Antipasto Tortellini Salad
This antipasto tortellini salad has chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, pickled peppers, salami, mozzarella, parmesan, and creamy Italian dressing for a flavorful, make-ahead side dish. It’s simple to make, great for a crowd, and perfect for BBQs and parties!
Here’s the thing. It’s far too hot to do anything except drink beer and eat food on the deck with friends. Which means that it’s far too hot to stand in front of the stove or turn on the oven for hours on end.
I’ve basically been using this excuse to avoid cooking for the past couple of weeks, which means we’ve been living off my no-cook go-tos like marinated butter beans, watermelon peach salad, and this tortellini summer salad. (Ok, to be fair, you will have to stand in front of the stove for like, 3 minutes to cook the pasta. But I’m not here to split hairs).
Anyways, we really do need to talk about this pasta salad. It has everything! Creamy cheese, salty salami, tender tortellini, and all the pickled things. A perfect summery side. Turn on the grill and grab your friends. It’s BBQ season!
About this salad
This pasta salad has everything you love about antipasti mixed with classic tortellini. It is basically the easiest recipe in the world, and it’s tossed with the best homemade creamy Italian dressing. Here’s why you’ll love this salad!
- It’s salty, creamy, spicy, and has a nice tang thanks to the pickled peppers & olives.
- It makes a big batch so it’s the perfect side dish to make for a crowd.
- This salad is my new favorite ‘clean out the fridge’ recipe. Use whatever veggies, cheeses, and cured meats you have laying around.
- It’s a huge crowd-pleaser at BBQs, picnics, and dinner parties. Seriously, no matter how much of this pasta salad I make, it’s always gone by the end of the night.
What is antipasto?
Antipasto is a classic first course of an Italian meal. Similar to appetizers or hors d’oeuvres, it’s a small plate meant to stimulate the appetite before the main meal. Antipasto can be any small bite, but antipasti platters often include cured meats, cheese, olives, veggies, crackers, and the like.
The ingredient list
For the salad
- Cheese tortellini – either fresh or frozen will work in this salad.
- Chickpeas – I will put chickpeas in just about anything, but I love how they add a little creaminess too!
- Sun-dried tomatoes – you can either use sun-dried tomatoes from a bag or a jar. If you buy the jarred tomatoes in oil, make sure to drain them first.
- Olives – I use a mix of Castelvetrano and kalamata but use whatever you like.
- Artichoke hearts – I typically prefer non-marinated but if marinated is all you can find, that’s ok too!
- Jarred sweet peppers – these will add a pop of sweetness to complement the brine in the olives and artichokes.
- Pepperoncinis – for just a hint of spice. If you don’t like spice, you can always use extra sweet peppers instead.
- Mozzarella balls – you can either use the pearls or Ciliegine (a.k.a. “cherry size”). I like to use marinated mozzarella balls when I have them on hand!
- Parmesan – freshly shaved Parmesan adds a hint of umami to the salad.
- Salami – I love a bit of salami with the mix of cheeses and pickled veggies, but feel free to leave it out for a vegetarian option.
- Basil – for a hint of freshness! Make sure to use fresh basil for the best flavor.
- Red pepper flakes – for serving and adding a little spice. Totally optional!
For the dressing
- Red wine vinegar – for a little tanginess. Red wine vinegar is mild but still has a lovely fruitiness.
- Italian seasoning – dried is fine but feel free to use fresh herbs if you have them on hand!
- Onion powder – just a hint to complement the herbs in the Italian seasoning.
- Garlic – I recommend fresh garlic but garlic powder will also work.
- Mayo – this will make the dressing nice and creamy!
- Olive oil – a higher-quality olive oil will add lots of flavor to the dressing.
- Salt & pepper – I like Morton’s Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper.
- Beans – try cannellini beans instead of chickpeas.
- Pickled veggies – feel free to replace any of the veggies with other pickled items like sweety drop peppers, black olives, giardiniera, or whatever pickled veg you like.Cheese – you can also use cubed provolone, Pecorino Romano, Asiago, or any other medium/hard Italian cheese you like.
- Meat – try prosciutto, mortadella, soppressata, or any other Italian cured meat.
- Veggies – if you prefer fresh veggies to pickled, try cherry tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, bell peppers, or any veggies you have laying around the fridge.
- Caprese – for a Caprese spin, replace the add-ins with fresh cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls, Parmesan, and lots of fresh basil!
- Tuscan – for a Tuscan twist, use a mix of sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, cannellini beans, spinach, mozzarella, and Parmesan.
If you’re not a fan of mayo, you can always use Greek yogurt to add creaminess to the dressing instead. Or, just leave out the mayo for regular Italian dressing!
How to make this pasta salad
Creamy Italian dressing
- First, combine the red wine vinegar, Italian seasoning, onion powder, garlic, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper.
- Whisk the mixture until it’s nice and smooth.
- Next, while whisking constantly, drizzle the olive oil into the dressing until emulsified. Cover and set aside.
