Pesto pasta salad is a dish that hits all the right notes. It’s quick and easy to make, full of fresh seasonal ingredients, highly versatile and packed with nutrients. This pasta salad with creamy vegan pecan pesto is especially nutrient-dense.
This post is sponsored by the American Pecan Council. All opinions are our own.
Buttery pecans and bright basil, mint and lemon come together into a silky smooth sauce that balances briny olives and savory artichoke hearts in our refreshing pesto pasta salad.
We love pesto for its versatility. There are dozens of different ways to improvise when it comes to whipping up a batch of this crowd-pleasing pasta sauce.
Experimenting with different nuts is one of our favorite ways to manipulate the taste of pesto. Pecans are a unique and delicious way to bring more heartiness and creaminess to pesto, not to mention a buttery taste.
Why you should be eating more pecans
We also love pecans as a snack on their own! Thanks to their high fiber content (3 grams per serving), they make a satisfying afternoon snack - I love pairing them with fresh or dried fruit.
Plus, their natural sweetness helps quell any nagging sugar cravings. And as the only tree nuts indigenous to North America (pretty cool, right?), they also pair beautifully with some of our other favorite local produce.
From pumpkin to chocolate to blueberries, pecans have native cousins with delightfully complementary flavor profiles.
At the same time, pecans also lend themselves well to diverse flavor pairings from around the world. We especially love them blended into this zesty and rich Italian-inspired pecan pesto.
We use nutritional yeast for the cheesy, umami flavor you expect from pesto. However if you’re not vegan or dairy-free, feel free to use real parmesan cheese for that classic pesto taste.
Don’t want to use nutritional yeast for your vegan pesto? Try vegan parmesan-style cheese instead. There are plenty of options on the market that work well!
When it comes to pesto greens, fresh basil is a necessity. However, we also love throwing in other fresh herbs and greens for more body. Our go-to add-in is fresh spinach.
We almost always have some left over in the fridge, and it lends a bright, herbaceous flavor without overpowering the basil. Since we have so many gorgeous fresh herbs growing in our garden, we also added in a handful of fresh mint.
You could also opt for parsley or tarragon - it’s totally up to you and the possibilities are endless!
Can you freeze pesto?
Glad you asked! Yes, pesto can be frozen.
The best way to do so is to freeze the pesto in ice cube trays. Be sure to cover the tray with plastic wrap before freezing to prevent the pesto from browning. You can also drizzle olive oil or lemon juice over the top to prevent browning.
Once frozen, transfer to a reusable freezer-safe bag, seal tightly and store for up to 6 months. When ready to use, simply remove a cube from the freezer and use as needed. The perfect solution to a quick weeknight dinner!
We paired this creamy pecan pesto with a chilled pasta salad that’s ideal to bring to an outdoor picnic, potluck or late summer cookout. It can be made ahead, served at room temp or chilled, and makes a delicious side to your classic summer grilling fare.
We added some crunch to the pesto pasta salad with fresh cherry tomatoes and red onion, more green with zucchini and plenty of savoriness from two kinds of olives and artichoke hearts.
Topped off with creamy vegan pesto and avocado, this summer pasta salad is a unique, crowd-pleasing twist on the classic American side dish.
More recipes using pesto
Looking for other ways to use up your vegan pecan pesto?
- Use it as a base on this crispy cauliflower pizza crust (vegan and gluten free).
- We also love adding it to this super flavorful vegan caprese panini. Next level lunch!
- Use up plenty of seasonal summer produce by topping these crispy zucchini fritters with your homemade pesto.
- Add a swirl into this creamy cauliflower soup for an herby topping.
If you make this vegan pesto pasta salad, we’d love for you to leave a comment and rating below! We also love to see your creations on Instagram – tag us at @crowded_kitchen so we can see what you’ve been cooking.Print
Pesto pasta salad is a dish that hits all the right notes. It’s quick and easy to make, full of fresh seasonal ingredients, highly versatile and packed with nutrients!
- 2 packed cups spinach
- 1 packed cup basil
- ¼ cup fresh mint
- ½ cup raw, unsalted pecans
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Freshly squeezed juice from ½ of a medium lemon
- 4 tbsp nutritional yeast*
- ½ tsp salt
- Pepper to taste
- ½ cup olive oil (more to thin out if desired)
- 1 lb. fusilli pasta (gluten free or regular)
- 1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes, halved widthwise
- 1 cup zucchini, quartered and sliced thinly
- ¾ cup red onion, sliced thinly
- ¼ cup kalamata olives, halved
- ¼ cup castelvetrano olives, sliced
- 4 oz quartered canned artichoke hearts
- ½ avocado, diced
- Add all ingredients except the olive oil to a blender or food processor and blend until mostly smooth.
- With the motor running, slowly stream in the olive oil and continue to blend until pesto reaches desired smoothness. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Refrigerate in an airtight container for 3-5 days.
- Cook pasta according to package directions (make sure to salt your pasta water generously!).
- Meanwhile, prep all of your vegetables.
- When pasta is finished cooking, drain, transfer to a large mixing bowl and toss with sliced vegetables (except avocado) and pesto.
- Add avocado and toss gently. Serve warm or refrigerate and serve cold.
*You can sub ¼-⅓ cup parmesan cheese or dairy free parmesan for the nutritional yeast.
Read the blog post for more info on how to freeze homemade pesto!
- Category: Salad
- Method: Stovetop
Keywords: pesto pasta salad