Pairing a package of cheese tortellini and store-bought pesto sauce with a few summer-fresh ingredients creates a luxuriously delicious (and EASY) dinner that won’t break the bank. Best of all, you’ll need just one pot and 25 minutes to make this ridiculously simple recipe for Pesto Tortellini! One bite of this dreamy pesto pasta and I promise this Italian dish will be on heavy rotation at your house! Winner winner, cheese tortellini pesto dinner!
Featured comment: This is so delicious! I’ve made it a few times and added rotisserie chicken or Italian sausages. Family loves it either way! Thank you.” – Stacey
Update: This post was originally published in August 2022. I made updates to the article below to include more information about making this recipe for tortellini pesto at home.
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About this tortellini with pesto
With my little dude going back to school, the rhythm I *finally* sank into for the summer has suddenly been disrupted. While I grasp for a new sense of normalcy, one thing is certain: dinner needs to be fast, easy, and comforting, or mama’s gonna lose her mind. Other parents out there, you know what I’m talking about, right? Don’t worry, this super-simple pesto cheese tortellini recipe is saving my sanity, one family dinner at a time!
Why you’ll love this weeknight pasta recipe
Well, this colorful bowl of Italian deliciousness has become my dinnertime security blanket, and I have a feeling it’ll change your life for the better. This pesto tortellini recipe is:
- Quick & Painless. One pot, 25 minutes, and easy cleanup? Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!
- Made With Just 9 Basic Ingredients, most of which are pantry staples.
- Super Versatile. Add whatever bits and bobs are leftover from your CSA or summer garden to transform this pasta dinner into something fresh and new over and over again. Oh, and any leftovers? They make for an excellent cold pasta salad that packs up beautifully.
- Budget-Friendly. After buying all the notebooks, pens and pencils, backpack, lunchbox, and new clothes for the kiddo, my pocketbook is smoking. Turning to inexpensive pasta is a great way to stretch your grocery budget AND offer up some serious comfort in a bowl.
Ingredients for cheese tortellini with pesto sauce
As promised, my easy recipe for pesto cheese tortellini doesn’t require a whole lot. Here’s your entire shopping list:
For the tortellini
- Fresh Cheese Tortellini – While you can buy shelf-stable tortellini, the fresh kind sold in the refrigerator section is much tastier! Stock up and stash the extras in your freezer — they’ll keep for up to 3 months.
- Substitution: Swap out the cheese tortellini for a different filling, or use mini ravioli instead.
- Olive Oil – No need to bust out the good stuff here. Just your normal cooking oil will do marvelously.
- Shallot – Shallots are the smaller, milder cousins of onions.
- Substitution: Swap in sweet onion, red onion, scallion, or leek. Pro tip: You can take the bite out of onions by dicing them and placing them in a bowl of cool, clean water. Let them rest for 10-15 minutes, then drain thoroughly.
- Garlic – Fresh is best!
- Substitution: Swap in ½ – 1 teaspoon of garlic powder.
- Kosher Salt & Black Pepper – Freshly cracked black pepper is far superior to the powdered kind that comes in a tin. Do yourself a solid and invest in a pepper grinder for all that spicy flavor!
- Parmesan Cheese – Many commercially available brands of parmesan are made using animal rennet, which means they aren’t vegetarian. If that’s important, look for a label that clearly states “rennet-free”.
- Substitution: Any hard, salty cheese, like Pecorino Romano, Asiago or Grana Padano will work beautifully here. Fresh mozzarella cheese or mozzarella pearls are also great!
- Lemon – Fresh lemon juice is the only way to go here. To get the most juice from your fruit, give it a firm roll on the countertop for 10-15 seconds before slicing it open.
- Fresh Basil – For added freshness.
For the pesto sauce
- Pesto – You can make your own pesto or use a store-bought brand. Just remember, the flavor of your dish is dependent upon the quality of your basil pesto.
- Pro Tip: You can make pesto out of any leafy green! Try experimenting and use spinach, cilantro, parsley, or kale. It’s a great way to breathe new life into any wilt-y looking greens in your crisper drawer. Oh, and you can experiment using other nuts, too! Try almonds, macadamia nuts, cashews, or even sunflower seeds.
- White Balsamic Vinegar – To keep your pesto sauce green, make sure you use white balsamic vinegar. Regular balsamic tastes great here; however, it will turn your sauce brown.
- Cream or Half-n-Half – Adding a touch of cream to store-bought pesto lends a delicious richness. However, half-and-half will give you the same results. Use whichever you keep on hand for your morning coffee.
- Substitution: White wine vinegar or sherry vinegar also work!
Tortellini in pesto sauce variations
Looking to customize your pesto cheese tortellini dinner? Any of the following customizations taste delicious in this pesto tortellini recipe:
- Tomatoes – If it’s prime tomato season, I recommend adding those juicy, sweet gems to everything! Cherry tomatoes, Grape tomatoes, or Plum tomatoes all taste great in this recipe.