- First, cook the tortellini in salted water according to package directions. Drain the pasta and let it cool a bit.
- Combine the tortellini, chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, sweet peppers, pepperoncinis, mozzarella, Parmesan, salami, and basil.
- Add half of the dressing and toss. Taste and add more dressing, if desired. Garnish with basil and red pepper flakes and enjoy!
This is my favorite pasta salad tip I learned in culinary school! Toss the pasta with the dressing while it’s still a little warm (not hot!). The warm starches will soak up all of that delicious dressing, making the salad super flavorful.
Storage & make-ahead
To store leftover pasta salad, place it in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 2-3 days. The salad can be eaten right out of the fridge. But, I like to warm it up at room temperature for 30 minutes to bring out all of the flavors!
To make the salad in advance, simply toss it together up to 2 days in advance, cover, and store it in the refrigerator. This salad doesn’t get soggy with the pickled veggies, but if you’re using fresh veggies, toss the salad 1-2 hours before serving so flavors have time to meld!
I do not recommend freezing this salad. The cooked tortellini and add-ins are best fresh!
This is my go-to salad for basically every party and get-together. But it’s also a great for picnics or a make-ahead lunch situation! Here are some of the dishes I like to serve with this summer tortellini pasta salad:
- Grilled protein – chicken, pork, beef, or sausages.
- Sandwiches – this salad is great with a good Italian sandwich or grilled halloumi sandwiches.
- BBQ – pulled pork, smoked brisket, or BBQ bacon blue cheese burgers.
- Italian dishes – I love serving this dish with a variety of summery Italian dishes like spiedini or bruschetta.
This antipasto salad with tortellini is great on its own for lunch or a light dinner. Feel free to add extra chickpeas or salami to boost the protein a bit. It would also be delicious with a bit of grilled chicken on top!
Tips & tricks
- Make sure to boil the tortellini in heavily-salted water. It will add flavor to the pasta!
- Don’t overcook the pasta, because it’ll soak up some of the dressing. Cook it just until it’s al dente (a bit firm when bitten). Then, rinse it with cold water to keep it from cooking further.
- Toss the salad at least 1-2 hours before serving. You want to give the flavors time to meld.
- Start by adding half of the dressing. Taste and add more if you like. Just keep in mind the flavors will come out more as the salad marinates!
- This recipe will serve about 8 as a side dish. If you’re serving it as a meal, it will feed 4-6.
What is the difference between antipasto and antipasti?
Simply put, antipasto is the singular form of antipasti, which is plural. So, antipasti refers to an entire platter of snacks, where antipasto is just one serving.
Does antipasto salad have pasta in it?
Usually, antipasto salads are veggie-based with lettuce, meats, cheeses, and veggies. But in this version, we’re adding cheesy tortellini for pasta salad vibes!
How do I keep pasta salad from getting soggy?
First, make sure that you don’t overcook the pasta, because the tortellini will soak up some of the dressing. Cook it just until it’s al dente! Then, if you plan on storing the salad for more than a day or so, don’t dress it. Just toss the tortellini pasta salad 1-2 hours before serving to give time for the flavors to meld!
Why does pasta salad taste better the next day?
With something like pasta salad, you want to let it sit for a while so pasta and veggies can marinate in the dressing. Pasta salad usually tastes better after a few hours (or a day) because the pasta has soaked up some of the flavors in the dressing!
More easy sides
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Antipasto Tortellini Salad
Creamy Italian Dressing
- 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Antipasto Tortellini Salad
- 20 ounces cheese tortellini
- 1 cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
- 1/2 cup halved olives (Castelvetrano, kalamata, black, etc.)
- 1/3 cup chopped artichoke hearts
- 1/3 cup chopped jarred sweet peppers (roasted red peppers, grilled peppers, etc.)
- 1/4 cup chopped pepperoncinis
- 8 oz Mozzarella balls, pearls or Ciliegine ("cherry size")
- 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan
- 3/4 cup diced salami (optional)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- Basil and red pepper flakes, for serving
- Large serving bowl
Creamy Italian Dressing
- In a small bowl, whisk together the red wine vinegar, Italian seasoning, onion powder, garlic, and mayonnaise.
- While whisking, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the dressing until it's creamy and emulsified.
- Add salt and pepper, to taste. Store the dressing in a jar in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Antipasto Tortellini Salad
- Cook the cheese tortellini in a pot of salted, boiling water until al dente, according to package directions (about 3-5 minutes). Drain and rinse with cold water to prevent it from cooking further.
- Toss the cooled tortellini with the chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, sweet peppers, pepperoncinis, mozzarella balls, parmesan, salami, and basil.
- Add half of the creamy Italian dressing. Taste, and add more dressing if desired. Let the dressing marinate for 1-2 hours, but preferably overnight. Garnish with basil and red pepper flakes if you want a little extra spice. Enjoy!
xo Sara Lynn
Song of the day – Hope by Alex G
Originally posted July 27, 2021.