Cheese tortellini pasta salad with pesto highlights fresh summer veggies and features an easy to make spinach-basil walnut pesto. This simple summer Pesto Tortellini Salad is hearty enough as a main or you can share it as a side. This recipe is vegetarian.
Simple Pesto Tortellini Salad Recipe
It wouldn’t be summer without sharing a simple pasta salad recipe full of summer veg, fresh flavors and seasonal ingredients! Summertime is the best time for fresh, tasty, in season pasta salad recipes that delight. If you’ve made my Asparagus and Pea Macaroni Salad, Greek Orzo Pasta Salad or this Lemon Orzo Pasta Salad, you’re going to enjoy this tortellini salad with pesto too! Here’s why:
- Easy to Make – less than 30 minutes
- So Fresh
Also, it’s quick to whip up! Share this delicious pasta salad as a side with your favorite grilled mains or as a main. It’s absolutely scrumptious with grilled sourdough bread.
Ingredients You’ll Need
For the Spinach-Basil Pesto:
This pesto is super simple to whip up. It’s more economical than store bought and tastes so fresh. My Lemon Basil Pesto or Garlic Scape Pesto would be quite tasty in this recipe too! Here’s what you’ll need for the spinach-basil pesto (see recipe card for details):
- Fresh Basil
- Fresh Spinach
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Grated Parmesan
- Fresh Garlic
For the Tortellini Pesto Salad:
- Cheese Tortellini – look for the fresh variety, I like Rana Five Cheese Tortellini
- Plump Cherry Tomatoes
- Sweet Peas – fresh or frozen
- Orange, Yellow or Red Bell Pepper
- Green Onions
Quick Guide: How to Make Tortellini Salad with Pesto
Look for fresh tortellini in the refrigerator section, there are several varieties. I like five cheese for this recipe. While I recommend making homemade pesto, you can opt for store bought. In summary, here’s how to make pesto tortellini pasta salad (see recipe card for details):
- First, make the spinach basil pesto in a food processor.
- Second, cook the pasta according to package directions, then during the last 30 seconds of cooking, add the peas. Retain about a cup of pasta water, then drain and rinse under cool water. Set aside.
- Third, slice the tomatoes, dice the bell pepper, and green onions.
- Next, in a large bowl, whisk the pesto with a bit of pasta water. Add the tortellini, peas and chopped veggies.
- Last, add a few twists of fresh ground pepper, a squeeze of lemon and toss.
This pesto tortellini salad is best shared the same day it’s made, when the pasta is still slightly warm or at room temperature and the pesto is bright green. The pesto tends to turn a darker color (oxidize) as it sets or rests in the fridge. However, if you don’t mind a bit of darker pesto, this salad is still delicious on day two and three!
Pesto Tortellini Salad FAQs
Why Did My Pesto Turn Dark?
When cut basil leaves (pesto) are exposed to air or heat, they easily turn brown. This is because of a chemical reaction known as oxidation. You may be familiar with avocados turning brown shortly after they’re cut. This is the same reaction.
Can I Eat Oxidized Pesto?
Yes, you can eat oxidized pesto, but from a visual perspective, it’s not ideal. Of course if there’s an off odor or mold, then throw it out.
Can I Blanch the Basil So It Doesn’t Oxidize?
You can blanch the basil prior to making the pesto, however in testing this pesto tortellini salad recipe, I found the extra step of blanching didn’t do anything to prevent the pesto from turning brown. I imagine it’s because the pesto is distributed in a thin layer on the tortellini instead of being packed in a jar, where I’ve had better success with preserving pesto’s bright green color after blanching.
Is it Okay to Eat Cold Tortellini?
You can eat cooked cold (refrigerated) tortellini! It makes a fabulous addition to this pasta salad recipe. Just be sure to store it in the fridge at least two hours after cooking so it’ll stay fresh and safe to enjoy.
A Few Recipe Tips
- Look for fresh cheese tortellini in the refrigerator section of your grocery store. It’s often found near the cheese case or in the produce area. I like Rana brand.
- Cook tortellini according to package directions. I like it just past al dente, so that it’s soft and tender (not mushy) in the salad.
- After cooking the pasta and peas, don’t forget to reserve some of the pasta water. You’ll add it to the pesto to thin it a bit and to help the pesto bind to the pasta. Plus it helps keep everything moist.
