This lovely summer pasta salad is loaded with fresh veggies and topped with a tangy pesto dressing to give it an extra pop of flavor!
I used to live in Chicago, in a cool neighborhood on the west side of the City. One lovely summer Sunday morning I was walking home from brunch with a few friends and we were talking about the "farm" lots on my street. These are basically lots that the city has designated as "green space". You can rent space to grow veggies or other things. I had three of them on my street, and as we were walking past the one run by the local Montessori school one of the moms who was working in the garden overheard us talking and invited us in.
She told us a little about how the school runs the lot, what they do with the veggies and then showed us the goat house that "farmer" Joe was building so the goats would stay warm in the winter. I had no idea there were goats, and apparently chickens too, right down the street from my condo! Then she also offered me basil, LOTS of basil, as her plants were a bit overgrown. I can always find uses for fresh basil, so I wasn't going to turn that offer down, and it seemed like the perfect reason to head home and make this tortellini pesto pasta salad!!
I think that pasta salad and summer go hand-in-hand. It's a great way to use fresh summer veggies like tomatoes and basil to create a wonderful light summer meal or a hearty side dish. Pasta salad also packs well so it makes a great addition to a summer BBQ or picnic. It also works well for an easy weekday lunch. This particular salad was originally inspired by a pasta salad from Julee Rosso's cookbook Great Good Food.
How to make tortellini pasta salad
Since they include a few different types of ingredients, pasta salads tend to involve a couple of different steps. But they are still really easy to make!
Cook the pasta: You want to start by cooking the pasta so you give it time to cool down. In this case, you don't want to add fresh veggies and other ingredients to piping hot pasta. Be sure you remember to salt your pasta water once it starts to boil.
Make the dressing: This dressing is similar to pesto but with a few extra ingredients to give the salad loads of flavor. If you happen to have lots of basil on hand, you might want to make a double batch of the dressing as it is great with other veggies or mixed with chicken for quick and flavorful chicken salad.
Chop the veggies: Veggies are one of the key ingredients to creating a good pasta salad. You can chop them all up and toss them in a big mixing bowl. Pick a bowl that will allow enough room to add the pasta and then toss everything together with the dressing.
A note about the ingredients
- Tortellini: I typically use cheese tortellini for this recipe but you can substitute your favorite flavor for a little variety.
- Grape tomatoes: You really want nice fresh, sweet grape tomatoes to give this salad an extra punch of flavor. If you happen to be growing tomatoes in your garden you could use those instead. Just chop them up into bite-sized pieces.
- Artichoke hearts: Marinated artichoke hearts are ideal for this recipe, as it gives it a bit of extra flavor, however, you can use plain artichoke hearts as well. I recommend using the jarred version instead of frozen or canned for this recipe.
- Edamame: Frozen edamame works fine for this recipe. I often cook up half the bag at the beginning of the week and use it in other salads.
What goes with pasta salad?
Since this salad includes chicken it can really be a meal all on its own. If you want to use it as part of a backyard party menu, I'd add:
- Balsamic-Glazed Melon, Proscuitto and Mozzarella Skewers
- Instant Pot Pulled Pork Sliders
- Mini Lemon Cheesecakes
Summer Tortellini Pesto Pasta Salad
For the salad:
- 1-12 oz package cheese tortellini
- 1 cup Cherubs or other sweet grape tomatoes, cut in half
- ¼ cup chopped orange bell pepper
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1-8 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained
- ⅓ cup shelled edamame, cooked
- 1 ½ cups cooked chopped chicken
- 2 tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped (I use basil, oregano and Italian parsley)
- For the dressing:
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ cup basil leaves, packed tightly
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped shallot
- 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Cook the pasta. Cook the tortellini according to package directions. Drain and set aside to cool.
- Chop the veggies. In a large mixing bowl combine the tomatoes, pepper, green onion, artichoke hearts, and edamame. Mix well.
- Make the dressing. Add the garlic, basil, and pine nuts to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a standard blade. Pulse several times. Add shallot through vinegar, and pulse until fully combined. With the motor running, pour the olive oil in and continue to blend until a thick dressing forms. Be sure olive oil is fully incorporated.
- Finish the salad. Add the chicken and the tortellini to the bowl and mix. Add the dressing mixture and stir until everything is coated.
- Serve. Sprinkle with chopped herbs just before serving.
This post was originally published in July 2017. It was updated in August 2020 with some new information and a slight modification to the original recipe.