It is the height of picnic season and this Cold Italian Tortellini Salad is one of my favorites! It incorporates all of my favorite summertime flavors from pesto, to tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and a few salty olives.
You can cook the tortellini the day before and then toss the salad together moments before packing up and heading to the beach or picnic. This way the flavors will stay fresh, especially the chopped basil. The great thing about this recipe is you can substitute, leave out or add just about any ingredient you like. This recipe is so versatile and can be made to suit anyone’s tastes!
Watch how to make my Cold Italian Tortellini Salad Recipe
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Here’s How to Make a Refreshing Cold Italian Tortellini Salad:
Step 1: Cook the Pasta
Add one pound of fresh tortellini to a well-salted pot of boiling water. I like to use fresh tortellini, which you can find the in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
I’m using a three-cheese tortellini but you can use any kind you prefer. Spinach or mushroom would also be a great choice for this recipe, too!
You’ll know when the tortellini is done when they begin to puff up and rise to the top of the water. When they are ready, strain them through a colander and pour the tortellini into a large bowl. Make sure your bowl is large enough to accommodate the rest of the ingredient list too!
Can you cook pasta ahead of time for pasta salad?
Of course, cooking the pasta ahead of time will save one extra step on the day you plan to serve it. It also assures that the pasta will be chilled when you toss it with the pesto which will prevent the pesto from seeping into the pasta too much.
In fact, if you have leftover “naked” tortellini in the fridge, you can toss it right in, with rest of the ingredients as well.
Step 2: Make the Salad
To the large bowl of tortellini, add the whole jar of pesto. I love a good homemade pesto as much as the next person, but a really good store-bought pesto is just fine for this recipe… and it’s another time-saver!
Give it a good stir.
Then, add halved cherry tomatoes to the large bowl of tortellini and pesto.
You can toss these in whole to save even more time, but to avoid awkward tomato explosions, I like to halve these for mess-free eating. Make sure you use a sharp knife to preserve the shape of the tomato and avoid squashing the tomato.
I know there are a lot of olive-haters out there, but Kalamata olives add such a great, salty flavor to this salad. I buy them already pitted and halved. Drain the brine from the jar and toss them right in!
Then, add a container of mozzarella pearls. You can find these at the grocery store. They are the smallest “pearls” you can find. Usually, these are in the deli section, near the feta and goat cheeses. Drain the water and add them to the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
For garnish, add fresh basil chopped into ribbons. The pretty green color gives the salad a little pop. If you are making this the day before, wait until you are ready to head out the door before adding the basil.
Give it a final stir. Cover with foil and refrigerate until you are ready to head to the picnic.
How long can you keep pasta salad in fridge?
Pasta salad can last for about 3-5 days if it is covered and refrigerated. If the salad is left out for an extended time, more than 2 hours, while you are hanging by the pool or at a BBQ, it might be better to toss it after a few hours.
Step 3: Pack the Pasta Salad
Just before you are ready to head to the beach or picnic, pack this salad into individual portions, in Chinese takeout containers. You can find them online (this link goes to Amazon where I am an affiliate partner).
The handles make it easy to tie a napkin and cutlery right to the box. This makes it so much easier to serve to your guests, because everything they need is right there. And it looks so festive too!
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- 1 lb (450 g) of 3-Cheese Tortellini
- 1 cup (230g) of store bought pesto
- 1 cup (230 g) sliced cherry tomatoes
- 8 oz (230 g) Mozzarella Peals, drained
- ½ cup (75 g) pitted Kalamata Olives, sliced
- 3 tbsp (45 ml) fresh basil, sliced into ribbons
- Cook tortellini according to package instructions. Drain pasta and allow to cool slightly.
- Transfer pasta into a large mixing bowl. Toss pasta with pesto until well coated. Add tomatoes, mozzarella, olives and fresh basil. Toss to combine.
- Cover salad and refrigerate until ready to serve!
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 134 Total Fat: 6g Saturated Fat: 2g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 4g Cholesterol: 15mg Sodium: 164mg Carbohydrates: 15g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 0g Protein: 5g