- Vegetables – This pasta is a great way to use up any fresh or leftover vegetables. Fresh spinach, artichoke hearts, bell pepper, peas and black olives work well.
- Substitution: Tortellini with pesto is simple enough that is plays nicely with any number of veggies! Try throwing in a few handfuls of peppery arugula or iron-packed spinach, some steamed asparagus spears, sweet corn kernels, roasted summer squash, or even roasted cubed eggplant if it tickles your fancy.
- Toasted Pine Nuts or Walnuts – For richness and crunch.
- Protein – Make your tortellini dinner a little heartier by adding in leftover slices of grilled chicken, steak, fish, or shrimp!
- Creamy Pesto: If you prefer a creamy pesto, add your pesto to the bowl of a food processor along with the flesh of half an avocado. Process until smooth and adjust to taste, adding more avocado for a creamier sauce and more salt or pepper for flavor.
- Spinach Pesto: Add fiber and stretch your pesto sauce by tossing in some fresh baby spinach leaves. Add the pesto and 1 cup of spinach leaves to the bowl of a food processor. Process until combined and chunky (for texture). If your pesto sauce is too thick, thin it out with a bit of lemon juice, pasta water, or broth.
How to make tortellini pesto
This fast and flavorful tortellini in pesto recipe comes together in a flash! Here’s how it’s done:
- Cook Tortellini: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and generously season with kosher salt. Boil the tortellini to al dente according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Set both aside. Return the pot to the stove.
- Cook the aromatics: In the same pot, heat the oil. Once shimmering, add the shallot and cook until soft. Add the garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Remove pot from heat. Transfer the soft vegetables to the bowl of tortellini.
- Meanwhile, start pesto sauce: In a large bowl, combine all the pesto with 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and cream if using. Whisk to combine.
- Add pasta water: Then, add ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water and whisk well to emulsify the pesto and pasta cooking water into a sauce.
- Add tortellini, veggies, lemon + ½ parmesan: Add the cooked tortellini, sautéed veggies, lemon zest and juice, plus half the parmesan to the bowl. Gently toss to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
- Garnish and serve: Transfer the silky tortellini pesto to a serving platter or portion onto individual dinner plates. Then, top with tomatoes, basil leaves and pine nuts, if using. Finally, dust tortellini with the remaining parmesan. Serve and enjoy!
Tips for the best pesto cheese tortellini
- Use quality ingredients. A recipe is only as good as the ingredients. This is especially true with simple dishes, so be sure to use good-quality brands and the freshest produce.
- Use good pesto sauce: If using a store-bought pesto, make sure you select a good brand. I prefer the following: Barilla Rustic, DeLallo and Rustichella d’Abruzzo.
- Make it to taste. This recipe for tortellini with pesto sauce is simple, which allows you to customize it to your taste. Try adding cream for a richer sauce; throw in veggies for bulk; or add salmon for protein.
FAQ: pesto tortellini recipe
How to pick good pesto at the store?
Your pesto sauce will make or break this cheese tortellini recipe, so it’s imperative you use a good-quality pesto! If you want to use store-bought pesto, it should have the following qualities to ensure you’re selecting a good brand:
- Refrigerator section – Fresh, refrigerated pesto is much better in taste than shelf stable.
- Visible Ingredients – Good quality pesto is chunky in texture. You should be able to see the good stuff like garlic, cheese, etc.
- Oil On Top – Good brands of pesto will have a small reserve of oil covering the top of the pesto. The oil film ensures your pesto is luscious, un-oxidated, and not dry!
Serving tortellini pesto recipes
Since I like tossing a bunch of veggies right into the bowl with my tortellini in pesto, I’m perfectly happy eating it all by itself. That said, feel free to serve it up with a fresh side salad featuring any of your summer bounty, or offer up some garlic bread to double down on the carbohydrate goodness.
Pro Tip: Pesto is unlike other pasta sauces in that it should not be subject to high heat. That’s why this recipe calls for tossing the tortellini with pesto sauce off the heat. This dish is best served at room temperature (slightly warm or slightly cold is great too!).
Chef’s serving suggestions: Make it an Italian family style dinner by pairing this cheese tortellini with fluffy dinner rolls, Italian Chopped Salad Recipe, and Ricotta Gnocchi or perfectly slow cooked steaks from the oven.
Storing this tortellini with pesto recipe
Any leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Since pesto is pretty delicate, I don’t recommend freezing it. Also, instead of “reheating” it, I suggest just leaving it at room temperature for 30 minutes – 1 hour to let it shake off some of the chill from the fridge without negatively impacting the pesto. (Tip: I actually love packing this cold tortellini for my brown bag lunch. Typically, I’ll throw in some rotisserie chicken for protein.)
