Even though you can serve tortellini salad all year, it feels like the ultimate warm-weather dish. It makes me think of pulling out a picnic basket at an outdoor music festival in the middle of a park; it’s exactly the kind of portable, colorful, cheery dish that one would want to see on such an occasion. And you should 100% offer to bring this when you receive your next potluck invite — it’s so easy to make in a big batch, super portable, and people go nuts for it.
Tortellini is originally from the Emilia region of Italy, though now popular throughout Italy, the U.S., and many other parts of the world. Originally, the filling included pork or veal mixed with prosciutto and Parmesan. Now, the fillings vary widely and can be meat-based, cheese-based, or vegetable-based (see below for more examples). Supposedly the shape (kind of like a tiny little croissant) is based on a person’s navel!
Tortelloni are larger (about twice as big) than tortellini. They are usually filled with ricotta and parsley or spinach.
Types of Tortellini
There are so many types of filled tortellini available, even in the average well-stocked grocery store! In a nearby market in Connecticut, I found these types of tortellini: Three Cheese, Mixed Cheese (I guess with more than three cheeses?), Spinach and Ricotta, Chicken and Roasted Garlic, Sweet Italian Sausage, Herb Chicken, Chicken and Prosciutto, and Spinach and Cheese. That’s a lot of choices, right there! Any of them will work just fine. And if you head to an Italian pasta or specialty store, you may find some very imaginative fillings.
I like to use a vegetarian cheese-filled tortellini for this salad. It’s smart to keep as many side dishes vegetarian if possible, so everyone can enjoy. I also think the vegetarian tortellini do best at room temperature. Any flavor will work, though, so pick your favorite. If you use meat-based tortellini, do let people know it is not a vegetarian tortellini salad.
- Tortellini – I prefer cheese, but you can use whatever tortellini you like, from meat to butternut squash to mushroom. Make sure that you consider whether you want this salad to be vegetarian or not. When in doubt, stick to a vegetarian version of tortellini, and you will then have that as a substantial option for any vegetarians in your crowd.
- Olive oil – Olive oil will be used in the dressing, but it is also used to toss the tortellini right after they are cooked. The lightly oiled tortellini will now be able to cool evenly without sticking.
- Tomatoes – You can use either grape or cherry tomatoes. Grape tomatoes are often a bit firmer, while cherry tomatoes are usually a little softer and sweeter. Use any color or mix of colors that you like. This is a vibrant salad no matter what color tomatoes you choose.
- Artichoke hearts and olives – Use any kind of cooked artichoke hearts you like, from jarred to canned to frozen and defrosted. Ditto on the olives — black, green, whatever you like best, all will work in this salad.
- Spinach – Use fresh spinach, for sure, and make sure to wash it if it’s sandy or gritty.
- Onions – I like the color of red onions in this dish, but you can use any onion you like. Onion adds a nice sharp bite to the salad.
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste – Many of the ingredients in this salad, like the olives and artichoke hearts, are salty already, so go very lightly on the salt until the whole salad has been tossed.
- Mozzarella – If you can find the perlini-sized mozzarella balls, named because they are “pearl-sized,” then you can use them as is. Or, if you find slightly larger little balls, like bocconcini, just cut them into bite-sized pieces, meaning halve or quarter them. Large balls of mozzarella can be cubed and added. Or, you can try smoked mozzarella for a change of pace; just dice it up.
- Pesto dressing – You can use either store-bought or homemade pesto in the dressing. The small amount of pesto gives the salad a wonderful basil-garlicky-Parmesan flavor. Feel free to add more than 3 tablespoons if you want a more pronounced pesto flavor.
How to Make Tortellini Salad
- Cook the tortellini. Drain, rinse quickly with cool water, and immediately toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread it out on a rimmed baking sheet to cool to room temperature.
- Combine the vegetables. Mix the tomatoes, mozzarella, spinach, artichoke hearts, olives, and onion in a large serving bowl.
- Make the dressing. Combine the pesto, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and the Parmesan if using. Add tortellini to the vegetables, drizzle the dressing over top, and toss to combine.
- Serve. Sprinkle over the basil and serve.
Tortellini Pasta Salad: Substantial, colorful, festive, this is a perfect summer lunch, and a great addition to buffets, potlucks, picnics and more.Tweet This
Variations and Add-Ins
- Salami, sliced or cut into matchsticks (if you have enjoyed the tortellini salad from Costco, you know that lots of salami is part of its appeal!). It obviously turns this salad into a non-vegetarian pasta salad, but meat eaters love it. It then becomes even more like an antipasti tortellini salad.
- Crumbled cooked bacon or pancetta
- Bite-sized pieces of other vegetables – Try grilled, steamed, or roasted broccoli, cauliflower, or asparagus.
- Pepperoncini or a drained jarred antipasti salad
- Chopped olive salad
- Sub in baby kale for the spinach. Try scallions instead of red onions.
Tortellini Salad can be stored for up to 4 days in the fridge. You can serve it cold. I prefer bringing it to room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving to take the chill off and allow the flavors to come forward more.
What to Serve With Tortellini Pasta Salad
- Grilled Chicken Thighs
- Greek Turkey Burger
- Chicken Corn Chowder
- Yogurt Marinated Chicken Kebabs
- Air Fried Shrimp
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Tortellini Pasta Salad
For the Tortellini Salad:
- 1 package (16 to 20-ounce) refrigerated cheese or other flavor tortellini
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes (halved)
- 8 ounces mini mozzarella balls (halved, quartered, or cubed if large)
- 1 cup roughly chopped baby spinach
- 1 can (15-ounce can) artichoke hearts (roughly sliced or chopped)
- ½ cup olives (any color or type; drained and halved)
- ½ cup diced red onion
- Cook the tortellini according to package instructions. Drain, rinse quickly with cool water, and immediately toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread out on a rimmed baking sheet to cool to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, combine the tomatoes, mozzarella, spinach, artichoke hearts, olives, and onion in a large serving bowl.
- Make the dressing: in a small container or bowl, combine the pesto, 3 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and the Parmesan if using.
- Add the cooled tortellini to the bowl, drizzle over the dressing and toss to combine. Sprinkle over the basil and serve.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.