This Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad is packed with a delicious combination of flavors and textures. Tender chicken with sweet cherry tomatoes, black olives, crunchy walnuts, tangy feta cheese, and peppery arugula, all tossed together in a luscious pesto dressing.
Summer is officially here which means it’s time to start thinking about dishes to make and take to all those outdoor gatherings with friends and family.
Whether it’s a backyard barbecue, picnic, or potluck, this Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad recipe is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser and the perfect addition to any menu.
This protein-packed salad also makes an absolutely lovely light summer meal on its own. Whether you’re hosting a summer gathering or simply looking for a fresh, satisfying meal, this recipe is for you!
Table of contents
- Convenience: Store-bought pesto and rotisserie chicken save precious time in the kitchen.
- Make-Ahead: The pasta salad can be made ahead of time, making it a perfect dish for meal prep or picnics.
- Easy and Versatile: This recipe takes just minutes to assemble and can be served immediately. The leftovers are delicious served cold from the fridge the next day.
- Creamy Pesto Dressing – Store-bought basil pesto is combined with plain Greek yogurt, and a little extra-virgin olive oil. Check big box stores, like Costco, for a great deal on pesto. If you only want to buy enough to make this salad, look for a jar that is at least 6.25 ounces. I found that a 6.35 ounce jar of Delallo Basil Pesto was the perfect amount. If you’re in possession of homemade pesto, by all means use it!
- Pasta – I love using farfalle, also known as bowtie pasta, for this salad. Any short pasta like penne, fusilli, or medium shells would also work well.
- Chicken – Cubed, fully-cooked chicken. I definitely recommend using rotisserie chicken to make it SO easy.
- Cherry tomatoes – Add a bright pop of color against the light green pesto dressing and wonderful sweet flavor.
- Onion – A little diced red onion for color and flavor.
- Olives – I use sliced black olives but you can use green olives, kalamata olives, or any type you love.
- Nuts – Toasted walnuts add texture and the flavor perfectly complements pesto. Pine nuts are pricier but would also be a delicious choice.
- Cheese – Tangy feta cheese adds a great flavor boost. Look for containers of crumbled feta in the deli/cheese section of the grocery store.
- Greens – Peppery arugula adds a fresh element and finishes this pasta salad in a wonderful way.
How to Make Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
Before assembling the salad, there are just a couple of steps to get out of the way.
- Cook the pasta – Cook in boiling, salted water to al dente, according to the package instructions. Rinse well with cold water and drain well. The pasta should be cold when tossed with the remaining ingredients.
- Toast the walnuts – Place the walnuts on a small baking sheet or shallow dish and bake for 3 minutes at 350 degrees F to lightly toast. Let them cool completely before adding to the salad.
- Make the dressing – In a small bowl, combine the pesto with the olive oil and Greek yogurt. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Dress the pasta – Transfer the cooked, cooled pasta to a serving dish. Add the dressing and toss to combine.
- Add ingredients – Add the chicken, tomatoes, onion, olives and crumbled feta and toss to combine.
- Finish – Stir in the arugula and the toasted walnuts and garnish with a little additional feta, if desired.
If you’d like to get most of the prep out of the way, cover the bowl with plastic wrap after step 3 above. Just before serving, stir in the arugula and walnuts.
Although I think leftovers of this salad are delicious, the arugula will wilt and the nuts will soften a bit after chilling for a long time so for the freshest result, add these ingredients just before serving.
Refrigerate promptly: After serving the pasta salad, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate it within two hours to keep it fresh and safe to consume. This helps to maintain its freshness and prevents the absorption of any odors from other foods in the fridge. Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad can typically be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days. However, it’s always a good idea to check the quality and freshness before consuming leftovers beyond the first couple of days.
Serving leftovers: When you’re ready to enjoy the pasta salad, give it a good toss to redistribute the ingredients and ensure the flavors are well combined. You may want to add a small spoonful of pesto to refresh the flavors, if needed.
More Summer Pasta Salads You’ll Love
- Chicken Avocado Pasta Salad
- Asian Pasta Salad
- Orzo Salad with Spinach and Feta
- Pizza Pasta Salad
- Check out my entire collection of salad recipes for more inspiration.
Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
For the Creamy Pesto Dressing
- ¾ cup prepared basil pesto
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt, nonfat or 2%
For the Pasta Salad
- 10 ounces farfalle (bowtie) pasta, about 3 cups dry measure
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- 1 heaping cup fully-cooked chicken breast, chopped (I use rotisserie chicken)
- 1 heaping cup cherry tomatoes, rinsed, drained, and halved
- 2.25 ounce can sliced black olives, drained
- ¼ cup diced red onion
- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese, plus additional for garnish
- 1½ cups baby arugula, packed
Make the Creamy Pesto Dressing
- In a small bowl, combine the pesto with the olive oil and Greek yogurt. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Cook the Pasta
- Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water according to package directions. Rinse well with cold water (pasta should be cold) and drain well.
Toast the Walnuts
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the walnuts on a small baking sheet or shallow dish and bake for 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Assemble the Salad
- Transfer the cooked, cooled pasta to a serving dish. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Add the chicken, tomatoes, black olives, red onion, and crumbled feta and toss to combine. If making ahead, cover and refrigerate. Just before serving, stir in the arugula, and the toasted walnuts and garnish with a little additional feta, if desired.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated using generic ingredients, and is an estimate not a guarantee. For more accurate results, please refer to the labels on your ingredients at home.
This post was originally published on May 18, 2014. It has been updated with new text and images.