The Perfect Pasta Salad Has Tortellini

You'll want to make a double batch of this tortellini salad—it tastes even better the next day and it's the perfect packed lunch for school or work.

The Perfect Pasta Salad Has Tortellini
Bowl of Tortellini Salad
Simply Recipes / Alison Bickel

A light pasta salad—full of veggies tossed in a zingy dressing—is a perfect year-round back-pocket recipe for when you want to make a big batch of something to enjoy throughout the week. Add cheese and meat and it is hearty enough to stand on its own as a simple yet satisfying summer meal for a crowd. Plus, leftovers are the best packed school or desk lunch, so make extra! 

This salad swaps plain pasta for plump cheese and spinach-filled tortellini. Cucumbers and bell peppers add crunch, and artichokes, kalamata olives, fresh basil, feta, and summer sausage add big flavors and textures.

This recipe makes enough to bring to a potluck and is quick and easy enough for when summer temperatures are too hot to cook—you do have to boil the pasta. Plus, it’s a great pasta salad to prepare in advance since it only gets better as it sits— fresh, bright, and zingy!

What Kind of Tortellini to Buy

I use store-bought fresh tortellini, but you could absolutely make the pasta from scratch should the inspiration strike.

You’ll find fresh tortellini in the refrigerated section of your grocery store. Dried ones are in the boxed pasta aisle and frozen tortellini is in the freezer section. You can use any variety, but I prefer fresh tortellini because it cooks very quickly—about 3 minutes compared to 10 minutes or more for dried.

As for the filling, you’ll never go wrong with your favorite! I opted for spinach and cheese, but three-cheese or pesto would also be delicious.

Tortellini Salad
Simply Recipes / Alison Bickel

Two Tips for Perfectly Cooked Tortellini

  1. Salt the pasta cooking water generously before adding the tortellini. It’s your one chance to season the pasta from the inside out.
  2. Cook the tortellini until al dente following package directions. Drain and immediately rinse them under cold running water to cool to room temperature. This stops the pasta from continuing to cook—they'll get mushy if you don't cool them down right away—and prevents the vegetables in the salad from softening and the cheese from melting.

Make It Your Own

Regardless of what type of vegetables, cheese, and meat you decide to use, chop them to about the same size as the tortellini so it’s easy to get a little bit of everything into each forkful. Here are some ideas:

  • Swap summer sausage for pepperoni, salami, or rotisserie chicken.
  • Make it meatless by replacing the sausage with a can of rinsed and drained canned chickpeas.
  • Try mini mozzarella balls or shredded Italian blend cheese instead of feta.
  • Add cherry tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, or carrots. 
Serving of Tortellini Salad in a Bowl with a Fork
Simply Recipes / Alison Bickel

Pasta Salad to the Rescue! 

Boil water: 

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, make the dressing:

In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, oregano, salt, and black pepper. Stir in the red onion. Set aside.

Bowl of Olive Oil Red Onions, and Seasoning for Tortellini Salad Recipe
Simply Recipes / Alison Bickel

Cook the tortellini:

Once the water comes up to a boil, cook the tortellini until al dente following package directions. Drain into a colander set in the sink. Rinse with cold running water until the pasta cools to room temperature. Drain well.

Tortellini Boiled in a Pot of Water for Tortellini Salad
Simply Recipes / Alison Bickel
Tortellini Strained for Pasta Salad Recipe
Simply Recipes / Alison Bickel

Assemble the salad:

Add the cooled tortellini, bell peppers, cucumbers, kalamata olives, artichokes, sausage, feta, and basil to the dressing. Toss well to combine. Taste and season with salt and black pepper, if needed

Chopped Ingredients (Bell Peppers, Sausage, Artichoke Hearts, Cucumbers, Cheese, and Olives) in a Bowl for Tortellini Salad
Simply Recipes / Alison Bickel

Chill before serving: 

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving to chill and let the flavors come together. Toss together once more before serving. 

Leftovers can be refrigerated tightly covered for 3 to 5 days. Be sure to give it a stir before serving to redistribute the dressing.

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Tortellini Salad Served in Two Small Bowls Next to a Large Bowl with More Salad
Simply Recipes / Alison Bickel