Take a tour of the Mediterranean with the bold flavors in my Tortellini Salad. It’s zesty and creamy and tangy and hearty – the salad that eats like a meal!
One of my favorite things about pasta (other than eating it, of course) is all the fun shapes they can make out of a little semolina flour, eggs, and water.
Of course, many of those shapes offer both form and function – designed to stand out on their own like tagliatelle or pappardelle or to cling to a savory sauce like macaroni or penne rigate (the ones with the little ridges).
Then, of course, there’s the stuffed variety, delicate little pillows filled with pumpkin and sage, wild mushrooms, or creamy ricotta cheese. It’s tortellini, the “mini-me” of tortelloni, that carries all the bold flavors of this Italian-inspired salad.
Tortellini pasta salad is a frequent flyer at potlucks. You may have seen a creamy tortellini salad that uses mayonnaise and Italian dressing mix to coat a beautiful bowl of cheesy pasta.
Those simple tortellini salads are definitely tasty but really don’t satisfy the taste buds and tummy like mine does (plus I’m always a little worried about keeping anything mayo-based safely chilled at potlucks). My Tortellini Salad is a complete meal – packed with protein and vegetables, rich and zesty, sweet and peppery, with the wonderful chew of perfectly cooked tortellini in every fork full.
As with most pasta, tortellini got its name from what it most resembled to Italian eyes, in this case little belly buttons.
While that reference isn’t necessarily one that makes you think of food :), the tiny, puckered pasta pieces do share a resemblance. Their unique shape is perfectly suited for hugging just about any sauce, and my Tortellini Salad Italian dressing fills all those little nooks and crannies with giant bites of flavor.
My dressing uses both red wine and balsamic vinegars to balance the acidity with a subtle sweetness you don’t usually find in a tortellini salad dressing. I also use fresh garlic (by the way there’s a lot in in this salad, so make sure everyone has some ;)) plus a surprise ingredient that makes the dressing extra special.
An old friend of mine, who used to be a caterer, shared her time-honored secret for salads that use marinated artichoke hearts. Get a head start on the dressing by using the marinade from the jar! It’s already loaded with great flavor and seasonings, so it really provides the perfect foundation for this dressing.
Honestly, the dressing is so good you could really just toss it with the tortellini and be perfectly happy, but I have lots more to add!
This Tortellini Salad is basically an antipasto platter in a bowl – those artichoke hearts I mentioned already, sliced salami and fresh mozzarella, garbanzo beans, and three kinds of peppers including the colorful peppadew. If you’re not familiar with these peppers, they’re small, red peppers from South Africa that look like a cherry tomato with a sweet but slightly spicy quality that adds beautiful color and another layer of zesty flavor to this dish. (You can usually find them with pickles in the the grocery store or in the bulk olive section.)
This is a beautiful salad that has so much flavor and texture going on.
It’s a winner whenever I need to share a dish with friends, but honestly I love making a batch for myself to grab quick lunches all week long! (You can actually cut the recipe in half pretty easily if you don’t anticipate having a bunch of help to polish it off quickly.)
One bowl wonder: I mix the ingredients for the dressing in the largest mixing bowl I have. It may seem silly when you check out the quantities in the dressing, but a big bowl will hold all the ingredients with plenty of room for tossing.
You’ll thank me when you only have one dish to wash!
Make ahead: This is a perfect salad to make ahead of time.
If your fridge looks like mine, you may need to be as efficient as possible when storing the salad, so I suggest dividing it into 2 one-gallon storage bags. Not only will that save some space, but it’s also easy to flip the bags upside down occasionally to make sure the yummy dressing is evenly distributed.
If the salad seems a little dry after it’s been in the fridge overnight, toss in a few tablespoons – up to a ¼ cup – of olive oil when you check the seasonings.
