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The Best Simple & Refreshing Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad

by | Aug 31, 2021 | Recipes

Don’t let leftover grilled chicken or cooked pasta go to waste! Turn them into a tasty new dish in less than 20 minutes with this simple pasta salad recipe. This Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad is chock-full of diced grilled chicken, bite-sized pasta, charred red bell peppers, juicy cherry tomatoes, and soft fresh mozzarella cheese.

macro photo of creamy chicken pesto pasta salad in a bowl and garnished with sliced basil

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I’m a big, big fan of cold pasta salads in the Summer. They’re the perfect antidote for days you don’t want to cook. And for days it’s too damn hot to cook. And the days when you’re feel like you’re melting from the heat and need something to cool you down from the inside.

Whether it’s a light and healthy version loaded up with veggies or traditional and carb-heavy, pasta salads are the way to go for Summer. And because the majority of pasta salads can be made in advance, they’re great options for meal prepping. Because they’re light and fresh, we typically associate pasta salads with Spring and Summer. But they’re great options year-round for making a quick and easy meal.

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INGREDIENTS    SWAPS    TIPS & TRICKS    HOW-TO    RECIPE

Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad

This pasta salad combines mayonnaise, sour cream, and basil pesto to create a dreamy creamy pesto sauce. Everything gets coated in this flavorful sauce; and the longer it sits, the deeper the flavor gets. There’s big antipasto vibes going on in this pesto pasta salad from the tomatoes, sweet bell pepper, fresh mozzarella. But things take a turn with the addition of the grilled chicken.

There’s a decent amount of protein in this cold pasta salad, so it’s pretty filling all on its own. But, it also makes a great accompaniment to light and fresh veggie sides like corn on the cob and roasted zucchini and yellow squash.

high overhead shot of pasta salad

A Great Way to Leverage Leftovers

You can pan-sear chicken specifically just for this salad, or leverage any leftover chicken you have on hand. I like to use leftover chicken that I lightly seasoned with garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and black pepper.

You can even use the delicious shortcut of using a store-bought rotisserie chicken. Just dice or shred the chicken (I prefer a dice), toss it into the salad, and you’re good to go!

This Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad calls for red bell peppers that you char in a pan on the stove. During grilling season, I always add some bell peppers to the grill with whatever I’m making. If you do this too, then this salad is a great way to use up any that are left over.

Though this recipe doesn’t call for them, this salad is a great way to use up any leftover veggies. Especially grilled and sautéed ones like broccoli, asparagus, summer squash, green beans, and eggplant.

Gonna try out this recipe?

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Ingredients For Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad

overhead shot of ingredients for making creamy chicken pesto pasta salad
  • Chicken – Grilled chicken is common in my house throughout the year, so it’s the first protein I think of for pasta salads. For me, it doesn’t sit as heavy as steak, giving this salad flexibility to be a main or a side dish.
  • Pasta – I like to use bite-sized pasta like mini farfalle or penne. Using small pasta leaves room on my fork to get a bit of everything so that each bite I take, is literally the perfect bite.
  • Basil Pesto – You can use homemade or store bought pesto. I typically use homemade. But when I use a store bought version, I usually use Classico’s Traditional Basil Pesto. Sometimes it can be a bit too salty for me, but it’s super easy to find. So if I use it, I just add in more sour cream and mayo until I get a balance of flavor and saltiness that I like.
  • Mayonnaise – The mayonnaise acts a base to create the creamy sauce for this pasta salad.
  • Sour Cream – The sour cream also acts as a base for the sauce and provides some acid to cut through the richness of the pesto.
  • Mozzarella – I prefer to fresh mozzarella in this salad. Sometimes I use the little pearls and cut them in half. Other times I buy a package of fresh mozzarella and dice it up into 1/4-inch little cubes.
  • Red Bell Pepper – The bell pepper adds a layer of sweetness to the salad. I like to pan-char the bell peppers for two reasons. First, it adds an interesting look to the salad visually. Second, it softens the flesh of the pepper so that it’s still firm, but not crunchy.
  • Tomatoes – Basil and tomatoes are like peanut butter and jelly, they just go together. So with basil pesto being the star flavor of this pasta salad, it only makes sense to add in tomatoes.

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Ingredient Swaps & Variations

  • Swap the Protein – If you don’t like or have chicken on hand, beef makes a great swap.
  • Go Meatless – You could even pan-fry some tofu and use that as your protein swap if you’d prefer a meatless Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad.
  • Add More Veggies – If you don’t like bell pepper or want to reduce the amount of pasta in favor for more veggies, there are tons of options! I myself really enjoy broccoli and asparagus that I sauté to soften a little before adding them into the salad. Other veggies that would be a great addition include sun-dried tomatoes, onions, corn, peas, green beans, zucchini, eggplant, and roasted cauliflower.
  • Add in Some Crunch – If you like a little crunch in your pasta salad, char the bell pepper for less time than called for in the recipe. You could also add more crunch to the salad with veggies like snow peas, cucumbers, or thinly sliced raw onion or celery. Another way to add some crunch would be to add in some chopped nuts like almonds, pistachios, or walnuts.

Recipe Tips & Tricks

What to Remember – Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving. Garnishing with ribbons of fresh basil is a nice touch, but not necessary because there is plenty of basil flavor coming through from the pesto.

