5 from 22 votes

Pesto Bowtie Salad

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our read the Privacy Policy

Pesto bowtie pasta salad with creamy, savory basil pesto is one of this year’s best recipe choices as a pork side dish, BBQ side dish, or cookout.

Fresh basil pesto pasta with Farfalle (bowtie) pasta noodles, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese is a simple, under 30-minute side dish. The pretty little bowties also act as a wide-based pasta noodle that soaks up the pesto and dressing.

spoonfull of bowtie pasta with pesto and a tomato on top.

Although plenty filling on its own, this pasta goes excellent with hamburgers, pulled pork, and hot dogs.

Plus, as a rule, most pasta salads are easily adaptable, so once you try the original recipe, try again with some variations!

Why you will love this Summer Pasta Salad

Make your tongue dance with this summertime creamy pesto bowtie pasta salad! This creamy pasta salad with pesto breaks from the usual table flair. Typically, at most potlucks, picnics, and BBQs, a table serves all the fantastic sides everyone brings.

You can count on macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and even modern favorites like frito corn salad.

But you may have never seen a pesto pasta salad sitting there.

This pesto salad bursts with flavor, counting on the bold Italian seasonings of pesto, the crunch of pine nuts, and the happy little bowtie pasta noodle that pulls it together.

This must-make (and always-enjoyed) pasta salad is an uncomplicated, rich-tasting side dish that complements most BBQ dishes.


  • Farfalle pasta: This is the bowtie-shaped pasta cooked according to the instructions on the box.
  • Prepared jarred pesto: Any of your favorite brands of jarred pesto sauce work great. I am not overly picky about it, as I have tried many brands with the same results. I use Classico, which comes in small jars near the store’s Parmesan cheese and pasta sauce.
  • Grape tomatoes: I love the elongated shape of grape tomatoes; however, cherry tomatoes would work fine. 
  • Pine nuts: While leaving this part of the ingredients may be tempting, don’t! It is unique and brings a great flavor to this pasta side.
  • Hellmann’s mayonnaise
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • Virgin olive oil
  • fresh spinach leaves
cold bowtie pasta salad in a mixing bowl.

How to make Pesto Bowtie Pasta Salad

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Drain pasta entirely of boiled water and rinse with cold water to cool before moving on. Make sure the pasta has no excess water.
  3. Add store-bought jarred pesto, mayonnaise, grated Parmesan cheese, water, and olive oil, and mix dressing well in a separate bowl.
  4. Pour creamy pesto sauce over pasta and mix well to coat all pasta sides evenly.
  5. Add chopped spinach and fresh tomatoes and toss again to combine all the ingredients.
collage of steps on how to make bowtie pesto salad.
  1. Optionally, add a little salt and cracked pepper before serving.
  2. Put in the fridge for a few hours to get cold, and let fresh ingredients work together to flavor the perfect pasta salad.
  3. Serve pasta salad topped with pine nuts, kosher salt, and black pepper, or one of the other simple ingredient alterations suggested in the recipe.

Can other pasta types be used over farfalle pasta?

Farfalle pasta (also known as butterfly or bow-tie pasta) is great for this side dish as the main pasta. First, it’s pretty, and presentation matters. Second, it’s a thick pasta that allows the total grab of the pesto dressing.

Technically, when it comes to pasta salad noodle substitution, “any” noodle could play a part. The main recommendation is to look at the ability of a noodle to hold the dressing and goodies without getting overwhelmed and saturated.

Therefore, if you need a substitute, large penne would do a fair job, and large shells (not small ones) would do the trick in a pinch.

What do pine nuts taste like? Is there a substitution?

Pine nuts are small and sweet and give almost a butter-like texture. You could easily substitute other nuts for pine nuts (or leave them out altogether). Pine nuts are actually from PINE CONES, which may come as a shock and can be a bit expensive.

As far as similar-tasting nuts, almonds are thought to have a similar texture and taste to the pine nut, but chopped cashews, walnuts, or even pecans give the same crunch with a bit of flavor.

Remember that each nut has its own particular taste, and not all may be precisely what you want for pesto.

pesto notes in a bowl.

Commonly Asked Questions

Is pesto pasta cold or hot?

This pesto pasta salad recipe is served COLD.

Do you heat pesto before putting pasta?

