Lemon basil pasta salad is a zippy fresh tasting side fit for the summer-iest meals (or any time you want to conjure up a warm sunny vibe in your kitchen.) My special basil mayonnaise is a total summer salad game changer! This easy recipe is destined to become a family favorite.
This salad was inspired by one I found at Trader Joe’s the other day (did you catch my review of TJs new products?) I was so excited to try it because it sounds so good (doesn’t it?) but omg it was really awful. It had no flavor at all, I was so disappointed. I knew I could do better, and I did!
grocery list for lemon basil pasta salad
- pasta ~ any shape you like, I used penne but bowties or fusilli work well.
- mayonnaise ~ I happened to have Dukes on hand and I like the tang it gives to the salad.
- fresh basil ~ has to be fresh!
- lemon ~ fresh juice and a little zest .
- garlic ~ completely optional.
- Asiago or other aged Italian cheese.
- pine nuts ~ be sure to toast them in a skillet first.
- salt and pepper
why do I make a basil mayonnaise for this salad?
It’s true, most other recipes for lemon basil pasta salad are mayo free, relying on an olive oil based dressing. But I’ve chosen to make a basil flavored mayo that I think really takes this salad over the top. I infuse that wonderful basil flavor into the mayonnaise by blending them both in a food processor. It takes on a pale green color that makes the salad look so refreshing and inviting. I think the mayonnaise really grabs hold of and amplifies those lemon basil flavors better than oil and vinegar. It’s something you’ll want to use again and again (think chicken and egg salads for starters.)
how to make basil mayonnaise
1. You’ll need fresh basil, mayonnaise, lemon juice and salt
1. Pack everything into a small food processor
2. Process, scraping down the bowl often, until the mayo is pale green.
faqs and variations on lemon basil pasta salad
Of course, use any pasta you like, but for pasta salads it’s best to stick with shaped pasta versus strands. I like to keep the shapes on the small side, so they don’t overwhelm, and I often use mini sized pasta for salads. Orzo would work, too.
I sometimes add peas (fresh or frozen) chopped asparagus, lightly steamed green beans, or zucchini. I like to keep to the green color palette for this recipe, but you can really use any other veg you like. You can also add a handful of greens like arugula or baby spinach to lighten it up and add a nutritional boost.
You can just leave them out, or substitute walnuts.
Yes, you can use a knife to chop the basil into the finest mince you can. It won’t have quite the same bright flavor or color, but you can do it. You can also use an immersion blender if you have one.
Yes, you’d just use olive oil and a light vinegar like white wine of champagne. Use plenty of shredded basil, too.
It will last several days in the refrigerator, and you can feel comfortable making it up to 24 hours in advance.
more pasta salad recipes to try
- Asiago Pasta Salad Recipe
- Mediterranean Pasta Salad with Tuna
- Israeli Pasta Salad
- Pasta Salad with Tuna
- Mediterranean Orzo Salad with Creamy Lemon Dressing
Lemon Basil Pasta Salad
- small food processor or immersion blender
- 1/2 lb pasta ~ I used small penne
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise ~ I used Duke's.
- 1 cup basil leaves, packed (plus a few extra leaves for garnish)
- 1 clove garlic, minced ~ this is optional
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice
- zest of one lemon
- 1/4 cup grated Asiago cheese, or other aged Italian cheese
- 3 Tbsp toasted pine nuts (add more to taste)
- Make the dressing by putting the mayo, basil, lemon juice, and garlic, if using, and a pinch of salt into a small food processor. You can also use an immersion blender.
- Process, scraping down the sides of the machine as needed, until the mayo is pale green and smooth. You'll see little flecks of basil in the dressing. Taste to add more salt or lemon juice. Scrape the mayo into a small airtight container and chill. Note: the mayo will thicken as it chills. You can do this a day or two ahead if you like.
- Cook the pasta in plenty of well salted water until al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water.
- Combine the chilled mayo with the pasta, lemon zest, grated cheese, and toasted pine nuts. Add salt and pepper to taste. Note: For this particular salad I like to wait until the pasta has cooled completely before combining with the chilled dressing so the mayo clings to the penne rather than melting into it.
- Chill until ready to serve. I like to add a little more fresh basil right before serving: stack and tightly roll a few leaves, then very thinly slice crosswise into shreds with a sharp knife. The pasta salad will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
Questions and Reviews
This pasta salad was delicious! First salad at the party to run out, I used bow-tie pasta and it was so pretty! I left out the pine nuts-it was so good without them. Thanks for another tasty recipe.
Thanks Melanie 🙂
This was amazing!! Made it for the 4th and 5 people asked for the recipe! Didn’t have pine nut and it was still so good!!
Made this tonight and we both loved it. I don’t normally care for mayo-based pasta but I trusted you on this one, Sue! All the flavors worked so well together. And the pine nuts were the perfect addition. Thank you!
So delicious. The perfect use of fresh basil. I included the lemon rind in the dressing.
Thanks Carol, so glad you liked it.
This is delightfully refreshing and worked perfectly with my gluten free pasta as well!
Thanks for the quick feedback Erica!
This pasta looks absolutely delicious and full of so much flavor! Definitely going to be a hit here. So excited to try this for dinner tonight!
I’ve gotten great feedback so far on this salad Beth, so I’m pretty sure you’ll love it!
What a lovely pasta salad. Feels light and perfect for summertime. I’m definitely saving this recipe. Can’t wait to make this for my husband and me. Thanks!
I love lemon pasta. So light and fresh and perfect for summer.
lemon and basil were made for summer.
Such a fresh and zingy pasta salad – just gorgeous, summery flavours. Thanks so much!
Your post catapulted me into “Summer Salads” – thank you! I made Lemon Basil Pasta Salad last night and we LOVED it. It’s a keeper. We also ‘love the tang’ in a good pasta/mayo salad and wondered if you knew this ‘Hawaiian trick” for great tanginess in a pasta salad….When the pasta is still warm, toss in a little seasoned rice vinegar; just a coupleof teaspoons and let the bare pasta benefit from all that flavor before getting dressed….It gets soaked in; and doesn’t change whatever else gets added. It’s our ‘family secret’ for keeping mayo-dressed pasta at its best!
Oh! I forgot to mention added lots of ‘baby arugula’ to lighten it into a ‘summer salad’ dinner!
I love to lighten up pasta salad with greens, yum!
Love your family secret, I bet that would work great for potato salad too 🙂