This article was updated on the 13th of August 2023 for clarity and freshness.
If you’re wondering what to serve with your pesto pasta, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I list 48 of the most popular and tasty side dishes for pesto pasta.
In a rush? Here’s the short answer.
The best side dishes to serve with pesto pasta include grilled salmon, sauteed shrimp, and burrata. For something light, go for arugula or a Caprese salad. The best vegetable sides for pesto pasta include grilled eggplants, roasted peppers and onions, or zucchini noodles.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
Great flavor pairings for pesto pasta
Pesto is full of vibrant, herby flavors. It’s a classic Italian sauce traditionally made with olive oil, basil, parmesan, and pine nuts but this is open to interpretation.
- Rich flavors: Pesto’s zesty notes perfectly cut through the richness of ingredients such as cheese, buttery garlic bread, eggs, and even salmon.
- Savory, meaty flavors: Beef and lamb both have a strong gamey flavor that’s balanced out brilliantly by the pesto’s brightness.
- Mildly sweet flavors: White fish, shellfish like shrimp or scallops, and vegetables like zucchini or squash all have a delicate sweetness that helps enhance pesto’s herby side.
Pesto pasta on its own is delicious, but toppings are an excellent way to jazz it up a bit.
You can’t go wrong with creamy burrata to complement the herby sauce. But my personal favorite toppers are ones that add some crunch, like bacon bits, toasted pine nuts, or roasted chickpeas.
I’ve never been one to follow the crowd, but I can’t deny that Burrata is amazing.
This centerpiece cheese will elevate your pesto pasta to a dinner party-worthy dish. The intense creamy flavor of burrata works really well to mellow out pesto’s strong, herby notes.
And the best part? You don’t need to do any work. All you need to do is pop the cheese on top of the pasta.
Roasted parmesan chickpeas
Chickpeas may not sound exciting, but roasting them is a game changer. Under the high heat, these morsels crisp up, turning them into an oh-so-addictive snack or topper.
This recipe takes things to another level by seasoning them with herbs and parmesan cheese. You can also add a pinch of cayenne for some heat, but I like to keep it simple when I’m going to throw the chickpeas over a bowl of pesto pasta.
And as a bonus, roasted chickpeas are low-calorie, high-fiber, and packed with protein, making your pesto pasta more nourishing.
Blistered cherry tomatoes
Tomatoes are tasty straight from the vine, but I think they’re even better when you cook them. Blistering the tomatoes with balsamic vinegar caramelizes their natural sugars, making them sweet, soft, and juicy.
They go great with almost anything, but I especially love them on top of herby pesto pasta for a simple but sophisticated meal.
A pasta meal just isn’t complete without a side of bread. It’s the perfect vehicle to mop up every drop of that delicious pesto sauce. Sure, it’s twice the carbs, but you deserve to indulge from time to time, right?
Garlic bread is a no-brainer, but if you’re cooking for a crowd, you can also go all out and bake your own loaf!
Crusty bread rolls
Who said you have to be a master baker to achieve beautiful, artisan bread? It’s easier than you think.
These genius no-knead artisan bread rolls involve just five minutes of hands-on work. The rest of the time is for rising and baking. And the resulting thick crust and chewy bread are great for mopping up any leftover pesto sauce.
You can’t get much more classic than pesto pasta and garlic bread, but just in case this pairing had slipped your mind – here it is!
As Foodie Crush says, a slice of crisp buttery, garlicky bread is everyone’s favorite way to get that last lick of sauce off your plate. It’s super easy to make too – you probably already have everything you need in your pantry.
Pssst… for best results, use fresh herbs.
Vegetables and salads
Serving veggies or a bowl of fresh, crisp salad on the side of your pesto pasta is a great way to bump up your meal’s nutritional value and keep it feeling fresh.
Eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini are all staples in Italian cooking. Or you can go down the leafy green route with a quick and easy salad.
Grilled balsamic eggplants
Eggplants have grown in popularity over the last few years thanks to the Asian dish ‘miso eggplant’, but that’s not the only thing you can do with this veg. Try these grilled eggplants on your pesto pasta for a scrumptious veggie-friendly dinner.
The eggplant slices are first dipped into a garlic herb sauce before grilling. Over the open heat, the eggplants get delightfully charred, and infused with a prominent smoky flavor that contrasts the brightness of your pesto sauce.
Amp your pesto pasta’s nutritional value by tossing in these zucchini noodles! They’ll blend into your pesto pasta so well that you’ll easily be able to hide them from fussy eaters. Plus, they have a mildly sweet flavor, so they pair well with pesto’s zingy, herby goodness.
The only downside with zoodles is that they can get soggy and mushy, so don’t overcook them. These zucchini noodles only need about 3-4 minutes to achieve an al dente texture that’ll give you more of a bite.
