Studded with bright green asparagus, sweet peas, decadent bacon, and fresh pearls of mozzarella, Pesto Pasta Salad is a flavorful side dish or light dinner, perfect for spring and summer meals and celebrations!
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 10minutes
Cook Time 10minutes
Total Time 20minutes
Servings 6to 8 servings (as a main dish); 12+ servings (as a side dish)
16ouncesbaconcooked until crispy, drained, & chopped
1poundorecchietteor other small pasta
1poundfresh asparagusthin spears, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces with tough ends trimmed off
2cupsfrozen peascooked & drained
8ouncesfresh mozzarella pearls drained
1 to 1 ½cups(8 to 12-ounces) pestohomemade or store-bought, fresh or jarred
2 to 3tablespoonsred wine vinegar
2 to 3tablespoonsextra-virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground black pepperto taste
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add orecchiette and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally, according to package directions. Three minutes before the pasta is done, add the asparagus pieces. Finish cooking until pasta is al dente and asparagus is blanched. Drain in a large colander and rinse until cool under cold water.
Transfer pasta and asparagus to a very large bowl; add peas and mozzarella pearls. Transfer pesto to a medium bowl and stir until smooth. Whisk in 2 to 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, to taste, and just enough extra-virgin olive oil to thin out the pesto to a dressing-like consistency. Pour pesto dressing over the pasta salad ingredients, gently toss ingredients to combine and coat, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Just before serving, stir in the bacon, reserving a bit to sprinkle over the top for garnish.
My favorite method for cooking is bacon is oven roasting. Place an oven rack in the center position, preheat the oven to 400°F, and cover a large roasting pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Arrange the bacon pieces in a single layer so that they're just touching. Roast bacon for 15 to 20 minutes or until it's crispy (watch closely towards the end and keep in mind that thicker pieces of bacon may take longer to crisp up). Use tongs or a fork to remove bacon to a paper-towel lined plate to drain.
If your asparagus is on the thicker side, you will probably want to add it to the boiling pasta 4 minutes before it's done.
The asparagus tips will cook a bit quicker than the smooth sections of the spears. So if you prefer, you can add the smooth spear pieces to the boiling water first, and then toss in the tips for the last minute of cooking time.
If you want more control over the cooking of your asparagus and don't mind dirtying another pot, you may boil your asparagus in a separate pot and then drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water once done.
If you can't find small pearls of fresh mozzarella, you may buy larger balls and cut them in halves or quarters (or a whole piece of mozzarella cut into 1-inch cubes).