I have a well-documented love for a good ol’ summer pasta salad, & this Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad with Grilled Veggies just might be my favorite. It’s a dish I prep all the time during the warm weather season for everything from meal prep to backyard cookouts & it gets rave reviews from everyone who tries it.
There are 3 key components at play in this chicken pesto pasta salad recipe:
- Homemade lemon basil pesto sauce: This is my go-to pesto recipe, which comes together quickly in a food processor with a generous amount of summer basil & grated parmesan cheese, but the secret ingredient is the zest & fresh juice of a lemon – a small addition that makes all of the other ingredients sing.
- Grilled chicken & veggies: Seasoned with a quick marinade of lemon & garlic & tossed on the grill for irresistible smoky-charred flavor. Here’s where this recipe gets a lot of its flexibility – feel free to use whatever veggies are in season & let the grill do all the work!
- Al dente pasta: Of course! I often opt for perfectly twirly cavatappi, but you can use whatever you short pasta you already have on hand. For an especially fun twist, swap in some cheese tortellini!
You can serve it warm, cold, or at room temperature, making this pesto pasta salad a perfect weeknight dinner recipe, meal prep lunch, or even a summer BBQ side dish – an all-purpose summer meal!
- lemon basil pesto, below
- 8 ounces cavatappi, or other short pasta of choice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lemon, zested & juiced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced into 3–4 flat planks
- 1 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into ¼-inch strips
- 8 ounces cherry tomatoes
- 1 pound chicken thighs or thinly pounded chicken breast
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella pearls
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
for the lemon basil pesto:
- 1 ¼ ounces fresh basil leaves & tender stems (about 1 cup loosely packed)
- 4 cloves garlic
- ½ lemon, zested & juiced
- ¼ cup finely grated parmesan
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 3–4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- Prepare the grill for medium-high direct heat grilling, about 450-500 degrees F. Once preheated, clean the cooking surface by firmly brushing a wire brush over the grates. (If you do not have access to an outdoor grill, you can also preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat.)
- Prep the lemon basil pesto: Place all listed ingredients except olive oil in a food processor. Season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Pulse to combine, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor as needed. With the processor running, slowly stream in the olive oil until your desired consistency is reached. Set aside, or transfer to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- Boil the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, generously salt the water. Add in the pasta and cook to al dente, according to package instructions. Drain the pasta, then rinse with cold water & set aside.
- Prep the chicken & veggies: Meanwhile, as the pasta cooks, prep & grill the chicken & veggies. In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest & juice, & garlic. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Toss the bell pepper, zucchini, & cherry tomatoes through the marinade. Transfer to a large plate or small baking sheet, stringing the marinated cherry tomatoes on a skewer, & set aside. Add the chicken to the bowl tossing to coat in the remaining marinade.
- Grill the chicken & veggies: Place the chicken & veggies on the prepared grill, ensuring the tomato skewers & zucchini are positioned perpendicular to the grill grates to help prevent them from falling through the grates as they cook. Grill vegetables until as softened & charred as desired – tomatoes will grill in about 2 minutes per side, while bell pepper & zucchini need 3-4 minutes per side. Grill the chicken for 4-5 minutes per side, or until fully cooked through. Remove from the grill & set aside to cool slightly.
- Assemble the pesto pasta salad: Once cool enough to handle, chop the grilled chicken, bell pepper, & zucchini into bite-sized pieces. Add the cooked pasta, prepared lemon basil pesto, grilled chicken, grilled veggies, & mozzarella pearls to a large bowl. Toss to combine. Taste and season with additional salt or ground black pepper as needed. Enjoy!
- Ingredient Notes & Recipe Variations: This pesto pasta salad is a very flexible recipe, so feel free to adjust to your liking or take shortcuts if needed! Swap grilled chicken with shredded rotisserie chicken (or omit altogether for a vegetarian dish), opt for store-bought pesto instead of homemade (I always mix a little fresh lemon juice into my favorite jarred pesto to liven up its flavor), or use whatever veggies you happen to have on hand. Have fun with it & make it your own!
- Make-Ahead & Storage: This pesto pasta salad is great served warm, at room temperature, or cold. Leftovers will keep for up to 4-5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Make it ahead of time for meal prep or summer party prep or enjoy leftovers as an easy lunch or dinner during the week!
- Meal prep: You can make this summer pesto pasta salad recipe in its entirety ahead of time (serving, storage notes above), or you can partially prep its components in advance to make throwing together dinner during the week even quicker. 2 meal prep options:
- 10-Minute Meal Prep: Slice the red bell pepper & zucchini and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Prep the zesty marinade according to Step 3 of Recipe Directions. Store in a jar or airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. At dinnertime, cook the pasta, grill the chicken & veggies, & toss it all together with very little prep work involved.
- 20-Minute Meal Prep: Prep and grill the chicken & veggies according to Steps 3-4 of Recipe Directions. Chop & store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. At dinnertime simply cook the pasta & toss it all together – easy!
Keywords: Summer Pesto Pasta Salad, chicken recipe, grilled chicken, grilled vegetables, homemade pesto, pasta recipe, main dish, side dish, easy, summer