Craving a fresh dish to go with your pesto pasta? Try this lemon arugula salad. It’s zesty, crisp, and bright — exactly what you need with a heavy pasta dish. Plus, the arugula has a peppery bite that pairs well with the herby pesto sauce.
And have I brought up how simple it is to make? You only need five ingredients and three minutes to get this arugula salad on the plate.
From one classic Italian dish to another we have Caprese salad! It seems too simple, but the combination of sweet-acidic tomatoes, rich, tangy balsamic vinegar, and creamy mozzarella cheese is unbeatable.
You can serve this salad as an appetizer with a slice of crusty bread or as a side dish for your pesto pasta for the ultimate Italian feast.
Pro-tip: if you want to add some sweetness to your meal, you can roast the tomatoes before adding them to the salad (yum!).
Roasted peppers and onions
These roasted peppers and onions are another quick and easy way to make your pesto pasta heartier. Roasting brings out the sweet side of the peppers and onions, and the slightly burnt edges add a bitterness that ensures the dish doesn’t become overwhelming.
The vibrant colors of the peppers are also guaranteed to brighten up your green pesto pasta. And if that’s not enough, bell peppers are loaded with lots of vitamin C, which is important for a well-rounded diet. Now that’s what I call a win-win.
Pesto pasta is pure carbs so a protein-loaded accompaniment will truly complete the meal. Grilled salmon is always a favorite, but if you want something unconventional yet tasty, how about a dish involving beans?
Grilled salmon with pesto pasta is the perfect way to amp your omega-3s consumption. This grilled fish is fancy enough to serve at a dinner party, but also easy enough that you can make it on an average weeknight.
And the light pink flesh against the green pesto looks delicious! You eat with your eyes first, after all. But most importantly, grilled salmon tastes superb with pesto pasta. Its rich, smokey notes are the perfect contrast to your zingy sauce.
Psst… white fish also tastes great with pesto. Try cod or halibut.
Simple, yet elegant — that’s how I’d describe these sauteed shrimp.
They have a meaty texture that helps add some bite to your pesto pasta, and the flavors of garlic and butter mean the shrimp hold their own in the dish. You can use frozen or fresh shrimp for this recipe, but not pre-cooked ones.
Psst… but if you’re craving a spicy kick, try flavoring the shrimp with blackened or Cajun seasoning.
Garlic herb lamb chops
Elevate your pesto pasta with a serving of these lamb chops.
They may seem intimidating, but the key to cooking these chops is to make sure your cast-iron skillet (or frying pan) is scorching hot. A super hot pan will allow you to get that perfect sear without overcooking the interiors.
And if you’re worried about lamb’s robust flavor, don’t stress. Recipe creator Alida seasons her lamb chops with lemon juice and garlic, which helps mask its strong gaminess. Plus, the pesto’s bright, herby notes also provide a tasty contrast.
Soft boiled eggs
This may seem like a strange combination at first, but it’s super tasty. You’d put pesto on your breakfast sandwich, so why not add eggs to your pesto lunch?
They add protein and they’re zero hassle to cook. I like soft-boiled eggs because I love a runny yolk, but hard-boiled eggs will work too. Or poached eggs.
The only catch with soft-boiled eggs is they’re pretty tricky to achieve, but no worries. Jessica Gavin has an easy guide that’ll help you.
White beans and bacon
If you want something substantial but tasty this side dish will fill the gap. The mild creamy flavor of the white beans mixes really well with pesto and the bacon adds a hint of umami to the dish.
Warning: it’s really moreish!
Psst… want to avoid too much cooking? Throw together a white bean salad instead.
Rosemary garlic butter sirloin steak
A juicy steak is another excellent protein to pair with your pesto pasta for a restaurant-worthy meal.
You don’t have to spend much — cuts like sirloin steak are budget-friendly and have a tender bite when cooked properly. You can also use flank steak, although it’s tougher so you’ll need to tenderize it.
And the best part? Steak doesn’t need much pizazz to make it tasty. Vintage Kitchen Notes only uses garlic, rosemary, and salt to boost their natural savory flavors. Just remember to rest the steak before slicing it to preserve its savory juices.
What To Serve With Pesto Pasta [48 Ideas]
- 1 portion blistered cherry tomatoes
- 1 portion arugula salad
- 1 portion grilled Shrimp
- 1 portion roasted peppers and onions
- crusty bread rolls
- grilled eggplant
- 1 portion soft boiled eggs … and more
- Prepare your pesto pasta according to your favorite recipe.
- In the meantime, choose one of the following sides to serve alongside it.
- Side dishes include: grilled salmon, grilled balsamic eggplants, burrata, sauteed shrimp, arugula salad, crusty bread rolls, zucchini noodles, soft boiled eggs, white beans and bacon, Caprese salad, and roasted peppers and onions.
- Serve immediately and enjoy!