Finding the perfect side dish to pair with your pesto pasta can truly elevate your meal to the next level. We’ve done some flavor detective work and compiled a tempting list of sides that will make your taste buds sing alongside that verdant, nutty pasta. So, pull up a chair, dive into these delectable options, and let’s discover the pairing that’s gonna make your pesto pasta dish absolutely pop!
I’ve grouped these recipes into handy categories to make your culinary journey smooth. Feel free to use the navigation to skip around!
Salads and Light Bites
Salads and light bites provide a refreshing, light counterpoint to the rich pesto pasta and can range from green salads to Italian-inspired salads and small bites like bruschetta and stuffed eggplants.
Easy to make and highly customizable, green salads pair well with pesto pasta due to their light, refreshing nature. They can counterbalance the rich, garlicky, and nutty flavor of the pasta.
To make a simple green salad, you just need a mix of your preferred greens, a light vinaigrette, and some toppings like cherry tomatoes, cucumber, or shredded carrot. This dish can be served alongside pesto pasta or even mixed in for a more varied texture and freshness.
A simple green salad is also a great pairing with Zuppa Toscana.
Lemon Arugula Salad
This 5 Minute Lemon Arugula Salad is a great pairing with pesto pasta because both dishes have bright and fresh flavors that complement each other well. The lemon in the salad dressing adds a tangy acidity that cuts through the richness of the pesto, while the peppery arugula and salty parmesan cheese provide a nice contrast of flavors and textures.
To pair the salad with pesto pasta, simply serve them together as a light and refreshing meal. Alternatively, you could also toss the salad with some cooked pasta and extra pesto for a more filling and flavorful dish.
This Italian classic combines fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and a drizzle of balsamic glaze or reduction. It complements pesto pasta because it shares similar ingredients (basil and mozzarella), reinforcing the Italian flavors.
It’s slightly more challenging to prepare because it requires high-quality ingredients and careful plating for the best visual appeal.
While it requires a bit more preparation due to the dressing and croutons, Caesar salad is a classic pairing for any Italian pasta dish. The tanginess of the Caesar dressing can cut through the richness of the pesto, providing a balanced meal.
Serve the salad separately so the crispiness of the lettuce and croutons are preserved.
Dive into deliciousness with this Caesar Salad – with homemade Caesar Salad Dressing from RecipeTin Eats.
A more complex starter, stuffed eggplants (such as Melanzane Ripiene) can be filled with a mixture of breadcrumbs, parmesan, garlic, and herbs, then baked until golden. The earthy flavor of the eggplant and the crispy, cheesy stuffing provide a wonderful contrast to the creamy pesto pasta.
It’s more labor-intensive, but the presentation and flavors make it a worthy accompaniment.
Breads and Bread-based Sides
These work well for mopping up pesto sauce and their flavors often complement the ingredients in the pasta.
This is the simplest option. A fresh baguette, sliced and served on the side, can soak up excess pesto sauce and add a delightful texture contrast. It requires no additional preparation – just serve with the pasta.
This Tomato Basil Bruschetta recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because the fresh and bright flavors of the bruschetta complement the rich and creamy flavors of the pesto.
To pair them together, simply serve the bruschetta as an appetizer before the pesto pasta or as a side dish alongside the pasta. The combination of the two dishes will create a delicious and satisfying meal.
(That same bruschetta works well as a pairing for lemon pasta.)
This bread is an excellent choice because its flavors (garlic, butter, and often a bit of parsley) harmonize well with the pesto pasta. You can prepare it by spreading garlic butter on baguette halves or Italian bread, then toasting it until it’s golden brown.
Serve alongside the pasta as a savory side that complements the pasta’s robust flavors.
This Italian bread has a light, airy texture and is typically seasoned with olive oil, salt, and other herbs. The olive oil and herbs on the bread are in harmony with the pesto sauce, creating a consistent flavor profile.
It requires a bit more effort than the other breads as the dough needs time to rise, but it’s a delicious and satisfying side dish.
And if you’re left with a ton of leftovers, here’s my take on what you can serve with focaccia.
This recipe for gluten free garlic knots pairs well with pesto pasta because the garlic and herb flavors in the knots complement the basil and garlic flavors in the pesto.
To pair them together, simply serve the garlic knots on the side of the pesto pasta or use them to soak up any leftover sauce on the plate. The soft and chewy texture of the knots would also provide a nice contrast to the al dente pasta.
This Christmas Tree Spinach Dip Breadsticks recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because the creamy and savory flavors of the spinach dip complement the herbaceous and nutty flavors of the pesto sauce.
Serve the Christmas tree-shaped breadsticks on the side for a festive and delicious holiday meal.
Seafood like lobster, salmon, shrimp, and scallops have a natural affinity with pesto. The light, fresh flavors of seafood create a nice balance with the robust, herby taste of pesto pasta.
