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Sep 21, 2012 03:51 PM

This is not me at all - help with tortellini pesto salad

I agreed to bring this dish which Ive never made) to an event. I bought some tortellini and also some prepared pesto sauce (unbelievably, with DOP genovese basil, we will see) at costco. I was basically planning to dress it up the same way I might a hot pesto dish - with the pasta slicked while still hot with some olive oil and then dressed with the pesto and some additional cheese - parmesan or pecorino - at the time of serving.
Basically just a cool version of a hot dish.

But all the recipes Im seeing include stuff like vinegar, mayonnaise and an assortment of vegetables. and Im starting to remember that most tortellini salads do have some vinegar tang.

Does anyone have any moderate modifications that would make my proposal a better cold salad offering without throwing the pesto concept overboard?


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  1. My go to pasta salad is fusilli with minced onion and red bell pepper, sun dried tomatoes and Greek olives, olive oil, a splash of balsamic, and grated Romano. I'd suggest my basic salad minus the olives, add your pesto, and substitute white wine vinegar for the Balsamic. Leave the pine nuts whole.

    1. I would go with your gut and keep it simple. I make tortellini salad exactly the way you were planning to make it. It's good hot or cold. The pesto is flavorful enough in itself, along with some extra cheese. Would you add vinegar or mayonnaise to any other pasta with pesto? Far from improving it, I think these ingredients would detract from the dish. I can't even imagine them together with pesto.

      1. I think that adding something with a bit of a crunch would make the pasta salad a bit more interesting. I have actually made pesto pasta salads, though not with tortellini, and have added cubed mozzarella, cherry tomatoes cut in half, and toasted pignoli. It's actually pretty good, but the one key thing is to make sure there is sufficient salt (taste when the salad is cool), and that there is sufficient pesto so that the pasta doesn't clump together. I don't think I added acid, though I suppose you could if you felt it needed it.

        11 Replies
        1. re: roxlet

          I agree with roxlet on cubed mozzarella, toasted pignoli, and tomatoes, or maybe sun dried tomatoes.

          Kind of like this....

          1. re: roxlet

            +1 (or now, 2) on these suggestions. Toasted pine nuts really add to this dish - which can be very one-note when cool. Cherry tomatoes are great, and to concentrate their flavor, roasting with a little vinegar and OO and chopped garlic till soft can be a great way to roll - kind of 1/2 dried tomato gem. Use lot's, as they get very small.

            I like slivers of roasted red peppers as well, possibly tossed with a bit of red wine vinegar too, to add a bit of 'tang' as you mention some of these salads can use. Or roast a yellow pepper, for contrast, and do that AND the cherry tomatoes for a nice bright colorful salad w/out too much work.

            Don't forget to up the salt and pepper a bit (salt can come from cheese too), as cold temps. pull back flavors and dull them compared to a hot serving. Also, a bit more oil than normal, as the pesto seizes up when cold. You want it still smooth and flavorful. Pasta water gives you the 'creamy' element when mixed with pesto - better than mayo, IMO.

            Let us know how it goes!

            1. re: gingershelley

              thanks to all! - in the end, I didnt modify with any vegetables. I lubricated the pasta while hot with good olive oil and added salt and pepper. Allowed to go to room temp and dressed it right before serving with the pesto and some pecorino. It was very easy and enjoyed. Because it was not chilled, the pasta stayed tender. the costco pesto is very tasty (salty - it has the cheese in it) and went a long way, so I recommend. I will try some variations when I am not so pressed for time.

              1. re: jen kalb

                I've made the same dish, using homemade pest. Added pieces of fresh mozzarella, grape tomatoes, lightly steamed broccoli.

                1. re: jen kalb

                  Interesting about the Costco pesto. I wonder if I could pull the wool over my son's eyes with it...

                  1. re: roxlet

                    its not identical to my homemade pesto, but thats not determinative. Most of the farmers market basil is already flowering and becoming bitter by the time they sell it and its sun grown, whereas the genoese generally favor shade grown and small leaves. This stuff has good fresh flavor a little salty - I thought the added olive oil enhanced it .if your son were to enjoy it, dont see what pulling wool over the eyes would have to do with it

                    1. re: jen kalb

                      That was a joke. He's nearly 17 years old, and nothing escapes his notice.

                      1. re: roxlet

                        let me put it a different way.. Fresh out of the jar, this pesto was better/fresher tasting than the lumps of homemade pesto I take out of my freezer. through the year. It may not be better than freshly homemade with mortar and pestle or blender, but it has the great fragrance of the fresh basil. So your discerning son will probably notice the difference but hopefully he will enjoy if you ever try the experiment. Ive not had very many favorable experiences with purchased pesto, this was the best. We will see how I do in liguria in a couple of weeks..

                    2. re: roxlet

                      I bought pesto at Costco today and I wasn't impressed at all (this is the Kirkland brand stuff, not the CIBO brand they used to carry). I tasted it with a spoon and found it too salty and somehow gamy - I turned the jar around and looked at the ingredients, and found that they make it with pecorino cheese (I use Parmigiano, which I believe is traditional). No wonder it tastes like sheep! LOL. Anyway, my husband likes it well enough, but it just doesn't taste right to me - too oily, too salty, too sheepy, not enough nut or basil flavor (or garlic, but I am a garlic freak).

                      1. re: biondanonima

                        How strange. I purchased some a month or so ago. The label read Kirkland, but Cibo was listed elsewhere. Tasted just like the basil pesto by Cibo I've purchased elsewhere in smaller containers. Perhaps it is a recent switch?

                        1. re: biondanonima

                          So sorry you didnt like. in Liguria, pecorno (sardo, I think) is traditional, although there are many variations. My jar had both pecorino and parmesan I agree this stuff is salty (I usually salt my homemade at the end of the process) but I thought the basil flavor was sweeter and fuller than what I can achieve in NY..We are headed to the genoa area in a few days so it will be interesting to see what pesto tastes like on its home ground..

                2. An easy short cut would have been to use a good Italian vinaigrette, punched up with the ready made pesto, and pickled veggies such as a giardiniera, or olive tapenade. Voila!

                  1. I realize that the original event has taken place already, but for future reference, I thought his version of a pasta pesto salad looked good...