Walnut and Pea Pesto Pasta Salad
Elevate the classic pasta salad with this delicious walnut and pea pesto sauce! This vibrant, gluten-free recipe is ideal for warm summer days, backyard barbecues, and potluck parties.
A Zesty Twist on Pasta Salads
Trade in your traditional pasta salad for this vibrant option! This gluten-free recipe features fresh ingredients with a fun play on the classic pesto sauce. With a sweet pesto made from green peas and candied walnuts from Santé Nuts, this pasta salad is unlike any recipe you’ve tried before!
When the temperatures start to climb, the recipe is guaranteed to be on repeat all summer long. The sweet Walnut and Pea Pesto is balanced by the delicious flavors of the pasta salad. The blend of juicy cherry tomatoes, salty ham and creamy mozzarella makes for the perfect bite.
Whether you’re making it for a Fourth of July day spread or utilizing it as a meal prep option for lunch, this pasta salad is guaranteed to be a fan favorite. So, say hello to your new 30-minutes summer staple!
What Is Pesto?
This infamous green sauce originated in Italy around the 16th century. Pesto is traditionally made with crushed garlic, pine nuts, basil leaves, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and olive oil. When combined, it gives off a nutty flavor balanced out by the sharpness of the cheese and the bold herb flavor of the basil. While this sauce pairs well with almost any kind of pasta, it’s typically served with potato gnocchi.
Today there are countless variations of pesto recipes. From the rustic Tuscan kale pesto to the trendy avocado pesto, the possibilities are seemingly endless when it comes making pesto. Each unique variation of pesto pairs well with different foods. For example, arugula pesto is commonly served alongside vegetables because its peppery undertones pair well with roasted vegetables, such as zucchini or squash.
When it comes to pairing types of pesto with recipes, it’s important to consider the base of the pesto. The leafy green, vegetable and type of nut used will strongly influence the flavor profile of the sauce. This recipe utilizes peas and walnuts as the base; which, yields a sweeter taste. So, the recipe paired with the pesto needs to counteract that flavor. The sweetness of the pesto is balanced out by the ingredients in the pasta salad, creating the perfect bite!
How to Make Walnut and Pea Pesto
All you need is a food processor, less than 10 ingredients and just five minutes to make this tasty pesto!
- Peas: Green peas will be one of the main ingredients in this recipe. You can buy the frozen peas and then allow them to thaw, or steam according to instructions. Just remember to allow them to cool to room temperature before adding them to the food processor.
- Walnut: This sharp, oily nut will be the second main ingredient of the pesto. For the best results, use the candied walnuts from Santé Nuts! Each walnut half is carefully coated in a thin, crisp layer of cane sugar. The sweetness from these walnuts pairs beautifully with the bright peas!
- Olive Oil: A neutral oil is needed in order to blend the pesto into a smooth sauce.
- Lemon: A little lemon juice adds just the hint of acidity that this pesto needs!
- Garlic: While traditional pesto uses a fair bit of garlic, this recipe calls for only one clove. Garlic has a very strong, bold flavorful that can often times overpower other ingredients. One clove will suffice to enhance the flavors of this recipe without outshining the peas and walnuts.
- Parmesan: This fruity, nutty cheese pairs beautifully with the flavor of the walnuts. Plus, it ads a little more depth to the sauce.
- Basil Leaves: Although some pesto recipes skip the basil all together, this herb is a must here. The slightly spicy flavor balances out the sweetness and adds a hint of that signature pesto taste.
When combined, the ingredients yield the perfect flavor profile! The peas and walnuts are really able to shine through as the main ingredients.
The Base of the Salad
A good salad comes down to its dressing or sauce, toppings and base. I believe the foundation is the most important aspect. Just like the right leafy green can elevate a salad, the wrong choice can throw off the flavor profile. While we don’t have to worry about a green base for this recipe, the pasta does make a huge difference.
There is such a thing as a wrong choice when it comes to choosing a gluten-free pasta. Unfortunately, many brands of gluten-free pasta yield a mushy consistency that overcooks quickly or falls apart when combined with a sauce. Here are some tips on how to choose the right gluten-free pasta:
- The Brand: This is one of the few times you want to skip the store brand and opt for the bigger name brand. A few of my tried and true favorites are DeLallo, Barilla Chickpea Pasta, and Banza. For this recipe, I used the chickpea rotini from Barilla.
- The Cook: If you follow the box instructions, make sure to undercook the pasta by 60-90 seconds. While each of the brands above hold up very well, this helps ensure that the pasta is just slightly al dente.
