Vegan pesto pasta salad is perfect for summer parties. It stars tender pasta, plump tomatoes, and sweet peas in creamy arugula pesto.
Pasta salad is a must-have for summer cookouts and picnics, but that doesn't mean it has to be conventional. This vegan pasta salad uses pesto dressing instead of mayo for an addictive side even sneaks some veggies into the mix.
For me, a good pasta salad is packed with flavor, has lots of good texture, and doesn't take too much effort to make. This creamy pesto pasta salad fits the bill perfectly!
Ingredients and substitutions
- rotini or bowtie pasta - You can use gluten-free or whole wheat pasta, if you prefer. Cook according to the package directions.
- frozen peas - You can omit the peas, but I love the contrast of fresh, sweet peas to the rich pesto sauce.
- carrots - I love crunchy carrots in a pasta salad! They add such great texture.
- grape tomatoes - Plump, sweet tomato is so nice paired with pesto sauce!
- olives - I just love how black olives work with the pesto in this dish!
- red onion - You can use other sweet onion or green onion instead, if you prefer.
- basil and arugula - These are your pesto herbs. If you don't want to use arugula, you can use all basil. You'll want some extra basil for topping, too!
- garlic - The recipe calls for fresh garlic, which has a lot more flavor than cooked. If your garlic cloves are huge, you might only need one, rather than two. You can always add another clove later, to taste, if needed.
- lemon juice - Adds acid and zest to the vegan pesto pasta sauce!
- cashews - You can use pine nuts, if you like. I make my pesto with cashews because they're a little bit more affordable than pine nuts. You can use pumpkin seeds for nut-free.
- olive oil - You really do need the oil to make a creamy pesto. If you want to make this oil-free, replace all of the pesto ingredients with my oil-free avocado pesto pasta sauce instead.
How to make vegan pesto pasta salad
Pour the frozen peas into your colander while the pasta is cooking. When the pasta is ready, pour it in over the peas to defrost them.
While the pasta cooks, make the pesto.
Combine all of the pesto ingredients in the food processor, and pulse until it reaches your desired consistency. If it's too thick, you can add a tablespoon or two of water or more olive oil to get it to the consistency you like.
Add the drained pasta and peas to a large bowl and toss it with the carrots, tomatoes, olives and onions.
Add the pesto to the bowl, tossing to coat everything really well.
Chill until you're ready to serve, and toss again, just before serving.
- For the best pasta, use a huge pot with lots of water to cook it, and stir every 3-5 minutes while it's boiling.
- Make sure to toss the pasta salad just before serving, because the oil from the pesto will fall to the bottom of your storage container.
- To make this the quickest, start the pasta boiling first, then make your pesto and prep your veggies while the pasta cooks.
Serving and storage directions
You can make this recipe up to a few days ahead of time. It will keep for three to five days in a covered container in the fridge.
Frequently asked questions
This vegan pesto uses a combination of olive oil and cashews to make a creamy pesto with no cheese needed.
Conventional pesto is not vegan, because it is traditionally made with Parmesan cheese. Parmesan cheese is not vegan or vegetarian.
I like to serve this up at cookout with conventional cookout favorites, like vegan burgers and sausages, grilled veggies, and potato salad.
More vegan pasta salad recipes
Vegan Pesto Pasta Salad
For the pasta salad
- 8 ounces rotini or bowtie pasta - whole wheat or gluten free is fine, cooked
- ½ cup frozen peas
- 1 cup sliced carrots
- 1 cup sliced cherry tomatoes - sliced into quarters
- 2.25 ounce can sliced black olives
- 3 tablespoons minced red onion
For the pesto
- 1 cup fresh basil - loosely packed
- 1 cup fresh arugula - loosely packed, or use more basil
- 4 cloves garlic
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ½ cup roasted, salted cashews - or use pine nuts
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Pour the frozen peas into your colander while the pasta is cooking. When the pasta is ready, pour it in over the peas to defrost them.
Make the pesto while the pasta cooks.
- Combine all of the pesto ingredients in the food processor, and pulse until it reaches your desired consistency. If it's too thick, you can add a tablespoon or two of water or more olive oil to get it to the consistency you like.
Assemble the pasta salad
- Add the drained pasta and peas to a large bowl and toss it with the carrots, tomatoes, olives, and onions. Add the pesto to the bowl, tossing to coat everything really well. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Chill until you're ready to serve, and toss again, just before serving.