Pesto pasta salad with homemade kale-basil walnut pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and broccoli. Serve it up at your next BBQ or picnic!
Last summer, my favorite side dish for BBQ-ing or picnic-ing was potato salad in all forms, even – insert gasp – the traditional potato salad with mayo and egg. For whatever reason, a crazed tunnel vision took hold – I was hooked on po’ and couldn’t seem to fathom sharing anything else with my friends and family. This year, the obsession has morphed and manifested itself in the form of chilled gluten-free pasta salads.
A few weeks ago (back when the dirty banana event happened…do you remember?), one of my friends whipped up a pasta salad with homemade dandelion green pesto using dandelion greens straight from her CSA box. The flavor was so fresh and tasty, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had to make it my own. Using her pasta salad as inspiration, I made a simple kale pesto, tossed in sun-dried tomatoes for extra tangy flavor, and steamed broccoli for nutrients + texture.
There are options galore for serving this pasta salad at your BBQs. Below are some tips for recipe preparation and also suggestions for change-ups to the recipe.
Tips for Recipe Prep:
- The pasta noodles and broccoli can be cooked ahead of time, and the kale pesto sauce can be prepared up to 3 to 4 days in advance
- You can steam the broccoli separate from the noodles, but I find it’s easiest to just cook the two together. They require roughly the same cook time, so boiling and straining the noodles and broccoli together will save you some time. If you like your broccoli to be super snappy/al dente, you can cook it for only a couple of minutes with the pasta, and use a slotted spoon to pull it out of the water early.
- In addition to making this recipe a cold pasta salad, it can be served warm as a side dish or entree as well. To make a hot entree out of this, simply heat everything together on the stovetop. You can serve the pasta with chopped grilled chicken, or salmon on the side for a well-rounded meal.
- Make this pasta salad vegan by omitting the Parmesan cheese from the pesto sauce recipe.
- Incorporate your favorite nut/seed combo in the kale pesto sauce. My recipe calls for walnuts and pine nuts, but you can use all pine nuts, all walnuts, pistachios, almonds, etc.
- Use any shape of gluten-free pasta (or regular pasta) you’d like.
- Omit or replace the broccoli with spinach, arugula, or seasonal veggie of choice.
- Omit or replace the sun-dried tomatoes with cherry tomatoes.
- Use any type of pesto sauce – store-bought works great!
- Add artichoke hearts and kalamata olives for a Greek-style pasta salad
- Add pine nuts, pistachios, and/or chopped walnuts or almonds.
- Add diced avocado just before serving.
- Add chopped grilled chicken or cooked bacon.
You can use this recipe as base camp for all your summer pesto pasta salads, as well as hot pesto pasta any time of year. The simple addition of seasonal veggies gives it a fresh spin.
Kitchen tools I used to prepare this recipe:
Kale Pesto Pasta Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Broccoli
- 1 12-ounce box gluten-free penne pasta
- 1 medium crown broccoli chopped into florets
- 1 cup kale pesto sauce recipe below
- 1 bunch green onion chopped
- ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil drained and patted dry
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Parmesan cheese for serving
Kale Pesto Sauce:
- 4 cups kale leaves packed
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves packed
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup raw walnuts
- ½ cup pine nuts or more walnuts
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar*
- 1/2 teaspoon salt to taste
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese optional
- 1 cup olive oil
Prepare the Kale Pesto Sauce:
Prepare the kale pesto sauce by adding all of the ingredients except for the olive oil to a food processor. Pulse a few times to roughly chop all of the ingredients. Leaving the food processor on, drizzle the olive oil slowly through the top, until it’s completely incorporated. Transfer pesto sauce to a jar and refrigerate until ready to use (Note: Pesto can be made up to 4 days in advance)
Prepare the Pasta Salad:
Bring a full pot of water to a boil and add the pasta and broccoli florets. Cook according to the instructions on the package of pasta (Note: I usually cook gluten-free pasta for 1 to 2 minutes less than the package specifies, because I like my pasta very al dente), or until both pasta and broccoli reach desired doneness. Strain the pasta and broccoli and rinse with lukewarm water. Set aside to cool. Once cool, chop the broccoli florets finely and place both pasta and broccoli in a large serving bowl.
Add the green onion, sun-dried tomatoes, and sea salt to the serving bowl along with 1 cup of the kale pesto (save remaining kale pesto for future uses). Toss everything together until pasta is well coated.
Taste for flavor and add more sea salt or pesto to taste. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
*You can also use cider vinegar, white vinegar, or red wine vinegar
If you’re looking for more great side dishes to bring to your BBQ or picnic, check out these recipes: