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.
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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’ll enjoy this tortellini salad with pesto too!
This Salad Is:
- Easy to Make – less than 30 minutes
- So Fresh
Share this delicious pasta salad as a side with your favorite grilled mains or as a main. It’s scrumptious with grilled Rustic 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. But, you can use my Lemon Basil Pesto or Garlic Scape Pesto if you like. Just about any homemade pesto would also be quite tasty in this recipe! 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, whisk the pesto with a bit of pasta water in a large bowl. 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 quickly 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 before 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
- Is it Okay to Eat Cold Tortellini?
- You can eat cooked cold (refrigerated) tortellini! It makes a fabulous addition to this pasta salad recipe. Store it in the fridge at least two hours after cooking so it stays fresh and safe to enjoy.
- 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
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 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.