- The Cool Down: As pasta salad is served cold, it’s crucial that the cooked pasta cools to room temperature before adding the sauce or other ingredients. Although it shaves down the wait time, avoid putting the pasta in the refrigerator. This will harden the pasta and affect the texture. Instead, add the pasta to a glass bowl after draining the liquid. Toss it with a splash of olive oil and stir it every few minutes to help it cool down faster.
These tips will help ensure the base of the pasta salad has the perfect texture and consistency!
Building the Pasta Salad
Much like making the pesto, this takes only minutes to throw together! The ease and time at which the recipe comes together is one of the many things to love about this pasta salad! After the pasta has cooled to room temperature, add all of the pesto to the pasta. Use a spatula to carefully fold in the sauce. Since the pasta is slightly al dente, you won’t have to worrying about the consistency of the pasta during this step.
Once all of the pesto is dispersed and the pasta coated evenly, it’s time to add in the rest of the ingredients! Start by adding two cups of steamed and cooled green peas to the bowl. The flavor of the raw peas ties into the pesto and the sweetness is balanced out by the other ingredients. Then, add a cup of halved cherry tomatoes. I like the medley to add a little more color into this recipe but the choice is yours. Next, add in the diced ham and mozzarella pearls. If you have leftover ham, this is a great way to utilize it or you can use store-bought. Just make sure the ham is slightly crisped to add a little texture.
Finally, fold in all of the ingredients. You can use a spatula to immerse the ingredients in the pasta or you can use salad tongs to carefully toss the salad. Then, all that’s left to do is serve up the pasta salad!
Highlighting the Walnuts
This pasta salad is sure to become a go-to recipe, and it wouldn’t be the same without the unique taste of the Walnut and Pea Pesto. This pesto has flavors that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s the perfect way to elevate easy dishes in just minutes. Moreover, the nut component of this sauce truly takes the flavor profile to the next level.
The walnuts in this recipe build on the sweetness of the peas. Instead of trying to balance out the sweetness, adding to it creates more depth of flavor. Unlike traditional pestos that use pine nuts, which are bitter, walnuts have a more complex taste. They have a high oil content with sharp, tangy notes and an underlying sweetness. The combination of the natural sweetness plus the sugar coating of the candied walnuts from Santé Nuts makes for a richer flavor.
Other Sante Nuts Recipes
It’s no secret that I love the wide variety of flavored nuts from Santé Nuts . Santé Nuts is a family-owned company thats crafts crave-worthy snacks. All their nuts are hand roasted and seasoned, making each batch one at a time. They have a wide variety of flavors, from sweet to savory, and use almonds, walnuts and pecans. Here are a few ways that I love to utilize their products:
- Garlic Almonds: These irresistible, savory almonds are my go-to for snacking but also make for the perfect crunchy element in my Lemony Asparagus Risotto recipe.
- Candied Pecans: There are so many ways to use these nuts in your cooking and baking! For sweet inspiration, check out this Gluten-Free Pecan Crusted Mini Key Lime Pies. Or utilize them in salads, like this Radicchio Salad with Pecans.
- Cocoa Almonds: Satisfy your sweet tooth with these chocolate coated almonds. These nuts are great on charcuterie boards, trail mix or in ice cream- like my Rocky Road Ice Cream.
You can also check out my Instagram for more gluten-free recipes featuring Santé Nuts! And don’t forget to use the code ‘BOTTOMLESSPIT’ for 15% off your order from the Santé Nuts website.
Walnut and Pea Pesto Pasta Salad
For the Walnut and Pea Pesto
- 2 cups peas, steamed and cooled to room temperature
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup walnuts, halved
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
- 4-6 large basil leaves
- 1 large garlic clove
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Pasta Salad
- One 8oz. box of gluten-free pasta, cooked according to box instructions
- 2 cups peas, steamed and cooled to room temperature
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup cooked ham, diced
- 1/3 cup mozzarella pearls
- For the Walnut and Pea Pesto
- Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor.
- Pulse until smooth, scraping down the sides with a spatula as needed.
- For the Pasta Salad
- Cook the pasta according to the box instructions, then allow the pasta to cool to room temperature.
- Add the pasta to a large bowl with all of the walnut and pea pesto.
- Use a spatula to fold in the pesto until all of the pasta is evenly coated.
- Pour the peas, tomatoes, ham and mozzarella pearls into the bowl.
- Mix the ingredients to evenly disperse before serving and enjoying!
- Store in an air-tight container for up to four days.
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