Make your summer parties extra delicious with a big bowl of this pesto tortellini salad! Made with salami, artichoke hearts, fresh mozzarella balls and sun-dried tomatoes, this easy pasta salad is the perfect side dish for serving a crowd, and everyone will love the fresh flavor the pesto adds to every bite. Plus, this cheesy tortellini pasta salad recipe only requires five ingredients and takes about 20 minutes to prepare — this will be your go-to pasta salad for all summer parties.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
Made for cheese lovers: Can’t get enough cheese in your life? With the cheese-filled tortellini, mini mozzarella pearls and Parmesan in the pesto, you get plenty of cheesy goodness in every bite.
Full of fresh flavor that’s perfect for summer picnics: Thanks to the fresh basil pesto, this herby pasta salad tastes like summer in a bowl. Plus, if you have a garden full of basil, you have the perfect recipe right here to put it to use.
Serve a crowd with little effort: Talk about an efficient recipe – a single recipe easily serves 10 people for a small crowd, and if you can boil pasta and stir, you have all the skills to make this pesto pasta salad. And if you’re serving an especially large crowd, simply double the ingredients. See? It doesn’t necessarily have to take a lot of work to feed a whole party.
As you can see, this easy pesto tortellini salad recipe requires simple ingredients, but I do have a couple important notes.
Fresh cheese tortellini: I recommend using fresh tortellini rather than dried tortellini. Obviously, the cheese is much better, and the pasta is more tender. Typically, you can find fresh tortellini refrigerated in the prepared-food area of the grocery store. Some pasta aisles also have a small refrigerated space, and you can find it there as well.
Basil pesto: You’re more than welcome to use a store-bought pesto or homemade pesto. If you plan to make your own pesto, you’ll need fresh basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic cloves and Parmesan cheese, or you can get fancy and make my avocado-feta pesto. But keeping it simple with store-bought pesto is totally fine. In that case, I recommend getting a fresh pesto that’s refrigerated near your tortellini.
Mix-ins: We have salami, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls. But, of course, this is completely customizable to your liking.
Step 1: We start by bringing a pot of water to a boil over medium-high to heat and cooking the tortellini according to the package directions for al dente pasta. After cooking, we drain the cooked tortellini and rinse it with cold water like so (photo 1). We want to keep rinsing until the tortellini comes down to about room temperature, and it’s no longer hot.
Tip: To speed up the boiling process, cover the pot of water while heating. The water will come to heat much faster when covered.
Step 2: From here, we move the tortellini to a large bowl and add the pesto, salami, mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts (photo 2).
Step 3: We stir the mixture until everything is well-coated with pesto (photo 3). If you’d like some extra brightness, squeeze some fresh lemon juice on top. A little balsamic vinegar drizzle is also nice.
And in three easy steps, we have our delicious pesto tortellini pasta salad. Just look at that pretty vibrant color. You won’t find a more perfect pasta salad for hot summer days.
What to Serve With
No smoker? No problem.
Try it with some grilled jerk chicken, salmon-avocado burgers, caprese chicken or my favorite minted lamb burgers – the basil pesto sauce is perfect with the mint. Some simple grilled chicken legs are also a delicious option.
For a cold pasta salad, we want to rinse our pasta. This serves a couple purposes: it cools the pasta for a refreshing salad, and it rinses off the starch to keep it from clumping and turning gummy in the refrigerator.
Absolutely, pasta salad is the perfect make-ahead dish. In fact. I recommend making it at least four hours ahead of serving to chill the ingredients and all the flavors to meld. Entertaining couldn't be easier when pasta salad is on the menu.
Since pasta salad is great for making ahead, you’ll probably need to store it. Keep it in an airtight container for three to four days.
Add some crunch with chopped bell peppers or red onion.
Get creative with your own delicious addition or two. Love a touch of briny flavor? Add some black olives or kalamata olives. Swap sun-dried tomatoes for sliced grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes. Get extra cheesy with some shaved Parmesan. Like any recipe, this is just a starting point.
Replace the protein for your own favorite meat. Instead of salami, try some prosciutto or chopped roasted chicken.
Skip the salami or any protein to make a vegetarian pasta salad. While I love the flavor it adds, you certainly don’t need it for a great pasta salad.
Give it a little kick with a pinch or two of red pepper flakes.
Give yourself time: Yes, we may rinse off the pasta, but it's still best to let the fridge do the bulk of the chilling work.
Salt your pasta water: I never measure my pasta water or salt. This is all about feel. But I like to pour a good tablespoon or two in my hand before adding it to a large pot. This adds some flavor to our tortellini.
Use fresh tortellini: Yes, we covered this in the ingredient section, but for you skimmers, I highly recommend fresh over dried tortellini. Just think — would you rather have a fresh cheese filling or something dried? Exactly.
Add a pretty garnish for presentation: This is certainly not required, but add some fresh basil on top.
Considering the dominant pesto flavor, we want a beer that matches the fresh basil well. I’m a big fan of a saison. This beer gives us a mix of grassy and herbal flavors that pair beautifully with the basil.
Prefer a wine? You can’t go wrong with a sauvignon blanc. That acidic finish is wonderful with the basil and fresh mozzarella, and as a bonus, it’s always a wonderful summer wine.
If you love sipping on a cocktail, try my garden gin and tonic, which features fresh muddled herbs. You can also mimic the basil flavor with my strawberry-basil limoncello martini or strawberry-basil Tom Collins. My tequila lemonade would make a nice refresher as well.
For the ultimate summer pasta salad, it doesn’t get better than a big batch of this fresh pesto tortellini salad! It’s the perfect summer side dish for all your backyard barbecues, and I have no doubt it will be your new favorite pasta salad recipe.
More Summer Salad Recipes
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Pesto Tortellini Salad
- Large pot
- Large mixing bowl
- 20 ounces fresh cheese tortellini not the dried variety
- 1 cup pesto homemade or store-bought
- 1 cup quartered artichoke hearts fresh, canned or frozen
- 1 cup salami cut into strips
- 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes cut into strips
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella balls
- ½ lemon juiced, optional
- Drizzle of balsamic vinegar optional
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high to high heat. Add the fresh tortellini and cook according to the package instructions. Strain the tortellini and rinse with cold water until the tortellini becomes at least room temperature.
- Add the tortellini to a large bowl with the pesto, artichoke hearts, salami, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls.
- Stir until combined and coated with pesto. Refrigerate to chill and allow the flavors to meld, at least four hours if possible. If desired, squeeze fresh lemon juice on top or drizzle with balsamic vinegar before serving. Enjoy!
- Make sure you plan ahead to give the salad time to chill.
- Don't skip the rinsing step. Not only does this help chill our tortellini, but it rinses off the starch to keep the pasta from turning gummy in the refrigerator.
- You can store it in an airtight container for three to four days ahead of serving.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.