This Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad is light, healthy, and summery! It combines tender pasta with homemade pesto, juicy grilled chicken, and fresh mix-ins for a satisfying meal any time of the day. Serve it for a quick lunch, as a side dish at barbecues, or bring it to a potluck!Jump to Recipe
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Meal prep friendly: You can easily make this chicken pesto pasta salad ahead of time, then keep it on hand for lunches and dinners throughout the week.
- Quick & easy: With just 7 ingredients and less than 30 minutes of preparation, this chicken pesto pasta salad should be your new go-to summer meal!
- Crowd-pleasing: The flavor-packed combination of savory pesto, creamy mozzarella, sweet tomatoes, and grilled chicken makes this dish a true winner!
Summery Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
This chicken pesto pasta salad is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed year-round, but it really hits the spot in the warm summer months.
Each bite is loaded with juicy tomatoes, spinach, tender grilled chicken, creamy mozzarella balls, and savory pesto. I love using my homemade basil pesto recipe or 5-minute arugula pesto for the most vibrant flavors, but you can just as easily use store-bought for more convenience!
The best part about this dish is that you can enjoy it warm or chilled — both are equally delicious! Try pairing it with grilled chicken kabobs with vegetables or grilled zucchini and squash for the ultimate potluck or barbecue spread.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Pasta: Makes up the base of the salad, providing a tender, hearty texture. Choose your favorite shape! Some of my favorites include fusilli, farfalle, cavatelli, or cavatappi.
- Pesto: Adds a rich, herbaceous, and aromatic flavor. Homemade or store-bought pesto both work here. Or, experiment with sun-dried tomato pesto for a tangier taste.
- Spinach: Imparts a fresh note and a pop of color to the pasta salad. You can try arugula for a peppery twist, or add massaged kale for something more hearty.
- Grilled chicken: I recommend using chicken breasts since they grill quickly and easily. If you prefer, you can use boneless skinless chicken thighs but account for extra cooking time. Alternatively, replace chicken with grilled tofu for a vegetarian version.
- Cherry tomatoes: Provide a sweet, juicy, and slightly acidic flavor. If you don’t have cherry tomatoes, use sun-dried tomatoes for a chewier texture and more intense taste.
- Mozzarella balls: Add creaminess and a mild flavor. Feta, goat cheese, regular mozzarella cubes, or mild white cheddar will also work.
- Basil: I love to incorporate fresh basil leaves for freshness and a hint of sweet, peppery flavor. If you want, you can replace them with mint leaves for a refreshing change.
How to Make Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
- Cook the pasta: Boil your pasta of choice according to the package directions. Remember to salt the water to infuse the pasta with flavor. Additionally, undercook it by about a minute for al dente perfection.
- Mix the pasta and pesto: After draining, immediately toss the pasta in the pesto sauce. The starch from the pasta will help the sauce cling to it, so don’t rinse it!
- Wilt the spinach: Mix in the fresh spinach, which will wilt slightly from the pasta’s heat.
- Add the rest: Add your diced grilled chicken, halved cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, and torn basil leaves. Stir everything gently until it’s evenly combined.
- Serve or chill: You can enjoy your pasta salad warm or let it cool in the fridge and serve it chilled.
This chicken pesto pasta salad can be a meal on its own, but it also works well as a side! Here are some of my favorite dishes to pair it with:
- Bread: Garlic bread or Spanish tomato bread makes the perfect partner.
- Green salad: Add a roasted beet and burrata salad to the side.
- Proteins: Pair this salad with grilled salmon kabobs, garlic grilled shrimp, or grilled marinated lamb chops for an extra hearty meal.
- Vegetables: Try Italian stuffed peppers or roasted cauliflower steaks on the side.
Frequently Asked Questions
The original recipe calls for regular pasta, which contains gluten. However, if you’re following a gluten-free diet, you can easily adapt the recipe by substituting regular pasta with a gluten-free variety.
Absolutely! For a vegan version of this chicken pesto pasta salad, you can replace the chicken with grilled tofu or a plant-based protein of your choice. Swap the pesto for a vegan option, and use plant-based cheese instead of traditional mozzarella balls.
To prevent pasta from sticking together, make sure to use a large pot with plenty of water. This allows the pasta to move freely while it cooks. Also, it’s important to stir the pasta occasionally, especially in the first few minutes of cooking to prevent clumping.
Storage & Reheating
Here are some tips to store your chicken pesto pasta salad properly and maintain its freshness:
- Fridge: Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days, but the pasta will soak up the sauce the longer it sits. To fix this, add a little extra pesto each time you serve it.
- Freezer: I don’t recommend freezing this pasta salad since the ingredients will become mushy once thawed.
- Avocado: For extra creaminess and healthy fats, try adding diced avocado.
- Olives: If you’re looking to make your salad a little tangier, try adding sun-dried olives.
- Protein: Instead of chicken, try using grilled shrimp instead.
- Artichoke hearts: For a Mediterranean twist, mix in some chopped artichoke hearts.
- Undercook the pasta: Cook your pasta for about a minute less than the package instructions for perfectly al dente pasta.
- Add spinach while hot: Add the spinach to the pasta while it’s hot to help it wilt.
- Stir gently: Stir the salad gently to avoid breaking the pasta or other ingredients.
- Use fresh pesto: For the best flavor, I always recommend using homemade pesto.
Looking for More Salad Recipes?
If you enjoyed this chicken pesto pasta salad recipe, be sure to check out some more of my favorites salads like these:
- Herb Pesto Green Bean Salad
- Sausage Orecchiette Pasta with Kale
- Lemon Basil Pasta Salad
- Chopped Greek Salad
If you try this Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad, let me know what you think! Rate and review this recipe in the comments below. Don’t forget to take a picture and tag me on Instagram @lenaskitchenblog!
Easy Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
- 16 ounces pasta cooked
- 1 cup pesto sauce homemade or store-bought
- 2 cups spinach fresh, packed
- 1 pound grilled chicken diced
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
- 8 ounces mozzarella balls halved
- ¼ cup basil leaves torn
- Cook your pasta according to package directions. Make sure you heavily salt the water and cook the pasta for about 1 minute less than the listed time for perfect al dente pasta!
- Drain the pasta and immediately add to the bowl of sauce. (Do NOT rinse the pasta, as the starch will help the sauce cling to the noodles and the residual heat.) Gently toss the pasta in the sauce until all the noodles are fully coated.
- Mix in the spinach and stir a few times until it wilts slightly from the heat of the pasta.
- Add the diced grilled chicken, tomatoes, mozzarella balls and basil leaves. Gently stir together.
- Serve immediately while warm, or let chill in the fridge and serve cold!