after being coated with dressing and mix-ins and sitting in the fridge to cool (or on the potluck table to serve).

Use dried pasta, not fresh. Similar to overcooked pasta, fresh pasta is too delicate for pasta salads. Once covered with dressing and mix-ins, fresh pasta can become soggy. Look for a high-quality dried pasta to use in this pesto caprese pasta salad recipe.

close up of a serving dish filled high with pesto pasta salad with chicken. The bowl is surrounded by a white linen, small bowl pesto, and jar of pesto.

EQUIPMENT NEEDED

Large Mixing Bowl

Liquid Measuring Cup

Chef’s Knife

Cutting Board

Mixing / Serving Spoon

LOVE THIS RECIPE? YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY:

close up of a serving dish filled high with pesto pasta salad with chicken. The bowl is surrounded by a white linen, plate of pasta, small bowl of pesto, and jar of pesto.

Pesto Pasta Salad with Chicken

Pesto pasta salad with chicken is a quick, easy, and wildly flavorful pasta salad recipe! A great option for potlucks, picnics, BBQs, or as a light summer meal.
5 from 5 votes
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 8 Servings
Calories 519 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb farfalle (bowtie) pasta
  • 1 lb cooked chicken breast, cubed (grilled, baked, or rotisserie)
  • 3/4 C basil pesto (store bought or homemade)
  • 1/2 C Italian dressing
  • 1+1/2 C halved cherry tomatoes (from one pint of cherry tomatoes)
  • 3 C spinach, de-stemmed and torn
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella pearls
  • 1/4 C grated parmesan cheese
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste

Instructions
 

  • Cook your pasta according to the package directions. Rinse the pasta with cold water and place it in a large bowl. If you're still chopping the other ingredients, place the bowl of pasta in the fridge to stay cool.
  • While the pasta is cooking, chop the cooked chicken, cherry tomatoes, and spinach.
  • In a 2 cup sized liquid measuring cup, mix together the pesto and Italian dressing.
  • Place all of the ingredients into the large bowl with the pasta, stir to evenly coat the pasta, chicken, mozzarella balls, and veggies.
  • If not enjoying right away, place the pesto chicken pasta salad into the fridge until ready to serve.
  • Store leftover pasta salad in the fridge. Enjoy within 2-3 days.

Notes

Recipe Variations and Substitutions:
  • Make it with more protein. Add more chicken, or use a protein pasta.
  • Add more vegetables: You can increase the amount of tomatoes and/or spinach. You could also mix in some chopped fresh arugula for a little spice and crunch.
  • Include fresh herbs: Fresh basil would be excellent in this summer pasta salad. You could also include some fresh parsley.
  • Add pine nuts: sprinkle some pine nuts on top of your pesto pasta salad with chicken for some added crunch and nuttiness. 
  • Use more parmesan. I’ll never judge you for using more cheese! Mix an additional ¼ cup into the pasta salad, or sprinkle additional on top for serving.
  •  
Dietary Modifications:
This chicken pesto pasta salad recipe can be made gluten free or vegetarian to meet varying dietary needs:
  • Selecting a gluten free pasta will make this into a gluten free pasta salad. If you are serving this chicken pasta salad with pesto to someone with celiac disease, it would also be wise to ensure the Italian dressing and pesto that you use is gluten free (most should be).
  • Make this into a vegetarian pasta salad by eliminating the chicken, or by serving the chicken on the side for people to mix in themselves.
 
Expert Tips:
Cook your pasta to al dente. Since pasta absorbs liquid, cooking it to just al dente will prevent your pasta salad from becoming too soft! Overcooked pasta has the risk of turning to mush after being coated with dressing and mix-ins and sitting in the fridge to cool (or on the potluck table to serve).
Use dried pasta, not fresh. Similar to overcooked pasta, fresh pasta is too delicate for pasta salads. Once covered with dressing and mix-ins, fresh pasta can become soggy. Look for a high-quality dried pasta to use in this pesto caprese pasta salad recipe.

Nutrition

Calories: 519kcalCarbohydrates: 52gProtein: 29gFat: 21gSaturated Fat: 7gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0.02gCholesterol: 63mgSodium: 758mgPotassium: 662mgFiber: 3gSugar: 7gVitamin A: 2266IUVitamin C: 27mgCalcium: 247mgIron: 2mg
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*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means at no additional cost to you I may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. However, please know that I strive to provide links to products that I actually use and wholeheartedly recommend whenever possible.
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