More Summer Salad Recipes to Love
Tomato Cucumber and Onion Salad
Grilled Sourdough Panzanella with Chickpeas
Summer Quinoa Vegetable Salad with Fresh Mozzarella
Strawberry Goat Cheese Salad
Summer Pesto Tortellini Salad Recipe
For the Spinach-Basil Pesto:
- 1/3 cup (35 grams) Walnuts
- 1 1/2 cups (55 grams) Fresh Basil packed
- 1 1/2 cups (75 grams) Fresh Spinach packed
- 1/4 cup (30 grams) Grated Parmesan
- 2 Fat Cloves of Garlic skinned and sliced
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 tablespoon Lemon Juice
- 1/2 teaspoon Fine Sea Salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Coarsely Ground Black Pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon Red Pepper Flake
For the Pasta Salad:
- 10 ounces (285 grams) Cheese Tortellini* about 3 cups (see note)
- 1 cup (145 grams) Sweet Peas frozen or fresh
- 1 cup (210 grams) Spinach-Basil Pesto
- 2 cups (305 grams) Cherry Tomatoes sliced in half, about one pint
- 1 1/4 cup (175 grams) Sweet Bell Pepper yellow, orange or red, medium dice, about one medium pepper
- 1/3 cup (40 grams) Green Onion white parts, sliced thin, about three green onions
For the Pesto:
- In a small pan over medium-low heat, toast the walnuts, tossing occasionally for about 6-7 minutes or until fragrant and toasty. Adjust heat as needed so they don't burn. Set aside to cool.
- In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the S blade, add the basil, spinach, Parmesan, garlic, olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper, pepper flakes and walnuts.
- Whirl the ingredients until the leaves are broken down and a smoothish pesto forms stopping a few times to scrape down the bowl. Set aside.
For the Salad:
- Fill a large stock pot with water, a pinch of salt and bring it to a boil. Cook tortellini according to package directions. During the last minute of cooking, scoop out about 1/2 cup of pasta water, set it aside, then plunge the sweet peas into the pot with the pasta for 30 seconds. Drain and rinse the pasta and peas with cold running water to cool slightly. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the pesto and 4-5 tablespoons of pasta water together. Add the tortellini, peas, tomatoes, bell pepper and onion. Gently toss until the tortellini and veggies are covered with the pesto sauce. Add a splash or two more of pasta water to loosen if needed, mix again.
- Add a squeeze of lemon, a few grinds of fresh ground pepper and taste for salt adjustment. Garnish with fresh basil leaves and share. If holding in the fridge before serving, set the pasta salad out at room temperature about 30 minutes prior to serving so the fats can soften.
- This salad is best enjoyed the day it's made as the bright green pesto tends to oxidize (turn brown) over time. However, it will keep refrigerated in a lidded container for up to three days. This recipes does not freeze well.
Delicious pasta salad. It tasted great even several days later. I used my homemade pesto (always have that around) and tomatoes from the farmers market. Can’t wait to try it with the tomatoes from my garden. Might also try it with asparagus in place of peas at the request of my family. This will be my new “go to” salad for summer company.
Hi Leslie! Thank you for your note and giving the salad a go! SO happy to hear you’re enjoying the salad. Asparagus would be fabulous in this!
So good! Was quick, easy, and so yummy! Perfect for dinner on these hot summer days! Will be making this often this summer! Thanks for the wonderful recipe!
Hiii Melanie! SO happy to hear you’re enjoying the pasta salad. Thank you for your note here and on IG! Day made!
To do it vegan can you use vegan tortellini and vegan grated cheese?
Hi Linda! I don’t see why not. Keep us posted!
This salad was delicious. I used pecans from my FIL’s tree in the pesto. Basil from my back yard😊 and tomatoes fresh from our garden. I’ve been looking forward to this meal since I saw the recipe…waiting for the garden tomatoes. So good and simple!
Hi Joy! Talk about local food… SO happy to hear you enjoyed it. Noted on the pecans (such a good idea!). Thank you for your note and giving the salad a go!
my husband is allergic to walnuts and pine nuts would almonds or cashews work for the pesto?
Almonds would be fabulous!
Great, thank you so much. I’m going to try it tonight. I love so many of your recipes.
SO excited! Thank you Maggie!
This pasta salad was fantastic! I’ll definitely be making this again. Will be especially great when we are glamping. Super easy and delicious!
Mary Ann | The Beach House Kitchen
What a fabulous summer pasta salad Traci! I tend to enjoy pasta salads even more during the summer. I usually make them for guests here because they always go over well and are always so easy to throw together! Adding this one to my list!
Thank you Mary Ann! It’s just so satisfying, and it makes a big salad, perfect for hosting.
Made this today, with some garlic bread hot off the grill, and it was the most perfect summer lunch! The only thing I changed was I used oil packed sun dried tomatoes instead of the fresh cherry variety, and omitted the bell peppers, because I had forgotten to pick some up. But I disgress, this will be on regular rotation for the season. Thank you for this recipe!
Hi Claudia! Yes, yes to garlic bread off off the grill! Thank you for your note and giving the salad a go! Sun dried tomatoes sound fabulous. I’ll try em’ next time!