What to Avoid – Don’t gob smack your veggies when adding them into the salad. Gently fold them in last so that their bold colors don’t get too muted by the pesto sauce. It will all taste the same, but it looks so much more visually appealing when served where the tomatoes and peppers give a little pop of color to the salad.

Recipes That Go Well with This Pasta Salad – Because this pasta salad has a good deal of chicken in it, it’s quite filling when served on its own. But sometimes I prefer to keep things a little bit lighter and serve a smaller portion as a side dish, along side some of my Super Garlicky Green Beans and Kickin’ Crispy Roasted Broccoli.

overhead closeup of pasta salad in bowl

Recipe Notes

Storage – This creamy pesto pasta salad is best stored in an airtight glass or plastic container in the refrigerator. When stored properly, it will stay at optimal quality for 3-4 days.

Servings & Nutrition – One serving of this Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad is 1 cup. If serving with veggie sides for a lighter meal, pare the serving size back to 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup. This recipe makes 5 servings at the 1 cup serving size. Each serving has approximately 417 calories, 20 g of carbohydrates, 26 g of protein, 26 g of fat, and 3 g of sugar. For the full recipe and additional nutritional information, please see the recipe card below.

How to Make Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad

Step 1. Char the bell pepper in a hot skillet without oil, turning every so often until the skin has blackened in spots and the flesh of the pepper has softened. Approximately 4-5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

overhead shots showing bell peppers being pan charred

Step 2. In a large mixing bowl, add the mayonnaise, sour cream, and basil pesto. Stir well to thoroughly combine.

overhead shots of mayo with sour cream and pesto and pasta being added to pesto sauce mixture

Step 3. Add the cooked pasta to the large mixing bowl and mix well with the pesto sauce.

Step 4. Dice the cooked chicken into 1/2-inch cubes and dice the mozzarella into 1/4-inch cubes. Add both to the mixing bowl with the pasta and stir to combine.

overhead shots of chicken, mozzarella, peppers, and tomatoes added to pasta

Step 5. Once the bell peppers are cool to the touch, dice them into 1/4-inch pieces and add to the mixing bowl.

Step 6. Quarter the tomatoes and add them to the mixing bowl with the bell peppers. Gently fold the peppers and tomatoes into the pasta salad. Season to taste with salt and/or pepper before serving. Garnish with fresh basil if desired.

macro closeup of finished creamy chicken pesto pasta salad served in a bowl

If you make this recipe, tag me in your photos on Instagram—I love seeing what you guys decided to make!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can this chicken pesto pasta salad be made ahead of time?

Yes. This pasta salad can easily be made up to 4 hours in advance if you’re wanting a visually impressive salad.

As with all pasta salads, the longer the pasta sits in the sauce/dressing the more of the sauce/dressing it will soak up. If you need to make the pasta further in advance and are wanting it to look pretty, reserve half of the pesto sauce mixture to add to the pasta salad just before you serve it.

If you’re more concerned about flavor than the visual appeal of the salad, you can make this salad up to 1 day in advance.

Can I cut down on the fat and calories in this recipe by replacing the mayonnaise with additional sour cream?

Absolutely. The basil pesto is pretty powerful in flavor so you shouldn’t notice much of a difference in taste or overall flavor.

Should I use white meat chicken or dark meat chicken in this recipe?

You should use whichever you prefer. Both will work just fine.

Other Recipes You May Enjoy

close up of pesto pasta salad in bowl

The Best Simple & Refreshing Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad

Yield: 5 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes

Diced grilled chicken, sweet peppers, tomatoes, mozzarella and pasta all tossed in a dreamy creamy pesto sauce.

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces diced grilled chicken
  • 2 cups cooked pasta (mini farfalle, mini penne, etc.)
  • 1/2 large red bell pepper
  • 12-15 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 3/4 cup diced fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto
  • Fresh basil for garnish optional

Instructions

1. Cut the bell pepper into 2-3 pieces and add to a hot skillet without oil to char the peppers. Turn peppers every 45 seconds or so until the skin has blacked and the flesh of the pepper has softened. This should take about 4-5 minutes over high heat.

2. Add the mayonnaise, sour cream, and basil pesto to a large mixing bowl and then stir well to combine.

3. Add in the cooked pasta to the mixing bowl and mix until pasta is fully coated in the pesto sauce.

4. Dice the cooked chicken into 1/2-inch cubes and then add to the mixing bowl.

5. Dice the mozzarella into 1/4-inch cubes and add to the mixing bowl. Stir to coat the chicken and the mozzarella with the pesto sauce.

6. Once the peppers are cool to the touch, dice them into 1/4-inch pieces. Quarter the cherry tomatoes. Then add both the peppers and the tomatoes to the mixing bowl. Gently fold the peppers and tomatoes into the pasta salad.

7. Season the pasta salad to taste with salt and/or black pepper. Garnish with fresh basil if desired.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 5 Serving Size: 1 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 417Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 91mgSodium: 391mgCarbohydrates: 20gFiber: 2gSugar: 3gProtein: 26g

This nutrition data is provided and calculated by Nutritionix. Please keep in mind that your specific nutritional values may vary based on the brand of ingredients you use to make this recipe.

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Hey there! I’m Krystal, the sassy-mouthed, self-taught, home cook behind the content here at Sweet, Savory & Sassy. I have a deep love for sharing food with people and showing folks just how easy it really is to make dishes that will bring a little extra joy to those you love. There’s nothing like making something special for friends and family and seeing their face light up in delight during that first bite!
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