Pesto Pasta Salad with Peas and Parmesan

Looking for a nontraditional side for your Easter menu? As I mentioned yesterday, I love changing things up when it comes to traditional menus and this springy pesto pasta salad is just the thing to brighten up any table spread full of good food.

Sent to me by a friend, Liz K., this recipe is apparently an Ina Garten classic and it is far and away one of the best pasta salads I’ve had. The pesto is lightened up to a delicious creamy consistency and blended with hearty spinach. Brightened with the zing of fresh lemon juice, the entire mixture is tossed with the toothsome pasta and topped with tender peas, crunchy pine nuts and salty Parmesan.

Simple to put together, this pasta salad should go on your to-make list immediately.

Pesto Pasta Salad with Peas and Parmesan

Two Years Ago: Croque Monsieur Made Simple

Pesto Pasta Salad with Peas and Parmesan

Yield: Serves 6-8

Pesto Pasta Salad with Peas and Parmesan


  • 3/4 pound fusilli pasta
  • 3/4 pound bow tie pasta
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups pesto (jarred or from your own favorite recipe)
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cups mayonnaise (I used light mayo with great results)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  1. Cook the fusilli and bow ties separately in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10 to 12 minutes until each pasta is cooked to your liking. Drain and toss into a bowl with the olive oil. Cool to room temperature, tossing every once in a while to prevent the noodles from sticking to each other as they cool.
  2. In a food processor or blender, puree the pesto, spinach, and lemon juice. Add the mayonnaise and puree. Add the pesto mixture to the cooled pasta and then add the Parmesan, peas, pine nuts, salt, and pepper. Mix well, season to taste, and serve at room temperature.

Recipe Source: my friend Liz K. and Ina Garten

Click the above image to see all the Easter/Spring recipes!

37 Responses to Pesto Pasta Salad with Peas and Parmesan

  1. susan gibson says:

    Has anyone frozen the leftovers?

  2. Dani says:

    Mel! I love all your recipes and your blog. I always ask silly questions. But my question is I’m making this salad right now thinking it was meant to serve cold. I need to learn to read the whole recipe before starting. Do you think I am fine chilling it tonight and serving it tomorrow on our camping trip?

    • Mel says:

      Your questions aren’t silly, Dani! This salad is great chilled but you might want to reserve a bit of pesto to stir in right before serving as it tends to dry out slightly when refrigerated overnight.

  3. Susan says:

    What a great recipie. To speed things up i used Kraft olive oil pesto Parmesan salad dressing and added roasted almond slices as I did not have any pine nuts. A very tasty pasta salad.

  4. […] pesto pasta salad also turned out great and I’m looking forward to eating the leftovers for lunch this […]

  5. Alycia says:

    My friend made this but didn’t have enough fresh spinach, so she substituted half the spinach with arugula and it was fabulous! Thanks for a great recipe…

  6. kim says:

    Can I make the pesto mix the day before?

  7. Erica Williams says:

    This was a huge hit at our Memorial Day BBQ last night. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Shauntel says:

    Much thanks for this recipe. As your recipes always are, this was a huge crowd pleaser. I cooked it for a huge family dinner and have since received multiple requests for the recipe.

    I love me some pesto – and I loved the addition of spinach. Yum.


  9. Natalie says:

    I made this tonight! I am usually not too fond of pasta salad, but this was a hit with my husband & I. I had a little bit of pesto sauce left over, do you think it would last if I freezed it?

    • Mel says:

      Natalie – hmmm, I don’t know if the pesto sauce would freeze very well because of the creaminess. It wouldn’t hurt to try but it may defrost with a bit of a grainy-texture.

  10. Mel says:

    Stacie – your comment made me chuckle! I’m so glad your husband raved about this (I’d be making it every night if I were you)…and also, thanks for adding your changes!

    hayley – great idea!

  11. Stacie D. says:

    Just wanted to let you know I made this the other night and my husband was nearly kissing my feet. Seriously, I don’t know even know how many times he complimented me. This is definitely one of our new favorites!

    I also wanted to add that I had frozen spinach on hand, but opted to use up some fresh spinach. I only used what I had (maybe 6-8 ounces, I made the salad slightly smaller than yours) and I simply threw it in the food processor with everything else. Turned out just great!

  12. hayley says:

    You should invest in an aerogarden. We got one last July and have had fresh basil, cilantro, sage, oregano, and parsley inside the house since. And they are sooo easy to take care of!

  13. Mel says:

    Jeanna – to be honest, I have no idea, but my guess would be to use two 9-ounce bags of fresh spinach and cook it down (or steam it) until it is wilted. Drain off the liquid and use in the recipe. Let me know if you try it!

