Pesto pasta is one of those dishes that’s easy to make but oh-so-satisfying.
The combination of creamy pesto, al dente pasta, and sharp Parmesan is a trifecta of flavor that never gets old.
But sometimes, you want to change things up a bit and make your pesto pasta a little more special.
That’s where side dishes come in.
The right side dish can elevate your pesto pasta from being a simple weeknight meal to something worthy of a dinner party.
But what makes a good side dish for pesto pasta? First, it should compliment the flavors in the dish without competing with them.
Second, it should add texture and visual interest.
And lastly, it should be easy to prepare (because, let’s face it, nobody wants to spend hours in the kitchen when they could be enjoying that delicious pesto pasta).
With all that in mind, here are 14 of the best side dishes to serve with pesto pasta:
What to Serve with Pesto Pasta? Try These 14 Sides
1. Garden Salad
Garden salads are a staple dish that can be found on the table at almost any gathering – from potlucks to dinner parties.
And for a good reason.
Garden salads are not only healthy and refreshing, but they’re also incredibly versatile.
With so many different types of fruits, vegetables, and nuts that can be added to a garden salad, there really is no limit to what you can do with this dish.
One of the best things about garden salads is that they can be tailored to suit any taste.
If you’re looking for something light and refreshing, stick to crisp greens and add in some juicy fruits or sweet berries.
For a heartier dish, include roasted vegetables or some protein-rich beans or grains.
And of course, don’t forget the dress.
A simple vinaigrette will do the trick, or you could get creative and make your own unique blend.
- Get creative with your ingredients. In addition to the usual suspects like lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers, try adding in some unconventional items like shaved fennel, roasted Brussels sprouts, or even some cooked quinoa.
- Make your own dressing. While store-bought dressings can be convenient, they’re often loaded with sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. By making your own dressing at home, you’ll be able to control exactly what goes into it – and you’ll probably find that it tastes better too.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment. The great thing about salads is that they’re very forgiving – if you make a mistake, it’s easy to just start over. So go ahead and experiment with different ingredient combinations until you find something that you love.
2. Caesar Salad
Caesar salad is one of the most popular dishes in America.
Its simple combination of lettuce, croutons, and parmesan cheese has a clean, classic flavor that appeals to a wide range of palates.
The dish is also relatively easy to make, which explains its popularity among home cooks.
While a basic Caesar salad is delicious, there are several ways to elevate the dish and take it to the next level.
For instance, adding grilled chicken or shrimp can add richness and depth of flavor.
For a hearty winter meal, try substituting the lettuce for kale or other sturdy greens.
And for a truly decadent experience, top the salad with shaved black truffle.
3. Arugula Salad
Arugula Salad is a great way to add some greens to your meal.
The taste is slightly bitter and the texture is slightly peppery, making it a perfect side dish for pesto pasta.
Here are some tips on how to make the most of your arugula salad:
- Add some sweetness: Arugula can be quite bitter, so adding a sweet element will help balance out the flavors. Try adding some diced fruit, such as apples or pears.
- Go for a creamy dressing: Arugula pairs well with creamy dressings, such as ranch or Caesar. Avoid vinegary dressings, as they will only accentuate the bitterness of the greens.
- Add some crunch: To add some texture and crunch to your salad, try adding croutons, nuts, or seeds. This will also help fill you up.
4. Caprese Salad
This dish is a classic for a reason: the combination of creamy mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, and fragrant basil is irresistible.
Caprese salad is the perfect side dish to accompany your pesto pasta – the acidity of the tomatoes cuts through the richness of the sauce, and the sweetness of the mozzarella pairs perfectly with the herbs in the pesto.
There are a few things you can do to elevate your Caprese salad and make it even more delicious.
First, make sure to use ripe tomatoes – they should be soft to the touch and slightly squishy.
If your tomatoes are too firm, they won’t have enough flavor.
Second, don’t skimp on the olive oil – a good quality extra virgin olive oil will make all the difference.
Finally, tear your mozzarella into pieces rather than slicing it – this will help it to melt into the salad and create an even more flavorful dish.
5. Grilled Vegetables
Grilled vegetables are a fantastic option for a side dish because they can be made to taste however you like them.
You can control the level of charring, how long they’re cooked, and what seasonings or sauces you use.
Grilled vegetables are also a great way to get some extra nutrients into your diet.
Vegetables that are good for grilling include zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, and onions.
Just about any vegetable can be grilled, so experiment to find your favorites.
The key to grilling vegetables is not to overcook them.
