Lunch & Dinner Main Dishes

Simple Pasta Salad with Homemade Pesto Sauce

Looking back to when I was a dietetic intern, my food service rotations helped me gain a deeper appreciation for cooking that I did not have before. I discovered that I really enjoyed being in the kitchen and even found it to be very therapeutic!

In one of my rotations, I learned how to make homemade pesto sauce. Since then, I have experimented with flavors and seasonings and I can finally say that I can call this pesto sauce my own.

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Today, I am showing you how to make my pesto sauce and how to pair it with a pasta and vegetable salad for a satisfying, complete meal. As a side-note, this dish is so incredibly nutrient-dense. Let’s break down just a few of the ingredients!

  • Tomatoes: Contain lycopene and other antioxidants that have strong disease-fighting potential. For example, they contain lutein (found in our eyes’ retina), which is important for eye health and may help prevent macular degeneration (Buschemi et al, 2018). They are also an excellent source of vitamin A and C, B vitamins, potassium, and phosphorus (USDA).
  • Broccoli: Another great source of the carotenoid lutein, which has been extensively researched for its ability to help prevent macular degeneration. Broccoli also contains vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and calcium among other nutrients (USDA).
  • Olive oil: Since lycopene in tomatoes is a fat-soluble type of nutrient called carotenoid, it needs fat-rich foods for our bodies to take advantage of its beneficial properties. Olive oil on its own is high in compounds called phenols and mainly made up of monounsaturated fat (MUFAs). MUFAs are important for heart health because they help decrease LDL, or “bad” cholesterol in the body (AHA).
  • Pepitas: These are rich in minerals, especially magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus (USDA).


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For pesto sauce

  • About 2 cups of fresh basil (I used two packs of 0.75 oz per pack)
  • Juice from one lemon
  • 1/2 tablespoon of minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • Salt, to taste

For pasta salad

  • 1/2 lb (or 8 oz) of dried penne rigate pasta, prepared according to package instructions
  • 3 cups of broccoli florets, chopped
  • 1 cup of grape tomatoes

Optional ingredients

  • 1/3 cup of pepita seeds
  • Grated parmesan cheese, to taste
  • 1 cup of shredded chicken


Prepare pasta according to package instructions. When it’s done, rinse with cold water, drain and set it aside.

Bring a small to a medium pot of water to a boil and add the broccoli florets. Leave them to blanch for about 2 minutes. Remove from the water and set aside.

In a blender or food processor, combine the pesto ingredients: basil, lemon juice, minced garlic, olive oil, and salt to taste. Puree until you achieve a sauce consistency. Taste sauce and add more salt as needed.

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In a large mixing bowl, combine the pasta, vegetables, and pesto sauce. If you are using shredded chicken, you may also add it and mix everything until all the ingredients are combined.

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Serve and top with parmesan cheese and pepita seeds, if desired.

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