This basil pesto pasta salad includes tomatoes, artichoke hearts and nutritional yeast. It's ideal as a make-ahead camping or road trip meal.
Before we head out on a road trip, I like to do a little meal prepping.
Even though we sometimes eat out at restaurants when we're traveling, I like to have some food already prepared so that we have more meal options.
There are two meals that I make ahead most often: a big batch of my favorite raw brussels sprouts salad and this basil pesto pasta salad. Both last for several days in a cooler, both can work as side dishes for camping meals, and both are extremely delicious and hearty.
The idea for this basil pesto pasta salad came as we were enjoying leftovers from one of our other favorite camping meals, this campfire pesto penne. The leftovers were every bit as delicious as the hot pasta dish, and this chilled pasta salad version has become one of our new favorites.
What Kind of Pasta Should I Use?
Use short-grain pasta, such as penne, rotini or conchiglie (smallish shells). The pasta in the photos is conchiglie.
Is This Recipe Dairy-Free?
It depends on what basil pesto you use.
Many basil pestos (but not all) include Parmesan cheese. If you're avoiding dairy, look for a basil pesto without cheese, or make homemade dairy-free basil pesto.
What Kind of Broth Should I Use?
If you eat meat, chicken broth also works well in this recipe.
How Can I Add Protein to This Basil Pesto Pasta Salad?
Want to make this a main dish?
To keep it vegetarian, try using Banza's chickpea pasta. It's one of our favorites, is gluten-free and has lots of protein.
For a non-vegetarian option, we also love this salad with smoked salmon or canned tuna added in. I typically wait until just before serving before adding the fish.
If you're using canned tuna, try to use tuna that specifies "pole and line caught" for a more sustainable tuna option.
We love this Wild Planet canned tuna.
Can I Skip the Nutritional Yeast?
You can, but add it if possible. It adds a nice cheesy flavor (without adding cheese).
If you're out of nutritional yeast but have Parmesan cheese on hand, you could grate that into the pasta salad (when it's still warm) instead.
How to Store Basil Pesto Pasta Salad On-The-Go
For road trips, I typically pack this basil pesto pasta salad in a gallon-sized freezer bag and store it (with ice packs) in my Igloo BMX cooler.
If I'm taking this pasta salad to a picnic, I love using this Hydro Flask 3-quart bowl. The lid seals on and the double-wall insulation helps with temperature control.
How to Make Basil Pesto Pasta Salad
Start by adding broth, water and garlic powder to a large pot and bring to a simmer on the stovetop. Add the pasta and stir.
The pasta should be covered in liquid. If it's not, add extra broth or water.
Simmer the pasta until it's tender. As it cooks, stir often. If the pasta seems to be sticking to the pot, add a little more broth or water.
Once the pasta is tender, remove it from the heat. Most of the liquid will have been absorbed into the pasta, so there's no need to drain anything.
Next, add the pesto, nutritional yeast and sun-dried tomatoes. Stir everything to combine.
Optionally, add diced tomatoes and capers.
Store this pasta salad in the fridge (or in a cooler with ice), and enjoy this easy travel-friendly meal!
Basil Pesto Pasta Salad
Basil Pesto Pasta Salad:
- 2 cups vegetable broth Use low-sodium broth if desired
- 2 cups water (plus more if needed)
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 pound short-grain pasta, such as penne, rotini or conchiglie (shells). Use gluten-free certified pasta if needed. Chickpea pasta works well here.
- 6 ounces basil pesto (1 small jar) Use dairy-free pesto if needed.
- ¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast Or swap grated Parmesan cheese (dairy or vegan)
- 12 ounce jar quartered artichoke hearts, drained
- 1 cup diced tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons capers
- tuna (in can or packet), 1 packet per person or ½ of a 4-ounce can per person
- Add broth, 2 cups water and garlic powder to a large pot. Place on the stovetop on high heat. Bring broth to a simmer.
- Add the pasta and stir. Make sure the pasta is covered in water, adding additional broth or water if needed.Simmer the pasta in the broth until the pasta is tender and most of the broth is absorbed (about 15-20 minutes, depending on the type of pasta and how hot your burner is). Stir the pasta often while cooking, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot often to prevent sticking.For gluten-free pasta, I like to under-cook it by about a minute. (Gluten-free pasta tends to fall apart easily when fully cooked.)If you hear the pasta sizzling, it's sticking to the pot. Add a little more water and stir to release any bits of pasta that stuck.
- Once pasta is tender, remove from heat. (It’s fine if there’s still a little liquid in the bottom of the pot.)Add the nutritional yeast, pesto and sun-dried tomatoes (with oil) to the pasta and stir to combine.
- Add the artichoke hearts, tomatoes and capers to the pasta. Stir to combine.
- Allow pasta to cool before serving. If making it ahead of time, refrigerate (or store in a cooler) for up to 5 days. Optionally, add tuna to the pasta when serving. (Tuna has a shorter shelf-life than the pasta, so I prefer to add the tuna to the pasta when serving to extend the life of the pasta salad.)