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 addicting!
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 (working on the recipe) on the side and it was so good I immediately texted my best friend. Girlfriend loves a good salad recipe as much as I do, and the next day, it was on her table too. And she loved it! She loved it so much she’s already made it a handful of times for a quick lunch throughout the week.
And it’s true, basil arugula salad is great to prep for the week and enjoy it for brown bag lunches or to take on a picnic, to a bbq cookout, church potlucks and pretty much any other gathering of people you can think of – all that once they lift the social distancing rule, of course!
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 base (whether it’s greens, pasta, couscous, etc.) toppings, 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 salad , Mexican shrimp salad , roasted garlic couscous salad , summer tuna pasta salad , Moroccan 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.
What’s in the lemon basil arugula 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.
- 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!
What goes in the lemon basil dressing?
- olive oil
- lemon juice
- freshly chopped basil
- salt/pepper/ crushed red pepper flakes
I don’t have fresh basil, will dried basil work in this arugula pasta salad?
You can swap the fresh basil for dried basil in this recipe. I know it’s been difficult to find fresh herbs and spices under current conditions, so if you have dried basil on hand, feel free to make the substitute!
How to make basil arugula pasta salad:
- Pasta: First, heat a large stockpot full of water until it boils. Generously season the water with salt and prepare the pasta according to package directions. This will be different depending on the shape of the pasta that you used.
- 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/nutribullet and combine, or just whisk it together in a bowl.
- Serving: When you’re ready to serve, grab a large bowl, and combine the pasta, arugula, walnuts, and dressing. Toss using a pair of tongs and add the parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
How can I make this basil arugula pasta salad ahead of time?
Yes, I would prepare the pasta and keep it in an airtight container. And 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!
I can’t find arugula at the store right now, can I use something else?
Yes, absolutely! You can swap the arugula for shredded kale, baby spinach, or even a spring mix.
Seriously, we love this basil arugula pasta salad so much. Sometimes, I’ll even leave out the pasta and just use the dressing on a simple arugula salad with freshly shaved parmesan for a quick dinner side, and it is always a hit!
- 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
- PASTA: Bring a large pot of water to boil. When boiling, salt the water generously and cook the Gemelli pasta until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and allow the pasta to come to room temperature.
- DRESSING: In a mason jar, add the ingredients for the dressing, place a cap on top and shake until the dressing is combined.
- SERVE: In a large bowl, combine the pasta, baby arugula, walnuts, and toss with dressing until thoroughly combined. Top with shaved parmesan and serve immediately.