Make it Greek: Many of the ingredients in this salad can be found throughout the Mediterranean, so feel free to take advantage of all the wonderful things Italy’s neighbor has to offer with a tortellini Greek pasta salad. Replace the balsamic vinegar in the dressing with lemon juice, and use 1 ½ tsp. of dried oregano instead of Italian Seasoning. Instead of fresh mozzarella, add 1 c. of crumbled feta cheese and 1 c. of roughly chopped Kalamata olives. Both of these items are pretty salty, though, so adjust your dressing accordingly.
Additions and substitutions: Fresh mozzarella can be found in lots of different sizes – from the large balls you might slice for pizza or caprese salad to tiny little perline or pearl-sized balls.
I recommend buying ciliegine mozzarella (the size of cherries) to keep the ingredients all roughly the same size. If you can’t find fresh, you can substitute pre-packaged mozzarella chopped into 1/2-inch cubes.
If you don’t want to use salami, you can substitute pepperoni or one of my favorites – boiled shrimp (or use them both :)).
If you want a super quick and easy tortellini salad recipe, you can skip making your own dressing and use about 1 c. of your favorite store-bought brand.
I’ve also found myself out of Italian seasoning on occasion and have made a tortellini salad with pesto, substituting a couple of tablespoons in lieu of the missing seasoning (extra parmesan is a bonus!).
Strong to the finish: I love the texture from fresh greens in a salad, and I always feel better getting in a little spinach whenever I can. I often serve this on a big bed of fresh spinach to make a tortellini spinach salad.
There’s plenty of tasty dressing to give the spinach some added flavor, and you’ll make Popeye proud.
Looking for more Salads?
Pea Salad – Little green gems lend beautiful color and texture to this delicious creamy salad.
7 Layer Salad – Beautiful fresh salad, loaded with texture and layer of flavor!
Mexican Corn Salad – The perfect mix of tangy , sweet, and savory tastes in a side dish!
Cucumber Tomato Salad – A crisp, colorful, refreshing side with salty bits of mozzarella and a rich, tangy balsamic vinaigrette!
Grape Salad -Wonderful and unique salad, topped with roasted pecans and brown sugar!
- Yield: Serves 12-14
- Prep Time: 40 minutes
- Cook Time: 14 minutes
- Reserved Oil From Marinated Artichokes - 1/3 Cup
- Olive Oil - 1/3 Cup
- Balsamic Vinegar - 2 Tablespoons
- Red Wine Vinegar - 2 Tablespoons
- Fresh Garlic, minced - 1 Tablespoon
- Dried Italian Seasoning - 1 1/2 Tablespoons
- Salt - 1 Teaspoon
- Black Pepper - 1/2 Teaspoon
- Cheese Filled Tortellini - 2 (20 Ounce-Each) Packages
- Red Onion Sliced - 1/2 Cup
- Marinated Artichokes, Drained and Oil Reserved - 1 (6.5 Ounce) Jar
- Genoa Salami , Sliced into 1/4 Inch Strips - 8 Ounces
- Garbonzo Beans, Drained and Rinsed - 1 (15 Ounce) Can
- Peperoncini Peppers, Sliced - 1/3 Cup
- Peppadew Peppers, Sliced - 1/3 Cup
- Red Bell Pepper, Julienned - 1 Large
- Small Fresh Mozzarella Ball in Water (Ciliegiene), Drained and Cut in Half - 2 (16 Ounces) Containers
- Grape Tomatoes, Cut in Half - 10 Ounce Container
- Fresh Basil Leaves, Julienned - 1/4
- Olive Oil - 2 Tablespoons--1/4 Cup
- In a very large mixing bowl, whisk together the dressings ingredients together until well combined. Set aside.
- Cook the tortellini according to package directions and drain well. While pasta is still warm, toss it in the mixing bowl with dressing. Let cool.
- When pasta has cooled to room temperature, add the rest of the ingredients and toss well. Refrigerate overnight. Toss before serving, adjust seasoning and add olive oil as needed. Topped with fresh Basil and Serve