Fresh basil and pea pesto coats rotini pasta and heirloom tomatoes and is topped with toasted almonds for the ultimate vegan pesto pasta salad. It’s fun, it’s flavourful, and it’s perfect for your next potluck or picnic.
This recipe was originally published in July 2019. It has been updated for content and photos.
This vibrant and delicious pesto pasta salad is perfect to enjoy for all your summer events. Especially when basil is fresh and in abundance!
I’ve combined basil and peas for a unique pesto flavour that pairs with this pasta salad perfectly. For a gluten free alternative, try it with quinoa, like I’ve done with my quinoa pasta salad, OR use your favourite gluten free pasta.
Ingredients + Substitutions
Here’s what you’ll need:
For the pesto sauce
- Basil: Use fresh basil leaves for best results. If you don’t have basil available, try subbing with fresh parsley or cilantro, instead.
- Peas: I use frozen peas that have been thawed. But if you have fresh peas available, even better!
- Lemon: Freshly squeezed is best, but bottled will do. If you don’t have lemon, try lime or apple cider vinegar.
- Garlic: Choose fresh over garlic powder whenever possible for the best flavour.
- Vegan parmesan: I’m using my homemade cashew-based parmesan cheese. You may use store-bought or any of your favourite recipes. If you don’t have any on hand and don’t want to make it, use ¼ cup of nutritional yeast, instead.
For the pasta salad
- Pasta: I like rotini because it gets all the pesto flavours into each groove and they look fun and pretty. But you may use any shape of pasta you’d like, just stick to short varities. You may also sub with gluten free options like chickpea pasta, or rice pasta. Either way, make sure not to overcook your pasta. Cook according to package directions for ‘al dente’ for best results.
- Peas: More peas, yes. 🙂 Make sure to thoroughly thaw them first, if using frozen.
- Red onion: Adds a bit of zesty flavour. You may sub for green onion if a more mild flavour is preferred.
- Tomatoes: I like heirloom grape tomatoes for their fun colours and flavour. You may use any tomatoes you like.
- Slivered almonds: Sliced almonds would also work well. You may toast them, or leave them untoasted if you’re in a hurry.
(This is a summary with step by step photos, full recipe measurements and instructions are in the recipe card below.)
If choosing to roast the almonds, start by preheating your oven, arranging them in a tray and roasting until golden brown. Set aside.
Then get your pasta water boiling, and make sure to generously salt with water. Cook pasta to ‘al dente’, drain and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking, add all the pesto ingredients to your blender and process until smooth. (photos 1-2)
Add all the pasta ingredients to a large mixing bowl and pour the pesto on top. Mix well to evenly coat. (photos 3-4)
NOTE: You may reserve some of the veggies and toasted almonds to garnish later if you’d like.
Refrigerate for 1 hour (or longer) and then garnish with the reserved toppings and serve.
What else can I add?
For additional toppings or variations consider adding any of the following:
- Sliced black olives.
- Toasted pine nuts, or sunflower seeds for nut free.
- Vegan mozzarella shreds.
- Corn kernals.
- Diced bell peppers.
- Baby spinach.
- Fresh herbs like chives, parsley, cilantro, mint, or dill.
This pesto pasta salad recipe will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.
I don’t recommend freezing pasta as the texture will become soggy once thawed.
- Salt your pasta water. Make sure to add enough salt to your pot of water for best texture and flavour. Here’s a handy guide to help you salt your water perfectly each time.
- Cook your pasta al dente. Do not overcook! Al dente means that the pasta is still firm once cooked, giving optimal texture in every bite. To ensure your pasta does not overcook, start taste testing a few minutes before the package says it will be ready. It should be tender, but still firm.
More vegan summer recipes
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For the Pasta Salad
- 8 ounces (225 grams) rotini pasta or your choice
- 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes halved (approx. 2 cups)
- 1 cup frozen peas thawed
- ¼ cup red onion finely chopped
- ½ cup slivered almonds
For the Pesto
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves packed
- ½ cup frozen peas thawed
- ¼ cup vegan parmesan cheese optional
- 2 cloves garlic peeled
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice approx. half a large lemon
- 1-2 tablespoons water if needed to thin
- salt + pepper to taste
- OPTIONAL: Preheat your oven or toaster oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the slivered almonds in a single layer and bake them for 5-8 minutes, checking often towards the end of baking to prevent them from getting too dark. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil and cook your pasta according to package directions for "al dente" pasta. Immediately drain and transfer to a large bowl. Then add the remaining pasta salad ingredients to the same bowl and set aside. (NOTE: You may reserve some of the tomatoes, peas, and toasted almonds to garnish later.)
- Meanwhile, combine all your pesto ingredients in your blender and process until smooth. Then pour the pesto over the pasta salad and mix well.
- Refrigerate for 1 hour or longer and then garnish with reserved tomatoes, peas, and toasted almonds, and serve.
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