Simple Pesto Pasta Salad with Chicken

Pesto pasta salad with chicken on a white plate.

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This simple pesto pasta salad with chicken tastes like a gourmet deli pasta salad and comes together in 20 minutes or less! It's packed with protein and can easily take on more veggies. Meal prep it for lunches all week, or share it as a potluck dish to serve a crowd.


Units Scale
  • 1 lb. package pasta (I love rotini, fusilli, bowties, or cavatappi)
  • 1/2 cup fresh pesto
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, drained and sliced
  • 1 8-ounce jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil, drained
  • 1/2 cup parsley or basil, chopped
  • 1/3 cup parmesan, finely shredded
  • Optional but recommended: arugula or spinach for serving


  1. Cook pasta. Fill a medium-large sized pot with enough water to cover pasta by a couple inches. Generously salt the water (I use a couple teaspoons) and bring to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook on medium-high heat until past al dente. Read the box instructions to find al dente, and then cook for a couple more minutes. Scoop out 1/2 cup of the pasta water and set aside, then drain and briefly rinse the pasta with cold water to remove the starch.
  2. Toss pasta in pesto. Once pasta is drained and rinsed, add to a large bowl with the pesto. Toss to fully coat and get the pesto in all those noodle nooks and crannies.
  3. Add in other ingredients. Add in the chicken, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and herbs. Stir everything together to coat in pesto. To help the pesto spread and cling to the ingredients, add in a splash of the reserved pasta water (I usually do 2-4 tablespoons).
  4. Chill or serve. Top with parmesan and serve immediately or chill until ready to eat. I love this pasta salad cold and served over a bed of fresh arugula or greens.


  1. Rinsing pasta. We want to rinse the pasta with cool water to help stop the cooking process and remove any starchy residue that will cause noodles to stick together. However, just a few seconds should do it - if the pasta is still lukewarm instead of ice cold, the pesto spread around it easily.
  2. Cooking past al dente. For chilled pasta salads, it helps to cook pasta al dente as pasta hardens in the fridge. This helps prevent a dry pasta salad!
  3. Serve with greens. My favorite veggie to add to this pasta salad is fresh greens, but they wilt quickly when this salad is stored in the fridge. Instead, I love serving this pasta salad on a bed of arugula, spinach, or mixed greens.