Even though you can serve tortellini salad all year round, it feels like the perfect dish for summer. It speaks of picnics and potlucks, it’s easy to make in a big batch, and people go nuts for it.
There are so many types of filled tortellini available, even in just a well-stocked grocery store. In a supermarket in Connecticut, I found these types of tortellini: Three Cheese; 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.
I like to use a vegetarian cheese-filled tortellini for this salad. I always look to keep side dishes vegetarian if possible, so everyone can enjoy them, and I also think they hold better at room temperature.
This is a colorful salad, and you can make it even more so by using multi-colored tortellini. Switch up the vegetables as you like, depending on what you have on hand, and what looks good at the market. I like a combo of grape or cherry tomatoes, spinach and onions. Artichoke hearts and olives add nice briny flavor.
THE CHEESE AND PESTO
As for the mozzarella, see if you can find the perlini-sized mozzarella balls, named because they are “pearl-size,” and then you can use them as is. BelGioioso and Galbani are two brands to look for.
Or, if you find slightly larger little balls, like bocconcini, just halve or quarter them into bite-size pieces. Large balls of mozzarella can be cubed and added. Or try smoked mozzarella for a change of pace; just dice it up.
For the pesto dressing, you can use either homemade or store-bought pesto. The small amount here gives the salad a wonderful, basil-garlicky-Parmesan flavor. Feel free to add more if you want a more pronounced pesto flavor. If you have nut allergy concerns, make sure your pesto is nut-free.
LOTS OF ROOM TO ADD AND SUBSTITUTE
This pasta salad is terrific as written, but you can also add more ingredients. For instance:
For a salad that meat lovers will enjoy, consider adding salami, either sliced or cut into matchsticks. (If you like the tortellini salad from Costco, you know that lots of salami is part of its appeal. It makes it more of an antipasti tortellini salad.) Crumbled cooked bacon or pancetta is another option.
Besides the vegetables in the recipe below, you might add bite-size pieces of other vegetables — perhaps grilled, steamed or roasted broccoli, cauliflower or asparagus. Consider adding pepperoncini or drained jarred antipasti salad. Sub in baby kale for the spinach, and try scallions instead of red onions.
Tortellini salad will keep for up to four days in the fridge. You can serve it cold, or 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.
1 (16- to 20-ounce) package refrigerated 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 (15-ounce can) artichoke hearts, roughly sliced or chopped
½ cup olives, any color, any type, drained and halved
½ cup diced red onion
3 tablespoons basil pesto, store-bought or homemade
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
¼ cup torn or chiffonaded basil leaves
Cook the tortellini according to package instructions. Drain, rinse quickly with cool water, and immediately toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 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 the basil over it and serve.
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