There's no better time than summer time to make this simple pasta salad with fresh tomatoes, and basil straight out of the garden. This spinach and pesto tortellini salad has only seven ingredients, and it's perfect for so many things. Whether you're looking for a quick and healthy lunch, or you need to throw together something quick for a summer picnic or BBQ cookout, this summer tortellini salad is the best recipe for you! Let's jump right in.
The post contains helpful tips and tricks to make sure you're successful in your first attempt. But if you're in a rush, please use the link above to jump to the recipe card at the end!
📋 Ingredients and substitutions
This salad is really the star of the show at every BBQ or potluck I've brought it to (most recently, at a Fourth of July BBQ). So, it's a crowd pleaser! You'll needs just seven ingredients, and all of 20 minutes to put this together (plus a few more to chill before serving).
I use tortellini, chopped spinach, cherry tomatoes, basil, Parmesan cheese and a simple pesto vinaigrette. However, this is also a super versatile salad so you can swap out many of these things with what you have at home without losing flavors!
- Tortellini: You can use either fresh or frozen tortellini. I prefer to use cheese tortellini, but you can also use other stuffings. No tortellini? No problem. You can use any pasta that has ridges to absorb all the delicious pesto - farfalle, rotini, fusili, all work.
- Cherry tomatoes: During the summer, I love to use cherry tomatoes in almost all my salads (case in point: spinach & avocado salad with cherry tomatoes) - however, if you want to go the Tuscan tortellini salad route, you can swap this with sun-dried tomatoes too!
- Spinach: You can use either fresh or frozen spinach for this recipe. If you're using fresh spinach like me, just chop it as finely as you can.
- Basil: This is a game changer, in my opinion. I typically chiffonade my basil (i.e. roll it into a little bunch and chop super finely) and it just adds such a burst of flavor, it's irresistible.
- Parmesan: I love a healthy sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan in my salads. If you're a cheese lover, you can also add mozzarella balls to make this more luscious, or go the Greek tortellini salad route and use feta instead. No end to the types of cheese this pasta can use!
- Pesto Vinaigrette: I typically make fresh homemade basil pesto in a pinch while the pasta is cooking. However, you can use storebought or homemade pesto. If you're using the homemade variant, make sure to check out that post for detailed instructions. To make the vinaigrette, I simple add about 2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar to my pesto and give it a good mix. All the flavor explosions!
Other add-ins: this pasta dish is super versatile. Want a bit of a crunch in your salad? Add toasted pine nuts! You can also add in red pepper flakes, swap the cheese with diced provolone, throw in a few olives, red onions, fresh corn or cucumbers, it's really whatever you're craving that day.
👩🏽🍳 Top Tips
Don't cook the tortellini all the way to the package directions
This is one of the most important tips I learned when I was in Italy. Cooking the tortellini all the way to the package directions often makes them quite soft, so when you throw them in a salad and layer with all the other stuff, they can get really mushy.
I typically cook them to about a minute or two under the package directions so they're cooked, but also hold the shape in the salad. As soon as they're floating up, drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. If you're using other pasta (e.g. farfalle) - cook to the al dente directions and follow the same drain and rinse technique to prevent overcooking.
Add the spinach and the dressing right before you serve
Though we're using pesto, it will still make the spinach wilt super quick due to the absorption of the liquid. To preserve the freshness of the salad, I always suggest adding the spinach and the pesto right before serving. Give it a quick mix, throw Parmesan on top, and you're good to go!
Serve chilled if possible for a fresh and vibrant side
I really love serving this salad chilled. Especially as summer temperatures go up, it's nice to have something cool and refreshing. So, I suggest prepping all the ingredients, and throwing them in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Then, when you're ready to serve, add the spinach and dressing. Delicious!
🥗 Serving and storage suggestions
I literally serve this salad with everything. Have a big grill? Serve it with the meat. Have some burgers? Make this a healthier side instead of fries. The options are endless.
Can this be made ahead of time? Yes! Cook the tortellini, and add the tomatoes, basil, and mix it all up. Then when you're ready to serve, just add the spinach and pesto, top off with some more Parmesan and you're good!
Storing leftovers: This is a really quick and easy tortellini salad, so I suggest just making it fresh right before you want to eat it. However, if you made extra, cover your salad bowl with plastic wrap, or put it in an airtight container. You can this in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. I don't recommend freezing this salad, primarily because of the tomatoes. Tomatoes tend to get super mushy when thawed from the freezer.
Love salads? Check out these other fresh and vibrant salad recipes for your next BBQ or quick weekday lunch.
Summer Spinach and Pesto Tortellini Salad
- 8 oz tortellini, fresh or frozen
- 10 oz baby spinach, chopped finely
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, substitute with sun-dried tomatoes or finely chopped tomatoes
- ½ cup grated parmesan, buy fresh and grate at home!
- 2 tbsp basil , chopped finely (chiffonade)
- ⅔ cup pesto, homemade or storebought
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, substitute with red wine or apple cider vinegar if you don't have balsamic
- Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil, add and cook the tortellini to roughly 2 minutes under package directions (e.g. if package says 7 minutes, cook for 5 minutes)
- Once the tortellini rise to the top of the water, drain them and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Set aside.
Prep Fresh Ingredients
- Chop the spinach as finely as you can and set aside
- Roll the basil into a roll and then chop finely - set aside
- Add the balsamic to the pesto and whisk well with a fork until it's a nice fluid, dressing-like consistency
- Add tortellini to a large mixing bowl, along with the tomatoes, basil, and Parmesan cheese (set aside 2 tbsp of parmesan for garnish)
- Chill this mixture as well as the chopped spinach in the fridge for 30 minutes
- Before serving, add the spinach and pesto vinaigrette to the mixing bowl and give it a good mix. Sprinkle the rest of the parmesan on top and serve!
- This salad is very versatile. You can use fresh or frozen tortellini and spinach, cherry tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes, and a number of other add-ins as well. Check the post for all the substitutions for various ingredients!
- Remember to buy vegetarian Parmesan - traditional Parmesan tends to have calf rennet in the cheese making process, which you'd want to avoid if you're vegetarian