Pasta is the perfect base for building a cool and refreshing summer salad.
It’s inexpensive, cooks quickly, and has a neutral taste and texture that supports the flavors of other foods. It can be served cold or hot, and is now readily available in healthier varieties, like those made from whole wheat and gluten-free flours.
Bright with sunny flavors, this recipe is replete with garden-fresh ingredients like basil, garlic, peas, and spinach – a great dish for the gardeners out there!
Or you can pick up some locally grown produce at your closest farmers market. Here’s a link to the USDA farmers market directory.
An ideal dish for potlucks, patio parties, or any summer get-together, this tasty offering, like many other recipes for pasta salads, can be made ahead of time – making it convenient and delicious!
The flavors will actually improve if allowed to sit at room temperature a bit before being served – 30 minutes or more.
This dish is suitable as a whole meal for lunch, as a side with a main course, or as part of a buffet for entertaining. With penne being a bite-sized option, it’s easy to eat in standing situations, like mingling at a yard party.
The flavor intensive comes from the pesto, with its deep flavors of basil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese.
Spinach greens add more fresh flavors, along with plenty of nutrients such as vitamins A, B6, and C. And the addition of mayonnaise makes the final sauce so smooth and creamy.
Naturally, the peas please with their sweet flavor! And they add even more vitamins, like whopping levels of C, plus good amounts of A, B6, magnesium, and dietary fiber.
While we do have a classic pesto recipe made with only basil, my version includes a handful of parsley for an even fresher taste. Both the basil and parsley have outstanding levels of vitamins A and C, making this dish rich in important green-sourced antioxidants.
For another nutrient-dense pesto alternative, use our kale almond pesto.
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Get Organized
Read the recipe and organize your ingredients and tools.
Step 2 – Cook the Pasta
Cook the penne in a large pot for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until al dente – just cooked, but still firm.
Don’t overcook the penne, because the right texture is important. You want them to be soft enough to pierce with a fork, while still retaining a firm form.
Drain and rinse the penne, then toss with olive oil and set aside to cool to room temperature.
Step 3 – Prep the Peas
Shell the peas, or clean and trim the ones with edible pods. Set aside. Young tenderils make a delicious addition to a salad in the springtime.
Step 4 – Make the Basic Pesto
With the processor running, slowly add the oil through the feed tube until smoothly pureed.
Add the grated Parmesan cheese and process for one more minute.
Step 5 – Make the Final Sauce
Add the spinach and lemon juice, then puree. Add the mayo, and puree once more.
Allergic to eggs, or aiming to cut down on your cholesterol intake? Try our egg-free mayonnaise recipe!
Step 6 – Mix Together
Stir the finished sauce into the cooled penne. Fold in the Parmesan, peas, and pine nuts. Season with freshly ground salt and pepper to taste.
Fresh is Best!
For the sunniest flavors, make this fresh salad with bright herbs and veggies.
For crisp, bright produce, visit your farmers market, or grow your own. And our sister site, Gardeners Path, has all the details on how to grow an abundant supply of sweet basil.
And if you’d like some more recipe ideas for this summertime classic, check out our tips for how to build a perfect pasta salad – you’ll love the failsafe results!
If cheese is not part of your diet, try our recipe for vegan pesto instead.
How about you readers, any questions about this recipe? Drop us a note in the comments below, or join us on our Facebook page.
Looking for more tasty pesto-based recipes? Check out a sampling of what we have to offer:
- Basil Pesto Chicken Pasta with Asparagus and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
- Savory Raw Pesto Salad
- Caramelized Onion, Mushroom, and Pesto Pizza
- Sunflower Seed Spinach Pesto with Grilled Chicken
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Photos by Lorna Kring, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.
*Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.