You want them to have a bit of crunch and not be mushy.
To avoid overcooking your vegetables, preheat your grill to medium-high heat and cook the vegetables for 5-7 minutes per side.
Keep an eye on them so they don’t burn.
Season the vegetables with salt, pepper, and whatever other spices you like.
You could also brush them with olive oil or a BBQ sauce before cooking.
If you’re looking for something a little different, try skewering your vegetables before grilling them.
This is a great way to make sure they don’t fall through the grill grates.
It also makes it easy to turn them, so they cook evenly on all sides.
For even more flavor, marinate the vegetables in your favorite dressing or sauce before skewering them.
6. Sautéed Mushrooms
Sautéed mushrooms are a simple but delicious side dish that can be enjoyed with a variety of main courses.
The mushrooms are cooked in a pan with a small amount of oil or butter, and their natural flavors are enhanced with the addition of garlic, salt, and pepper.
The taste and texture of sautéed mushrooms make them versatile side dishes that can be enjoyed with both light and hearty meals.
The mushrooms retain their firm texture when cooked, and their earthy flavor is a perfect complement to many different dishes.
There are a few tips to keep in mind when making sautéed mushrooms.
First, make sure to clean the mushrooms thoroughly before cooking them.
Second, slice the mushrooms evenly so that they cook evenly in the pan.
Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment with different seasonings – herbs such as thyme or rosemary can add an extra dimension of flavor to this dish.
7. Roasted Brussels Sprouts
If you’re looking for a new side dish to add to your repertoire, look no further than roasted Brussels sprouts.
These little green veggie balls pack a serious flavor punch, and when roasted to perfection, they make for a delicious and healthy addition to any meal.
When it comes to taste and texture, roasted Brussels sprouts are slightly nutty with a touch of bitterness.
When cooked properly, they should be slightly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
The key to getting them just right is to roast them at a high temperature until they’re nicely browned.
There are endless ways to elevate this simple side dish.
One easy way is to toss the Brussels sprouts in some balsamic vinegar before roasting.
You can also add other roasted veggies like sweet potatoes or carrots to the mix.
For an extra bit of flavor, try topping the dish with crumbled bacon or shaved Parmesan cheese before serving.
8. Roasted Butternut Squash
If you’re looking for a delicious and healthy side dish to accompany your pesto pasta, look no further than roasted butternut squash.
This classic fall vegetable is not only packed with nutrients like vitamins A and C, but it also has a lovely sweetness that pairs perfectly with savory dishes like pasta.
When roasted properly, butternut squash takes on a lovely texture that is both soft and slightly crispy.
The key to getting the perfect roast is to cut the squash into even pieces so that they cook evenly.
You’ll also want to be sure to roast the squash at a high temperature so that the outside gets nice and caramelized.
There are endless ways to elevate roasted butternut squash.
One of our favorites is to toss the cooked squash with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
Another delicious option is to top the squash with a dollop of pesto before serving.
9. Baked Parmesan Chicken
Parmesan chicken is a classic dish that is simple to make and always delicious.
The key to making a great parmesan chicken is to use quality ingredients and to bake it until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is melted and bubbly.
When it comes to taste, parmesan chicken is all about the cheese.
The best way to get a nice, cheesy flavor is to use freshly grated parmesan cheese.
You could also use pre-grated cheese, but it will not taste as good.
The cheese should be sprinkled over the chicken breasts before baking.
As for texture, you want the chicken to be cooked through but still moist and tender.
Baking time will vary depending on the size of your chicken breasts, but cook them until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
To elevate this dish, you could serve it with a side of roasted vegetables or a simple salad.
You could also add some herbs to the cheese before sprinkling it over the chicken breasts.
Some good options include basil, oregano, and thyme.
10. Grilled Salmon with Lemon Butter Sauce
Grilled salmon is a delicious, healthy option for a summertime meal.
The fish is lightly seasoned and cooked over a warm flame, resulting in succulent, flaky flesh.
The lemon butter sauce is the perfect complement to the salmon, adding a bright, acidic note to the dish.
To elevate this simple meal, try serving the salmon with roasted vegetables or a light salad.
For an extra touch of luxury, top each filet with a pat of caviar.
Whether you’re entertaining guests or simply enjoying a quiet dinner at home, grilled salmon with lemon butter sauce is sure to impress.
11. Shrimp Scampi
Shrimp scampi is a classic seafood dish that is simple to make and packed with flavor.
