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Pesto Pasta Salad

This Pesto Pasta Salad recipe is summer in a bowl! It’s bursting with pillowy cheese tortellini (or your favorite corkscrew pasta), sweet, juicy cherry tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, crunchy bell peppers, charred, caramelized sweet corn, zippy red onions, bright, meaty salami and buttery pearls of fresh mozzarella all doused in a bright herby, garlicky pesto vinaigrette. It’s a hypnotic blend of fresh, vibrant, hearty and comforting flavors and creamy, crunchy and crispy textures. Of course, you can omit ingredients or swap in your favs to make it YOUR favorite pesto pasta salad recipe! This pesto pasta salad can be served as a main dish or as a side and is always a crowd pleaser for potlucks, picnics and parties. It’s a quick chop and throw together recipe that can be made 100% percent ahead of time for the perfect stress-free side!
Course Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 8 -10 servings

Ingredients

PASTA SALAD

  • 20 oz. refrigerated cheese tortellini may sub medium pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • corn from 1 ear sweet corn charred or grilled
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped English cucumber
  • 1 red or orange bell pepper chopped
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas thawed
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 8 oz. Genoa Salami chopped
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella pearls
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

PESTO DRESSING

Instructions

  • Whisk the Pesto Dressing ingredients together in a small bowl; set aside.
  • Cook tortellini in generously salted water according to package directions (DON'T overcook). Drain, rinse with cool water and transfer to a large bowl; gently toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  • Add all of the Salad ingredients to the tortellini followed by the Pesto Dressing. Gently toss until evenly coated. Serve at room temperature.

Notes

HOW TO CHAR CORN (GRILL OR SKILLET)

  • GRILL CORN: Lightly brush each ear of corn with olive oil. Grease and heat grill to high heat (450 degrees). Once hot, add corn and close the lid. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side, rotating the corn until all of the sides are lightly charred, about 10-12 minutes, closing the lid in between rotations. Set the corn aside and allow to cool enough to handle. Cut the kernels off of the cob and transfer to salad bowl.
  • SKILLET CORN: Cut the kernels off of the cob or use frozen sweet corn (not thawed). Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large cast iron skillet over high heat. Add the corn and cook, stirring occasionally, until corn starts to char approximately 5-7 minutes. Transfer kernels to salad bowl.

TIPS AND TRICKS 

This pesto pasta salad recipe is pretty straightforward, but here are some helpful tips and tricks:
  • Don’t overcook pasta.  Tortellini can become mushy and fall apart if overcooked so keep an eye on them!  I don’t use a timer, but just watch them.  Cooked tortellini will puff up slightly and float to the top when done.  After they float to the top, they may need 1 additional minute or so. To test for doneness, remove a single tortellini with a slotted spoon, rinse under cold water and sample.
  • Customize ingredients.  The pesto pasta salad ingredients and measurements are simply suggestions.  You can use add/swap any ingredients for your favorite veggies or add additional protein to make it a complete meal (see post for lots of variations).
  • Adjust oil.  The amount of oil in pesto jars and recipes can vary so you may need to add additional olive oil to taste if the pasta doesn't seem moist enough before serving.
  • Salt to taste.  The amount of salt will depend on the saltiness of your pesto and how heavily the pasta water was salted, so make sure to add additional salt to taste if our pasta salad tastes bland.

PREP AHEAD 

You can prep ahead if wanting to prep the salad more than 24 hours in advance, otherwise you can make ahead (instructions tot follow).
  • Vegetables:  can be chopped 24 hours in advance and stored in separate airtight containers in the refrigerator.
  • Tortellini:  can be made 48 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator tossed with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  • Dressing:  can be made 72 hours in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

MAKE AHEAD 

This pesto pasta salad can be made almost 100% in advance if serving within 24 hours, otherwise follow the prep ahead instructions.
  • Gently toss the pasta and all of the salad ingredients together with only HALF of the dressing. If you use all of the dressing initially, your pasta may soak up all the dressing and will taste dry.
  • Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.  Store the rest of the dressing separately.
  • When ready to serve, toss with the remaining dressing.  You may need to add additional olive oil if the salad appears dry and a fresh squeeze of lemon juice to brighten the salad – as always, taste first!
  • Bring to room temperature before serving by letting it sit on the counter for 30 minutes or so.  

Storage

Cover leftover pesto pasta salad with plastic wrap or transfer it to an airtight container.  Store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. The longer the pasta salad is refrigerated, the drier it can become.  If your leftovers taste too dry, then drizzle with additional olive oil to taste.  You may also want to perk up the salad with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice.
You can eat leftovers cold, but this pasta salad is best served at room temperate so I like to microwave leftovers for 15 seconds or so.