This pesto tortellini salad is the perfect summer pasta salad for when you're craving pasta but it's too hot to cook. It's made with simple, fresh ingredients, and is quick and easy to prepare, making it ideal for a quick and healthy lunch, picnic or BBQ, or weeknight dinner.
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💭 Why you'll love this summer tortellini salad
- Less than 10 ingredients, less than 20 minutes to make it. Can you ask for a simpler side than this that everyone will love? This salad and my summer slaw are staples at home during summer!
- Super versatile and customizable. Consider this a base version. You can swap ingredients or add more so you can make this your own. Plus, the vibrant color makes it a great side dish you want to eat all day!
- Great make ahead dish for meal prep. You can make a big batch of this salad, and store the salad separate from the vinaigrette. When you're ready, just toss, add some parmesan and serve!
📋 Ingredients and substitutions
To make this easy pesto tortellini salad, you'll need tortellini, cherry tomatoes, basil, artichokes, Parmesan and a simple pesto vinaigrette. But this salad is super versatile so you can swap these ingredients, or add others you're craving without losing any flavor.
- Tortellini: You can use either fresh or frozen tortellini. I prefer frozen cheese tortellini, but you can use mushroom or spinach filled ones, vegan or gluten-free tortellini as well. No tortellini? No problem. Use any pasta with ridges (e.g., farfalle, rotini, fusilli, etc.)
- Cherry tomatoes: During the summer, I love using cherry tomato in all my salads (like this spinach and avocado salad). This greats taste with even sun-dried tomatoes (and more Tuscan) or you can turn this into a Caprese pasta salad, except with cheesy tortellini, of course.
- Homemade vs. store bought pesto: This recipe uses homemade basil pesto (it's ready while your tortellini is cooking). However, any pesto works! I've made this salad with my kale pesto (vegan and nut-free), broccoli pesto, arugula pesto, and even pea shoot pesto. Tastes delicious with all of them.
- Choice of vinegar: Lemon juice keeps it fresh, but if you want to go the Italian tortellini salad route, you can totally swap lemon juice with balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar.
- Other seasoning: I keep this relatively simple, but you can add red pepper flakes, garlic, or other seasoning of your choice to liven up the pasta salad.
📖 How to make pesto tortellini salad
Cook your tortellini al dente
Start by cooking your tortellini in salted water in a large pot until al dente (this is lesser than time according to package directions). Cooking tortellini al dente means cooking it until it is firm to the bite but cooked through. It should not be mushy or soft, but also not be hard or crunchy. Set aside in a large bowl.
Make pesto salad dressing
Make your pesto vinaigrette by adding basil pesto into a mason jar along with olive oil, lemon juice, and black pepper. Shake until combined, or whisk with a fork for a dressing-like consistency. I love using this jar for all salad dressings!
Prepare pasta salad ingredients
- Chiffonade your basil (i.e. roll it into a little bunch and chop super finely) - this adds such a burst of flavor, it's irresistible!
- Slice your cherry tomatoes into halves. You can easily do this by placing them on a plate, placing another plate on top, and slicing horizontally across using a sharp knife.
- Next, drain and rinse a can of artichoke hearts and set aside.
Assemble pasta salad
Assemble the salad. In a large bowl, add cooked tortellini, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, and artichoke hearts. If you're not planning to serve immediately, refrigerate until ready to serve.
When you're ready to serve, drizzle with pesto vinaigrette evenly and toss to combine. Add salt and pepper and adjust to taste, as necessary. Top with fresh or dry basil, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and more vinaigrette and enjoy this cheesy, but refreshing pesto tortellini pasta salad!
- Creamy Pesto Salad Dressing: You can also make a creamy pesto salad dressing instead.
- Make it an Italian Pasta Salad: Add bell peppers (red bell pepper or green peppers, sliced thinly), and fresh mozzarella balls. Swap cherry tomatoes for grape tomatoes or sun dried tomatoes, and add toasted pine nuts. Garnish with red pepper flakes, and homemade Italian dressing.
- Greek Pasta Salad: I love adding black olives or pitted kalamata olives, red onion, and feta cheese.