The dish typically consists of shrimp that is sautéed in butter and garlic and then served over pasta or rice.
Shrimp scampi is a light and refreshing dish that can be enjoyed any time of year.
The key to making a great shrimp scampi is to not overcook the shrimp.
The shrimp should be cooked just until they are pink and opaque in color.
Overcooked shrimp will become tough and rubbery, so be careful not to overcook them.
Another important tip is to use fresh garlic for the best flavor.
Fresh garlic will have a more pungent and intense flavor than garlic that has been sitting around for a while.
If you want to elevate your shrimp scampi dish, try adding some fresh herbs like parsley or thyme.
You could also add a splash of white wine or lemon juice to the dish for an extra zing of flavor.
Serve your shrimp scampi over some fresh pasta or steamed rice for a complete meal.
12. Mussels in White Wine Sauce
Mussels in White Wine Sauce is a classic French dish that is simple to make and absolutely delicious.
The mussels are cooked in a white wine sauce, which gives them a beautiful flavor.
The texture of the mussels is also amazing, they are tender and juicy.
There are a few things you can do to elevate this dish.
First, you can use good quality white wine for the sauce.
This will make a big difference in the taste of the dish.
Second, you can add some chopped herbs to the sauce.
This will give it a nice flavor and make it look even more impressive.
This dish is perfect for a special occasion or a romantic dinner.
It is sure to impress your guests and have them coming back for more.
13. Clams Casino
Clams Casino is a classic dish that is perfect for any seafood lover.
The dish is made up of clams, bacon, and bread crumbs and is usually served as an appetizer.
The clams are cooked in their shells, and the bacon is used to top the dish.
The taste of Clams Casino is salty and savory, with a slight smokiness from the bacon.
The texture of the dish is creamy and slightly chewy due to the clams.
The bread crumbs add a crunchy element to the dish.
There are a few ways to elevate this dish.
One way would be to use fresh clams instead of canned ones.
This will give the dish a more intense flavor.
Another way would be to add some herbs to the bread crumbs, such as parsley or thyme.
This will give the dish an extra depth of flavor.
Finally, you could try serving the Clams Casino with a dipping sauce on the side, such as aioli or cocktail sauce.
14. Crab Cakes
Crab cakes are a delicious and easy way to enjoy seafood.
They can be served as an appetizer or main course, and are a popular choice for both casual and formal gatherings.
Crab cakes are typically made with crab meat, bread crumbs, eggs, mayonnaise, and seasonings.
They are pan-fried or baked until golden brown and crispy.
Most crab cake recipes call for lump crab meat, which is the large pieces of meat from the body of the crab.
This type of crab meat is less likely to contain shells or other bits of debris.
However, it can be more expensive than other types of crab meat.
If you’re on a budget, you can use minced crab meat instead.
The texture of the finished dish will be slightly different, but it will still be delicious.
- Use fresh lump crab meat for the best flavor and texture.
- Add some chopped fresh herbs to the mixture for extra flavor.
- Use good quality mayonnaise for the best results.
- Be careful not to overcook the crab cakes – they should be golden brown on the outside and cooked through in the center.
Pesto pasta is a great dish for any occasion.
It is simple to make and can be easily customized to your liking.
To make the dish more complete, we suggest serving it with one or more of the following side dishes.
What to Serve with Pesto Pasta? Try These 14 Sides
- 1. Garden Salad
- 2. Caesar Salad
- 3. Arugula Salad
- 4. Caprese Salad
- 5. Grilled Vegetables
- 6. Sautéed Mushrooms
- 7. Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- 8. Roasted Butternut Squash
- 9. Baked Parmesan Chicken
- 10. Grilled Salmon with Lemon Butter Sauce
- 11. Shrimp Scampi
- 12. Mussels in White Wine Sauce
- 13. Clams Casino
- 14. Crab Cakes
- Select your favorite sides from the list above.
- Prepare the side dish according to the recipe instructions.
- If you’re short on time, some of these can be made ahead of time and reheated before serving.
- Serve and enjoy!
Carrie is a food writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience. She has worked for some of the biggest names in the food industry, including Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, and Martha Stewart Living.
As the Editor in Chief of IntroChicago.com, Carrie oversees all of the content on the site. She also manages the team of contributing writers and editors, who help to create delicious recipes, helpful tips, and informative articles that you’ll find on the site.
A native of the Chicago area, Carrie is passionate about all things food. She loves trying new restaurants and experimenting with new recipes in her kitchen. She’s also a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, so she knows a thing or two about food!