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Chicken Pesto Salad

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1-1/2 cups mayonnaise
2 (9 ounce) containers refrigerated prepared pesto
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 (16 ounce) package frozen peas
1 (16 ounce) package gemelli pasta
2 cups grape tomatoes
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 rotisserie chickens
1 (16 ounce) package Monterey Jack cheese, cubed

Chicken Pesto Salad

Pesto, mixed with mayo, is the perfect dressing for tender pasta and chicken and lots of delicious fresh veggies.

  • Serves 8
  • Easy

About This Recipe

Chicken Pesto Salad is one of my summer staple recipes. This wonderful main dish salad is bursting with color and texture and flavors. It’s best if you can use tomatoes right off the vine, and the freshest bell peppers and your own homemade pesto.

But it’s also fabulous with store bought tomatoes and peppers and purchased pesto. In fact, I recently found some incredibly good very tiny tomatoes called Sprinkles Tomatoes. If you can find them, put them into everything you can. They are very tiny, tender, and so intensely flavored.

When I make this salad, we eat it for days until it’s gone. It’s great for lunch, dinner, and even breakfast! It’s so nice to have a one dish meal on hand that you can just pull out of the fridge and dish up. For me, this is much better than standing in 90° heat over a 500°F grill. Blech.

You can substitute your own favorite ingredients for some of the choices in this salad. Use a different cheese, add some chopped zucchini or yellow summer squash, or add some steamed green beans or corn. Just make sure you write down your changes so you can reproduce your wonderful creation next time.

Tips for the best Chicken Pesto Salad:

  • Use a hot rotisserie chicken for the chicken. That will give you the most tender results. The hot chicken will absorb the dressing as it cools.
  • Cook the pasta al dente, not too tender and not underdone. The only way to judge pasta doneness is to taste it.

Why this recipe works:

  • Pesto as a salad dressing is really good: fresh and flavorful. But without the addition of mayonnaise it tends to clump and have a really strong flavor. The fat in mayonnaise modifies the strength of the basil, garlic, and cheese, muffling it a bit. And the fat also makes the mouthfeel of the pesto better. I have to give props to my husband for this idea. I used to make this salad with just pesto, and he would always stir in a bit of mayo. Once I tried that, I never looked back.
  • The fresh vegetables add crunch and texture and color to the salad, complementing the tender pasta and chicken. I will sometimes omit the cherry tomatoes if they aren’t really fresh and sweet.
  • All pasta salads, and all perishable foods, should be discarded after four days, even if they have been properly refrigerated.

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Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.


Meanwhile, combine the mayonnaise, pesto, lemon juice, milk, and Parmesan cheese in a large bowl and mix with a wire whisk.


Put the frozen peas in a colander in the sink. Then cook the pasta according to the package directions.


When the pasta is cooked al dente, pour the pasta and water over the peas in the colander to thaw them. You don't want to cook the peas; they should just be thawed so they stay nice and firm.


Add the drained pasta and peas to the bowl with the pesto dressing, along with the tomatoes and bell peppers. Stir gently to combine.


Remove the meat from the chickens and cube. Freeze the carcasses to make stock.


Add the cubed chicken and the cheese to the salad and mix gently. Then cover and chill for a few hours before serving.


Linda is a bestselling cookbook author and home economist who has written 54 books (53 cookbooks and Medical Ethics for Dummies) since 2005. She has worked for Pillsbury since 1988, on the Bake-Off and other projects. Linda has been a web presence since 2002, developing recipes and teaching people how to cook.

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