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Pesto Salmon Pasta Salad

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1 (16 ounce) package gemelli or penne pasta
1 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup plain yogurt
2 (9 ounce) containers basil pesto
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 (10 ounce) package frozen baby peas
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 yellow summer squash, chopped
2 cups grape tomatoes
4 (6 ounce) cooked salmon fillets, broken into pieces
6 strips bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled
1 cup cubed Havarti cheese

Pesto Salmon Pasta Salad

  • Serves 12
  • Easy

About This Recipe

It may be the end of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, but that doesn’t mean cooler weather is automatically in store. It’s going to be in the 80s here in Minnesota next week, so more pasta salads are on the menu.

In the summer, main dish salads are the mainstay of my repertoire. I know that lots of people like to grill outdoors in the summer, but I really dislike standing in front of a 500°F grill when it’s 90 degrees and humid. Maybe that’s just me.

Main dish salads are perfect for summer dining in so many ways. They are delicious, colorful, and one of the best ways to use produce that is so wonderful this time of the year. You can make them in large quantities, they last for days in the fridge, and since they must be made ahead of time, they’re perfect for entertaining.

I have dozens of recipes for main dish salads, but this one is a real favorite. If you feel you must grill your food, the next time you have salmon cook a few extra fillets just for this salad. The pesto dressing is spicy and creamy and perfect with the tender, nutty salmon. The pasta absorbs the dressing’s flavor, and the fresh bell peppers, yellow summer squash, and grape tomatoes provide color, flavor, and lots of texture. Tiny baby peas add a pop of color, texture, and flavor.

You can certainly make your own pesto for this recipe; just whiz fresh basil leaves, Parmesan cheese, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil in a blender until combined. But I prefer to take the easy route and buy pesto. There are many varieties on the market. You can find them in the refrigerated section of your supermarket, or look for bottled versions in the pasta aisle.

You can fiddle with this recipe, as you can all main dish salad recipes, to include your favorite ingredients. If you aren’t a salmon fan, substitute cubed cooked chicken breasts or omit the meat entirely for a vegetarian salad. Use sliced zucchini, green beans, asparagus, or any other vegetable in place of (or in addition to) the bell peppers and tomatoes. Add some cubed cheese. Use your imagination and enjoy every bite.

Why this recipe works:

  • While pesto itself can be a salad dressing, the addition of mayo makes the salad creamier and adds another layer of flavor.
  • The pasta is added to the dressing while it’s still hot, so it will absorb some of dressing’s flavors, while still staying al dente.
  • All of the fresh veggies add great color and nutrition, along with a wonderful crunch.



Bring a large pot of boiling water to a boil. Add about a tablespoon of salt. Add the pasta and cook, stirring frequently, until it is al dente. That means when you taste the pasta, it is tender, but still slightly firm in the center. Bite a piece in half and look at it. There shouldn’t be a white spot in the center of the pasta’s middle, but should be the same color all the way through.


While the pasta is cooking, combine the mayonnaise, plain yogurt, pesto, Parmesan cheese, and lemon juice in a large bowl and mix well.


Put the peas in a colander in the sink. Pour the pasta and its cooking liquid over the peas and drain. Add the peas and pasta to the dressing in the bowl; stir gently to coat.


Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir gently to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the salad for 2 to 4 hours before serving. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator up to 4 days.



Linda is a home economist who has authored 43 books (42 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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