This simple pesto pasta salad with chicken is an ultra-flavorful, high-protein way to meal prep, picnic, and side dish your way through spring, summer, or any time of year.
Okay, real talk. There are recipes you make for dinner, and there are recipes you eat directly from the bowl, standing in your fridge, while you decide what to make for dinner. This pesto pasta salad with chicken is both.
Is there a chance you will eat an entire meal's worth of pesto pasta salad while standing in your fridge? Only 100%. But we're not sad about this, because a high-protein, simple, wholesome pasta salad recipe will do anybody good -- as a snack, an appetizer, an actual meal, or dessert (<--- you heard me right).
How to Make Pesto Pasta Salad with Chicken
Have I already mentioned there are only five ingredients in this pesto pasta salad with chicken? FIVE. That is, unless you add a sprinkle of parm on top -- highly recommended though certainly not required. Here's what we've got:
- Pasta. Pretty much any shape will work, but the best for this pasta salad are fusilli, rotini, penne, bowties, or cavatappi. Stick to whole wheat or brown rice pasta, OR, if you want to hike up the protein content, try some chickpea pasta. I'm obsessed with the stuff! It's also very easy to find these days (in most grocery stores and even at Target), so give it a shot if you want to spice up your pasta game.
- Pesto. Now that spring has finally arrived, you'll have access to tons of fresh herbs -- perfect for making homemade pesto. That said, there is NO shame in using your favorite store-bought pesto! Any kind will work, but I think basil or parsley pesto provide the best flavor for this recipe.
- Sun-dried tomatoes. You've got a couple possibilities for these bad boys -- either the kind in the jar packed in oil, or the dry ones that come in a bag. Both are delicious! I love the jarred kind because they give the pasta a little additional coating of olive oil, but for either one you choose, check the ingredients for chemical additives. Sun-dried tomatoes often contain sulfites or other chemicals to help retain a vivid color (otherwise they can darken over time), but a lot of brands offer chemical-free products now. When possible, look for those.
- Olives. Black or kalamata will work -- both add that element of salty goodness. I always use the pre-sliced black olives because once you drain them, they're ready to use (less work!). If you don't like olives -- *sigh*, I suppose I'll allow it -- you can omit and still end up with a delicious pesto pasta situation.
- Chicken. You can use leftover grilled chicken, rotisserie chicken, or any other meal-prepped chicken that's hanging out in your fridge just waiting for an invite to a pesto pasta salad party. Turkey or a plant-based protein (such as chickpeas) would also work!
How to Make It
Now that we have all our ingredients down, let's toss this thing together. All you need to do is cook your pasta according to the package instructions and prep the following:
- Drain some olives, and roughly chop them if they were whole.
- Lightly drain some sun-dried tomatoes (I like to keep some of the oil on them).
- Chop cooked chicken up into cubes. If you're using rotisserie chicken, it won't be perfectly cube-y all the time, but just make sure you've got everything cut into bite-size pieces.
- Make pesto if you haven't bought or made some already.
Once you've prepped everything and cooked your pasta, it's just a matter of tossing it all together in a big bowl and chilling it until you're ready to eat.
Tips, Tricks, and Adjustments
Easy as it is, there are a few tips and modifications you can use to make this pesto pasta salad with chicken work for you.
- Take all (or most of) the shortcuts. Buy your pesto from the store, pick up a rotisserie chicken, and get the pre-sliced olives.
- Get fresh pesto. There's pesto you can buy in a jar with the other shelved condiments, and there's fresh pesto you can buy in the refrigerated section of many grocery stores. Get the fresh one! It tastes like you just whipped it up in your blender.
- Boost the protein. This recipe is already high in protein from the chicken, but using chickpea pasta or another high-protein pasta will make it even higher. This is also a great option to up the protein if you're vegan/vegetarian and want to omit the chicken.
- Make it vegan or vegetarian. Replace the chicken with a plant-based protein such as chickpeas or tofu, and use a vegan pesto.
- Add parmesan. It's absolutely fine without, but sprinkling some parmesan cheese on top is still a very, very wise decision.
So, there you have it friends: a simple pesto pasta salad with chicken that can be made vegan or vegetarian, is perfect for meal prep, and is completely picnic-worthy. Prepare yourselves for a delicious experience.
P.S. If you think pesto is the work of genius (I do!), you should also give these turkey pesto walnut burgers a try.Print
Simple Pesto Pasta Salad with Chicken
This simple pesto pasta salad with chicken is an ultra-flavorful, high-protein way to meal prep, picnic, and side dish your way through spring, summer, or any time of year. Only five ingredients and super easy to make!
- Prep Time: 10
- Cook Time: 10
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: ~6 cups
- Category: Pasta Salad
- Method: Combine
- Cuisine: Italian
- 1 lb. package pasta (preferably rotini, fusilli, bowties, or cavatappi)
- 2 cups cooked chicken, cut into cubes
- ½ cup fresh basil pesto (or parsley pesto)
- 1 small can of sliced black olives, drained
- 1 jar sun-dried tomatoes, slightly drained
- optional: shredded parmesan, for topping
- Cook pasta according to package instructions. If additional prep for other ingredients is needed, you can do so during this time.
- Once pasta is drained and rinsed, add to a large bowl. Add all other ingredients. Toss to combine. Chill until ready to serve.
- If using parmesan, sprinkle a bit on top of the pasta salad just before putting in the fridge to chill.
Keywords: pesto pasta salad with chicken, pesto pasta salad, high protein pasta salad