This grilled shrimp skewers recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because the flavors complement each other well. The tangy lime and honey marinade of the shrimp pairs well with the herbaceous and nutty flavors of the pesto.
Serve the grilled shrimp skewers alongside the pasta.
This recipe makes a great pairing with pesto pasta because the spicy buffalo sauce and fresh parsley would complement the herbaceous and nutty flavors of the pesto.
Serve the mussels on the side with crusty bread for a delicious and satisfying meal.
This seared scallops recipe with garlic butter is a great pairing with pesto pasta because the flavors complement each other well. The light and delicate flavor of the scallops pairs perfectly with the bold and herbaceous flavors of the pesto sauce.
To serve, simply plate the seared scallops on top of a bed of pesto pasta and garnish with additional fresh herbs, if desired. The combination of the two dishes creates a well-balanced and satisfying meal.
Sounds interesting? Check out this Seared Scallops (With Garlic Butter!) from Wholesome Yum | Easy healthy recipes. 10 ingredients or less..
The rich, fatty taste of salmon complements the strong, herby flavor of pesto very well. To prepare, simply season a salmon fillet with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, then bake until it flakes easily.
Serve the salmon fillet on the side or flake it over the pasta.
Grilled, Sautéed, and Roasted Vegetables
The natural sweetness and varied textures of veggies provide a nice contrast to the pesto pasta.
This is a very easy and quick side to prepare. The lightness of the spinach complements the rich pesto pasta, and its slightly bitter flavor balances the pesto’s richness. Simply sauté spinach leaves in a bit of olive oil with garlic until they’re wilted. Serve as a side or mix into the pasta.
This Perfect Roasted Asparagus recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because it provides a nice contrast of textures and flavors. The tender and slightly crispy asparagus complements the creamy and rich pesto sauce.
Serve the roasted asparagus on the side or mix it in with the pasta for an extra boost of flavor and nutrients.
This roasted vegetable recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because the roasted vegetables are savory and hearty while the pesto pasta is light and fresh. The balsamic vinegar in the roasted vegetables adds a tangy sweetness that complements the herbaceousness of the pesto.
To serve, simply plate the pesto pasta and top with a generous helping of the roasted vegetables.
(These also work great with orzo salad.)
Mushrooms have an earthy flavor that complements pesto very well. Sauté them in olive oil with a bit of garlic until they’re browned and tender. Their meaty texture and umami taste add depth to the pesto pasta.
Grilled Vegetable Skewers
This grilled veggie kabobs recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because it complements the flavors and textures of the pasta. The grilled veggies add a smoky and savory flavor to the dish, while the pesto adds a fresh and herbaceous note.
To serve, simply plate the pesto pasta and place the grilled veggie kabobs on top or on the side for a colorful and satisfying meal.
Roasted Beet Salad
This roasted beet and citrus salad with mustard vinaigrette would pair well with pesto pasta because the sweetness of the beets and citrus would balance out the savory flavors of the pesto.
To serve, simply plate a portion of the pesto pasta and top it with a generous helping of the salad. The crunch of the pistachios and the freshness of the microgreens would add a nice texture to the dish, while the vinaigrette would provide a tangy kick to cut through the richness of the pasta.
Fancy this? Check out Roasted beet and citrus salad with mustard vinaigrette from Snixy Kitchen.
Grilled and Baked Meats
This could include all forms of meats, adding a protein-rich side that balances out the carbohydrate-heavy pasta. These could also include meat-based starters or smaller bites, such as chicken Milanese or meatballs.
(Check out our list of Italian meatballs sides, if you’re interested!)
This grilled chicken would pair well with pesto pasta because the flavors complement each other nicely. The grilled chicken has a smoky and savory flavor, while the pesto pasta has a fresh and herbaceous flavor.
To pair, serve the grilled chicken alongside the pasta. Alternatively, you could chop the grilled chicken and mix it into the pesto pasta for a complete meal.
Italian sausage adds a spicy and robust flavor that complements the herbaceous pesto.
Grill or sauté the sausage until it’s browned and fully cooked, then slice and serve with the pasta. The bold, savory flavors of the sausage provide a nice counterpoint to the pesto.
This dish involves breading and frying chicken cutlets until they’re golden and crispy. The crunchiness of the Milanese pairs nicely with the soft pasta, and the mild flavor of the chicken allows the pesto to shine.
Serve the cutlets on the side or slice and mix into the pasta.
This cream of mushroom pork chops recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because the creaminess of the mushroom soup complements the bold and herbaceous flavors of the pesto.
To serve, simply plate a portion of pesto pasta alongside a pork chop and spoon some of the creamy mushroom sauce on top. The combination of flavors and textures will make for a satisfying and comforting meal.
This marinated beef kabob recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because the bold flavors of the beef and vegetables complement the herbaceousness of the pesto.