Alright friends, there you have it: your new favorite weeknight dinner – Pesto Tortellini!
Until next time, friends! I wish you happy hearts, good eats, and a hefty dose of Back-to-School sanity (or, as I like to call it, Chardonnay 🤓). Cheers!
More pesto recipes!
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The best recipe for pesto cheese tortellini 👇
Pesto Tortellini Recipe
- 1 Large Pot
- 1 Large Mixing Bowl
- 1 20-ounce Package Fresh Cheese Tortellini (refrigerated section)
- 1 TBS Olive Oil
- 1 large Shallot – small dice (about heaping ½ cup)
- 2 cloves Garlic – minced
- Kosher Salt and Ground Black Pepper - to taste
- ¼ tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes - or more to taste
- 2/3 Cup Good-quality Basil Pesto - or more to taste (SEE NOTES)
- 1-2 TBS White Balsamic Vinegar - to taste (SEE NOTES)
- ¼ Cup Half-and-Half or Heavy Cream - or more to taste (OPTIONAL)
- 1 small Lemon (3/4 tsp zest + 2 TBS juice)
- ½ Cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese – DIVIDED
- Optional Cherry / Grape or Plum Tomatoes – halved or seeds removed & diced
- Optional Fresh Basil – torn
- Optional Toasted Nuts (pine nuts or walnuts
- Optional Rotisserie Chicken or Leftover Cooked Shredded Chicken; Chicken Tenders; Cooked Salmon (flaked), Cooked Shrimp
- Cook Tortellini: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and generously season the water with kosher salt. Boil the tortellini until just AL DENTE according to package directions (omitting fat if applicable). Drain, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water (you don’t need to be precise). Set both the tortellini and the pasta water aside. Return the pot to the stove.
- Cook the aromatics: In the same pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Once shimmering, add the shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Remove pot from heat. Transfer the veggies to the bowl of tortellini.
- Meanwhile, start pesto sauce: To a large mixing bowl, add all the pesto, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, and cream if using. Whisk to combine.
- Add pasta water: Add ¼ cup of the pasta water and whisk well to emulsify the pesto and pasta cooking water into a sauce.
- Add tortellini, veggies, lemon + ½ parmesan: Add the cooked tortellini, sautéed vegetables, lemon zest, lemon juice, and half the parmesan to the bowl. Gently toss to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning adding salt, pepper, or balsamic for taste; pesto, cream, or cooking water for sauce consistency.
- Garnish and serve: Transfer to a serving platter or portion onto individual dinner plates. Top with tomatoes, basil leaves and pine nuts, if using. Dust with remaining parmesan. Serve and enjoy!
- Pesto: You can make your own pesto or use a store-bought brand. However, the flavor of your dish is dependent upon the quality of your pesto. I like Barilla Rustic, DeLallo and Rustichella d’Abruzzo brands; however, you will need to dilute the later with oil (which means you get a lot of pesto sauce from that small jar!)
- How to pick good pesto at the store: Your pesto will make or break this recipe; so, it’s imperative you use a good-quality pesto! If you want to use store-bought pesto, look for these qualities to ensure you’re selecting a good brand: Refrigerated (refrigerated pesto is better than shelf stable), Visible Ingredients (good pesto is chunky – you should be able to see the good stuff like garlic, cheese, etc.), Oil on top (good brands of pesto will have a small reserve of oil covering the top of the pesto. This ensures your pesto is luscious and not dry!)
o Creamy Pesto: If you prefer a creamy (versus silky) pesto, add your pesto to the bowl of a food processor along with the flesh of half an avocado. Process until smooth and adjust to taste, adding more avocado for a creamier sauce and more salt or pepper for flavor.
o Spinach Pesto: You can stretch your sauce and add fiber to your pesto by tossing in some fresh baby spinach leaves. Add the pesto to the bowl of a food processor along with about 1 cup of spinach leaves. Process until just combined and still a little chunky (for texture). If your pesto sauce is too thick, you can thin it with a bit of lemon juice, pasta water or no-sodium broth.
- Balsamic: Use a good quality balsamic vinegar for the best taste. If you want to keep your pesto sauce green, make sure you use white balsamic vinegar. Regular balsamic tastes great here; however, it will turn your sauce brown – just a heads up if appearance matters to you.
- Serving: Pesto is unlike other pasta sauces in that it should not be subject to high heat. That’s why this recipe calls for tossing the tortellini with pesto sauce off the heat. This dish is best served at room temperature (slightly warm or slightly cold is great too!).
- Serving recommendation straight from the Chef: Crusty Artisan Bread(s) + Marinated Tomatoes & a bottle of crisp, refreshing White Wine (select one with herbal notes to match the fresh basil!).
- Leftovers: Remove leftovers from the refrigerator 30 minutes before enjoying to eliminate the unpleasant, sharp chill. (Leftovers are great drizzled with balsamic reduction!)
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