This tortellini pasta salad is the perfect summer side dish when it's too hot but you still want pasta! Made with a few fresh ingredients, it's perfect as a quick and healthy lunch, great for a summer picnic or BBQ cookout, or a weeknight dinner.
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💭 Why you'll love this recipe
- 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 Asian flavor inspired 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
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 cheese tortellini, but you can also use others (e.g., mushroom tortellini, spinach tortellini, or even gluten-free tortellini). No tortellini? No problem. Use any pasta with ridges (e.g., farfalle, rotini, fusili, etc.)
- 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! P.S., you can also make this delicious Caprese pasta salad, except with tortellini if you wish!
- Homemade vs. store bought pesto: This recipe uses homemade basil pesto (it's literally ready while your tortellini is cooking!). However, any pesto works! In fact, I've made this salad with my kale pesto (which is vegan and nut-free), my broccoli pesto (!) and even my pea shoot pesto. Tastes delicious with all of them.
- Choice of vinegar: I find that lemon juice typically keeps it fresh, but if you want a take on Italian tortellini salad, you can totally swap lemon juice with balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar.
- Creamy Pesto Salad Dressing: You can also make a creamy pesto salad dressing instead.
- Make it an Italian Pasta Salad: To make this Italian, you can add some bell peppers (red peppers or green peppers, sliced really thinly), as well as mozzarella cheese balls. To make it Sicilian, you can swap cherry tomatoes for sun dried tomatoes, and add toasted pine nuts, yum. You can also add red pepper flakes, or your own homemade Italian dressing.
- Greek Tortellini Salad: I love adding black olives or 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.
📖 Make tortellini pasta salad!
Start by cooking your tortellini to slightly under the time suggested in package instructions, (or to al dente level).
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 my salad dressings!
- Prepare all the ingredients for this easy pasta salad. First, 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, if you wish. You can easily do this by place 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 the salad. In a large mixing bowl, add your cooked tortellini, cherry tomatoes, 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.
- Top with fresh basil, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and more vinaigrette (to your desired level) and enjoy this cheesy, but refreshing tortellini pasta salad!
👩🏽🍳 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!
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!
🍴 Serving and storage suggestions
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!
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, I suggest mixing ingredients and chilling it separately (without the 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).
If you like this recipe, check out my other summer salad recipes:
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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.