To serve, simply plate the kabobs alongside a heaping portion of pesto pasta and enjoy the delicious combination of flavors.
This lamb chop recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because the herbaceous flavors in both the lamb and the pesto complement each other well.
To pair, serve the lamb chops alongside the pesto pasta. You can also drizzle some of the lemon-butter sauce from the lamb over the pasta for added flavor.
Cheeses, Sundried Tomatoes, and Other Gourmet Ingredients
This category brings together special ingredients that could be served as standalone snacks or mixed in with other dishes. Their flavors pair well with pesto and add a gourmet touch to the meal.
Parmesan is the classic cheese pairing with pesto, and it couldn’t be easier to prepare. Simply grate fresh Parmesan over the pasta or serve slices on the side. The salty, nutty flavor of Parmesan complements the herby, garlicky flavor of pesto perfectly.
If you want to elevate the presentation, consider shaving the Parmesan into thin slices or using a cheese plane.
Mozzarella and Sundried Tomatoes
This pairing offers a delightful contrast of flavors and textures. The soft, mild Mozzarella pairs well with the tangy and sweet sundried tomatoes. These can be mixed into the pasta or served as a side dish. Simply buy good quality fresh Mozzarella and sundried tomatoes, slice them, and serve.
You can also lightly marinate the sundried tomatoes in olive oil with some garlic and herbs for added flavor.
Feta Cheese and Olives
This combination of creamy, tangy Feta cheese and briny olives works very well with the flavors of pesto pasta. It’s easy to prepare: buy good quality Feta and a mixture of green and black olives.
Serve them as they are, or marinate them in olive oil with some herbs and spices.
Burrata with Heirloom Tomatoes
This pairing is simple yet gourmet. The creamy inside of Burrata cheese pairs excellently with sweet, juicy heirloom tomatoes and the flavors of pesto.
Slice the tomatoes, place a whole Burrata in the center, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.
Gorgonzola with Honey and Walnuts
This is a more sophisticated pairing. The creamy, strong Gorgonzola is tempered by the sweetness of honey and the crunch of walnuts, all of which complement pesto’s flavors.
Simply crumble the Gorgonzola onto a plate, drizzle with a little honey, and scatter some toasted walnuts over the top. Serve as a side dish or a cheese course.
Ricotta with Fresh Herbs and Olive Oil
This homemade herb ricotta recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because the creamy and slightly tangy ricotta complements the bold and herbaceous flavors of the pesto.
To serve, simply toss the cooked pasta with the pesto and spoon the ricotta on top. The ricotta will melt slightly from the heat of the pasta, creating a deliciously creamy sauce. Garnish with additional herbs and grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Baked Brie with Garlic and Rosemary
This baked brie with fig jam and honey recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta. The creaminess of the baked brie and the sweetness of the fig jam and honey complement the bold flavors of the pesto sauce.
To serve, simply add a slice of the baked brie on top of the pesto pasta or serve it on the side with some crackers or sliced bread.
Unique Sides and Starters
This is a sort of catch-all category for anything else not covered in the previous categories. These sides offer a variety of flavors and textures to complement the pesto pasta.
Corn on the Cob
Simply boiled or grilled, corn on the cob adds a delightful sweetness and texture that pairs well with pesto pasta. If grilled, the smoky flavor enhances the pesto’s earthy tones.
Serve the corn on the side or cut off the kernels and sprinkle them on top of the pasta.
A refreshing and crunchy coleslaw provides a nice contrast to the creaminess of pesto pasta. The slight tanginess of the coleslaw also complements the rich pesto flavor.
This cauliflower rice recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because it provides a low-carb alternative to regular rice, making it a healthier option. The nutty flavor of the cauliflower rice also complements the rich and savory flavor of the pesto sauce. To serve, simply mix the cooked pesto pasta with the cauliflower rice and enjoy as a delicious and nutritious meal.
This vegan pesto stuffed mushrooms recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because both dishes have a similar flavor profile with the fresh basil and garlic.
To serve, simply toss the leftover pesto with your favorite pasta and serve the stuffed mushrooms on the side for a delicious and satisfying meal. The mushrooms add a nice textural contrast to the pasta and the pesto ties the two dishes together perfectly.
This eggplant rollatini recipe is a great pairing with pesto pasta because the flavors complement each other well. The creamy and cheesy filling of the rollatini pairs perfectly with the fresh and herbaceous pesto sauce.
To serve, simply plate a few slices of the eggplant rollatini alongside a serving of pesto pasta. The combination of flavors and textures will make for a delicious and satisfying meal.
Italian Stuffed Peppers
These are a bit more complex to prepare, but the sweet peppers, filled with a mixture of ground meat, rice, and herbs, complement the pesto pasta nicely. Bake the peppers until they’re tender and the filling is cooked through.