  14. Jeanna says:

    A comment above refers to seeing Ina make this on her show using fresh spinach, yet the recipe lists frozen. I would prefer using fresh but how much, and how would you prep it? thanks!

  15. Mel says:

    Becky – I’m sure you could sub another kind of creamy ingredient for mayo. The taste and texture might change a bit but I think it is worth trying if you don’t have may on hand. I think plain yogurt might work as well. I’m glad this salad was a hit!

  16. Becky says:

    I made this for Easter yesterday and it was a HUGE hit! I wanted to see if you thought low fat/fat-free sour cream could be subbed for the mayo? I never have mayo on hand, but always have sour cream.

    This was a great addition to our Easter table. Thank you so much for sharing. I love your site.

  17. Mel says:

    TaLaisa, as always, you are a wealth of information! Thank you so much for chiming in on the pesto discussion, and especially the different nuts you have used. I can’t wait to get my hands on your recipes!

  18. Jamie Young says:

    Thanks for sharin’ the love, glad to see I have a 4th reader out there 🙂 I’m excited to try your lasagna, chantilly potatoes and chicken cordon blue casserole this week. I have yet to be disappointed by any of your recipes!

  19. I love adding peas to pasta. I made something similar today for lunch. This looks delicious.

  20. TaLaisa says:

    I adore Pesto with a burning love of a thousand suns. Pesto is my favorite.

    I plant 3 or 4 basil plants every summer so that I can make and freeze pesto for later on. Homemade pesto is so much better than store bought it’s worth the few minutes it takes to make up a batch. I have used a bit of flat leaf parsley to extend the basil when I’ve craved it and the frozen stash is out and I can’t bring myself to spend $8 for herbs that’ll work for 1.5 meals.

    I’ve successfully made and LOVED pesto with the following nuts (not all at once) pistachios, toasted pecans and walnuts. I have a little boy who is allergic to peanuts and most tree nuts. Of the above mentioned nuts He can now only have pistachios and I’ve found that the Everybody’s Nuts Pistachios (they sell the salt and pepper variety at Costco) are not processed with any other nuts. As a mom of a nut allergy boy I can’t tell you how rare that is. Pistachios are my very favorite unconventional nut for pesto, even given the option of the other varieties. Pecans are next in line.

    Melanie, I’ll email you my recipe so you can try it out. You know, when the basil plant is big enough this summer.

  21. Cammee says:

    Isn’t this the kind of thing you wish you had fresh in your fridge when you’re wondering, “what in the world am I going to eat for lunch?”

  22. Barbara says:

    I think I saw Ina make that once…and loved the idea of using fresh spinach with store bought pesto. (Although pesto is really very easy to make, I don’t always take the time.)
    It’s really a lovely dish and your photo is terrific!

  23. grace says:

    the alliteration-lover in me is giddy at this recipe. also excited is the voracious eater that only comes out at meal time. 🙂

  24. Pam says:

    What a perfect dish for Easter… I love all the ingredients used.

  25. Mary says:

    This looks wonderful. It’s the perfect pasta dish. We’ll give it a try real soon. Have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  26. Mel says:

    For those who asked about pesto – I never make my own pesto in the winter because basil is too darn expensive but hopefully I’ll have a prolific basil plant (or three) this summer and if so, I’ll test out some pesto recipes and post them (I don’t have a great favorite right now, although Ina Garten has a good one, I’ve heard, if you search the Food Network site).

    Lillian – I don’t have a pesto recipe without pine nuts but I bet you could google the question and find some good results!

    JJ – your comment/question made me laugh – the swimming in the pool part. Anyway, the reason is because if the cooking times are different on the pasta (which they are by a couple of minutes for these two types), then one pasta would be under or overcooked. However, you could figure out the times and add the pasta second that has a lower cooking time. Then you would only need one pot.

  27. JJ says:

    This may seem like a dumb question but why the need to cook the pastas separatly? Is there a reason they can’t swim in the same pool together?

  28. Maria says:

    I love this combo. Great pasta dish!

  29. Julianne says:

    This looks really really good. Do you make your own pesto? Someday (maybe when you have basil coming out your ears), would you post your recipe of it? Please please please please??

  30. Liz K. says:

    Oh, I am so glad you liked this one. Everytime I make it I am reminded how much I love it.

  31. Lillian says:

    Do you have a good pesto recipe that doesn’t involve pine nuts? I’m deathly allergic!

  32. katie says:

    That looks so delicious!! i love all the fresh flavors.

  33. Kim in MD says:

    The Barefoot Contessa is one of my favorite Food Network chefs, and I have never been dissapointed by her recipes (I have all of her cookbooks)!
    I have made this pasta, and it is amazing! Beautiful photos, Mel!

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