No, jarred pesto needs a little stir (so it’s not too oily), and adding straight from the jar is fine. Do not heat pesto before adding to pasta salad. This is one of those delicious recipes that taste better cold. 

Can pesto pasta be made ahead of time?

Absolutely! Just stir it before serving to gather any settled dressing.

How long do Pesto Pasta leftovers keep?

Pesto bowtie Pasta salad can be kept in an airtight container (to seal freshness and flavor) for 3-4 days in a cold fridge.

Are there any suggested additions to this Pasta Salad?

One of the most delicious things about pasta salad side dishes is that they are easy to alter with optional ingredients. While this pesto pasta is perfect in its own right, feel free to try fresh mozzarella balls or feta cheese, black olives that bring color and flavor, or a few pepper flakes. 

Another great addition to the pesto flavor is surprisingly avocado! Bits of avocado bring more green to this dish and taste creamy with the tangy pesto.

Add cooked skinless chicken breasts chopped into small pieces (like we do in the chicken pesto pasta salad recipe) or rotisserie chicken to bow-tie pasta salad to create a complete meal.

Pasta salads do their job at gatherings as a great filling side dish that keeps for days after as delicious leftovers. But no one likes just one pasta salad choice! This Shrimp Pesto Pasta salad is a great variation in the same flavor family if you want to keep with the pesto theme.

If you want to switch it up to have various choices, try BLT pasta SaladPea Pasta Salad, and you cannot go wrong with vegetable macaroni pasta salad.

Sick of pasta but still need a side? All pasta needs a balanced sweetness, so go with traditional Ambrosia Salad or Watergate Salad

bowtie pesto pasta salad ready to serve.
5 from 22 votes

Pesto Bowtie Pasta Salad

Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Creamy Bowtie Pesto Pasta Salad with Pesto Dressing is a quick and easy pasta salad side dish that is bursting with flavor and perfect as a summer side dish…and how can it not be? Just use store bought pesto as the base to this nearly homemade dressing, bowtie pasta shells and bits of fresh vegetables for a budget friendly summer salad.


  • 12 oz. Bowtie Pasta
  • 1/2 cup prepared pesto jarred
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup chopped fresh spinach
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes quartered
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts


  • Cook farfalle pasta according to package directions. Farfalle pasta is the same thing as bowtie or butterfly pasta and works great to hold heavy pesto dressing.
  • Drain pasta completely of boiled water and rinse with cold water to cool before moving on. Make sure pasta has no excess water.
  • In a separate bowl, add store bought jarred pesto, mayonnaise, grated Parmesan cheese, water, olive oil and mix dressing well.
  • Pour pesto dressing over pasta and mix well to evenly coat all of the pasta sides.
  • Add chopped spinach and grape tomatoes and toss again to combine all ingredients.
  • Optionally add a little salt and cracked pepper prior to serving.
  • Put in fridge for a few hours to get cold.
  • Serve pasta salad topped with pine nuts or one of the other suggestions in the recipe.



This recipe goes amazing with cooked chopped chicken (I smother in extra dressing before adding to the prepared pasta salad) and chopped walnuts over pinenuts.
How long can Pesto pasta be kept in the fridge?
Pesto pasta salad can be kept in an airtight container (to seal freshness and flavor) for 3–4 days in a cold fridge.
Can Bowtie Pesto Pasta be made in advance?
Absolutely! Just give it a stir before serving to gather any settled dressing.


Serving: 0.5cup | Calories: 303kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 30g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 11g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 19mg | Sodium: 311mg | Potassium: 112mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 329IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 144mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutritional Disclaimer: The nutritional data provided here is auto-calculated and intended for your convenience only. As it’s generated via automation, its accuracy may be compromised. For precise nutritional insight, please compute the values utilizing the actual ingredients in your recipe through your chosen nutrition calculator or application.

Sharing of this recipe is encouraged and appreciated. Copying of full recipe to any social media is prohibited.

Did You Make This Recipe?

Make sure to follow Salty Side Dish on Pinterest and rate the recipe here and make sure to leave a comment below!

5 from 22 votes

Leave A Comment

Have a question or want to provide feedback? Share your recipe reviews or questions here and I will do my best to help!

Recipe Rating

One Comment

  1. Absolutely delicious!!

Where To Next?