A delicious lemon basil arugula pasta salad that’s fresh and easy to make ahead for boxed lunches or light dinners. The lemon basil dressing is what makes this salad so yummy, and when you toss it with freshly grated parmesan cheese and walnuts, it is downright delicious!

lemon basil arugula salad in a bowl

This basil arugula pasta salad has been through quite an evolution.

It started as a simple arugula salad, with lemon dressing and a handful of parmesan cheese. But slowly, when I needed to turn it into something a little heartier and more filling, tons of additions were made to get it to where it’s at today. The pasta adds a nice chewy texture, the walnuts add crunch, and the parmesan gives it that nutty delicious taste. Best of all, it doesn’t need any protein, though you could certainly add in cooked chicken if you’d like!

I happen to throw the pasta salad version together on a whim one evening for dinner with balsamic grilled chicken on the side and it was so good I immediately texted my friend. Girlfriend loves a good salad recipe. And the next day, it was on her table too. And she loved it so much she’s already made it a handful of times for a quick lunch throughout the week.

lemon basil arugula salad in a bowl

It’s no secret that I love a good power lunch. For me, the epitome of a good salad is one that has all the elements

What do I even mean by that? A handful of greens, some kind of grain or pasta as a base, and countless toppings. Oh, and a killer dressing or vinaigrette.

I want something that’s going to filling but still light enough to avoid that 3 pm slump. 

My Greek Quinoa salad is one I go too quite often. But make no mistake my skinny Thai chicken saladMexican shrimp saladroasted garlic couscous saladsummer tuna pasta saladMoroccan chickpea quinoa salad, and Asian sesame chicken salad are all salads that I repeat very often. 

All of these salads have one thing in common; they have a fresh element that you can swap out for what you have on hand (lettuce can be swapped for kale or baby spinach or even arugula), and they use pantry staples like garbanzo beans and couscous.

lemon basil salad dressing

Ingredients for arugula pasta salad

  • Baby arugula: fresh arugula has a very peppery flavor that works so well with the sweetness in the dressing. If you aren’t a fan of arugula, you could even use kale or baby spinach.
  • Gemelli pasta: I like the same of Gemelli as it’s a little fancier than your average. But you could use farfalle, fusilli, shells, or just about any other kind of pasta you’ve got on hand. Gluten-free friends, you can swap this for gluten-free pasta and if you’re trying to incorporate more whole grains in your diet, feel free to use whole wheat pasta instead.
  • Chopped walnuts: I love the buttery flavor walnuts add to this salad recipe. However, roasted almonds, toasted pecans, or pine nuts would make a great sub here!
  • Shaved parmesan cheese: I’m a firm believer in the fact that this salad tastes as amazing as it does because of the parmesan cheese. Do not skip this ingredient!
  • Olive oil: I prefer to use extra virgin olive oil when I’m using it in a vinaigrette or a dressing for a cold salad.
  • Lemon juice: we’ll use freshly squeezed lemon juice for the dressing with a touch of honey.
  • Fresh basil: I love adding tons of herbs to a delicious cold pasta salad. It really brightens the flavor and makes it memorable.
  • Honey: adds a touch of sweetness to the lemon dressing.
  • Seasonings: you’ll need kosher salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. You can play around with the seasonings that you use. I like to let the other ingredients shine, so I keep the seasonings to minimum.
tossing pasta salad with lemon basil salad dressing

Instructions for arugula pasta salad:

  1. Prepare the pasta. First, bring a large pot of water to boil. Generously season the water with salt. Add the pasta to the salted water and prepare the pasta according to package directions, making sure to only cook the pasta to al dente. The cooking time will vary based on the shape of the pasta that you used. Drain the pasta, but don’t rinse it! Allow the pasta too cool to room temperature so that the pasta doesn’t cause the arugula to wilt too much.
  2. Make the dressing. Then, add the ingredients for the dressing in a mason jar and just giving it a good shake until it’s combined. You could also toss everything in a blender and combine, or just whisk it together in a bowl.
  3. Let’s get ready to serve. When you’re ready to serve, grab a large bowl, and combine the pasta, arugula, walnuts, and drizzle in the dressing. Toss using a pair of tongs and add the parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
tossing pasta salad with lemon basil salad dressing

FAQs about this recipe

I don’t have fresh basil, will dried basil work?

You can swap the fresh basil for dried basil in pasta salad recipe. Feel free to add a few other fresh herbs too if you like that sort of thing!

How can I make this dish ahead of time?

I would prepare the pasta and keep it in an airtight container in the fridge once it’s cooled to room temperature. And also have the dressing ready to go in a jar. When you’re ready to serve, you can just toss it together and enjoy! This salad is ideal to prep on the weekends and then just assemble it for a quick lunch!

What protein would work well with this pasta salad recipe?

I love making my Greek Grilled Chicken recipe with this. You could also do, Garlic Parmesan chicken Skewers, Greek Chicken Souvlaki Skewers, make a batch of Lemon Pepper Wings,or even a Faux-tisserie Chicken.

I’m vegetarian, can I add more veggies?

Yes absolutely! I’d do some marinated artichoke hearts, and maybe add some chickpeas to amp up the fiber and protein in this recipe! You could also take this a different route and do cherry tomatoes and cucumbers with a handful of Kalamata olives.

lemon basil arugula salad in a bowl

Other pasta salad recipes to try:

lemon basil arugula salad in a bowl
Yield: 5 servings

Lemon Basil Arugula Pasta Salad

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes

A delicious lemon basil arugula pasta salad that’s fresh and easy to make ahead for boxed lunches or light dinners. The lemon basil dressing is what makes this salad so yummy, and when you toss it with freshly grated parmesan cheese and walnuts, it is downright delicious!

Lemon Basil Arugula Pasta Salad



  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons EACH: lemon juice AND chopped basil (or 1 tbsp dried)
  • 2 tablespoons honey (or more to taste)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt + pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes


  • 1 (5-ounce) bag baby arugula
  • 10 ounces Gemelli pasta (or farfalle, fusilli etc.)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts, or almonds/pine nuts
  • Shaved parmesan, for topping


  1. PASTA: Bring a large pot of water to boil. When boiling, salt the water generously and cook the pasta until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and allow the pasta to come to room temperature.
  2. DRESSING: In a mason jar, add the olive oil, lemon juice, basil, honey, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Place a cap on top and shake until the dressing is combined. Taste and adjust the dressing with more honey and salt to your taste.
  3. SERVE: Once the pasta has cooled, combine it in a large salad bowl with arugula, walnuts, and toss with dressing until thoroughly combined. Top with shaved parmesan and serve immediately. You may need a bit more salt and pepper before serving.


  • Dressing: After making this salad tons of times after hitting publish, I've started adding 1 tsp of dijon mustard to the dressing to make it a bit more complex and I love it that way!

Have you made this recipe?

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