- Healthier Version: Add fresh veggies (e.g., red peppers), fresh herbs (e.g., parsley) along with a simple homemade dressing without pesto.
👩🏽🍳 Top Tips
Don't cook tortellini all the way
I learned this when I was in Italy! Cooking tortellini all the way (based on package directions) can make them really mushy when you add the other ingredients. So, I suggest cooking them to a minute or two under package directions (so they'll hold their shape) As soon as they're floating, drain and rinse under cold water to stop cooking.
Add dressing right before you serve
Though we're using pesto, it will still make the basil get soggy due to the absorption of the liquid. To preserve the freshness of the salad, I suggest adding the pesto vinaigrette right before serving. Add the vinaigrette, give it a good mix, grate fresh Parmesan on top, and you're good to go!
Serve chilled if possible
This salad is best served chilled. So, I suggest prepping the ingredients, and chilling them in the fridge for about 30 minutes. Then, when you're ready, add basil and dressing, toss, and serve. Delicious!
👩🏽🍳 Troubleshooting FAQs
Yes! Cook the tortellini, and add tomatoes, basil, artichokes, and mix it all up. Then when you're ready to serve, just add pesto dressing, top off with some more Parmesan and you're good!
It first needs to be cooked according to the package directions! This applies to both fresh or frozen tortellini. However, once you've cooked it, you can eat it either hot or cold!
🍴 What to serve with pesto tortellini salad
I love to serve this salad with everything. Have a big BBQ? Serve it with meat. Planning to have burgers? Make this a healthier side instead of fries. Need a quick lunch? Portion and pack it up!
🍴 Serving and storage suggestions
If you made extra, cover your salad bowl with plastic wrap, or put it in an airtight container. You can store this in the fridge for 2 to 3 days, but I suggest trying to eat it the next day if possible!
If you want to make this salad ahead of time, mix ingredients and chill that separately (without vinaigrette). Then when you're ready to serve, make the pesto vinaigrette fresh, drizzle it on top, grate some parmesan, and serve!
I don't recommend freezing this salad, primarily because of the tomatoes (which tend to get really mushy).
🥗 More summer salad recipes
If you like this recipe, check out my other refreshing summer salads:
- Spinach and avocado salad
- Summer slaw (no-mayo coleslaw with peanut dressing)
- Mango avocado salad
- Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes
- Roasted beet salad with goat cheese
And many, many more vegetarian and vegan salad recipes.
Did you make this recipe?! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Please leave a comment and a star rating and let me know how it went! We love hearing from you, thank you so much
Tortellini Pasta Salad
Tortellini Pasta Salad
- 10 oz tortellini, fresh or frozen, linked to a great vegan one!
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, substitute with sun-dried tomatoes or finely chopped tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons basil , chopped finely (chiffonade)
- 14.5 oz artichoke hearts, canned
- ½ cup parmesan, grated, optional
- ⅔ cup pesto, homemade or storebought
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil, add 20 oz of tortellini and cook the tortellini to 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 (or place in refrigerator to chill)
- Add ¼ cup each of lemon juice and olive oil to ⅔ cups of pesto in a small mason jar or bowl. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and whisk well with a fork (or close the jar and shake) until it's a nice fluid, dressing-like consistency.
Assemble Tortellini Pasta Salad
- Chop 2 cups of cherry tomatoes into halves if you want smaller pieces. Drain 1 can of artichoke hearts and set aside.
- Add cooked tortellini to a large mixing bowl, along with 2 cups of cherry tomatoes, 3 tablespoons basil, and 1 can (14.5oz) of artichoke hearts. If time permits, chill this in the fridge for 30 minutes (this is optional, but can make the salad more refreshing!)
- Before serving, add pesto vinaigrette to the mixing bowl and give it a good toss so it coats the salad evenly. Sprinkle grated parmesan on top and serve!
- This salad is very versatile. You can use fresh or frozen tortellini, 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
- I love using this jar to make my pesto vinaigrette (especially since it's a great way to pack salad dressing for lunch too!) Just add the pesto, olive oil, lemon juice, and pepper and then shake to combine.
Note: This recipe was originally published on July 21, 2020. It was updated on May 8, 2022 to include new pictures, and step-by-step instructions.