Bacon, spinach, tomato (the BLT), and pesto are tossed together with tortellini in this quick and easy pasta salad. Serve it as a main course on a hot summer night, as an accompaniment to grilled food or soup, or take it to your next pot luck or family dinner. So versatile, and delicious!Jump to Recipe Print Recipe
I can’t believe it took me so long to try this combination together. My default dish to bring to potlucks is pasta salad, and I often mix up a quick pesto and toss my noodles with that and some sautéed vegetables. This is going to become my new go-to. My family loved it as well, and the kids have asked a few times when I’m going to make it again. Give it a try! I guarantee this BLT pesto pasta salad will make your rotation.
What is Pesto?
Pesto originated in Genoa, Italy, and its literal translation is “pounded.” In its most traditional form, basil, garlic, and pine nuts are finely chopped, then ground in a mortar and pestle with parmesan cheese and olive oil. Fortunately, the recipe is very forgiving. Most people these days make it in a blender or food processor in just a few minutes, and there are as many different recipes as there are chefs.
How Do I Make Homemade Pesto?
I make my own pesto pretty regularly, and always use my trusty food processor. For this recipe, I used the traditional ingredients (basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan, and oil), and threw in a few slices of crisp bacon. The bacon is totally optional, but it adds a bit more flavor to the dish! After pulsing until blended, taste and season with salt to your taste. Easy as that. It will keep for a week in the refrigerator, or can be frozen for months.
What Can I Substitute in a Pesto Recipe?
Pretty much anything. In place of basil, try spinach, arugula, or kale. Walnuts, pecans, or almonds can be substituted for pine nuts. The cheese has to be a hard cheese, but doesn’t need to be Parmigiano Reggiano. Pecorino, Asiago, Manchego, or even Cotija can be used with good results. I never leave out the garlic or olive oil, but I’m sure another oil could be used without issue. Experiment! Try all kinds of nuts, greens, and cheeses and decide what you like best. You can even toss in a few pieces of bacon, if you’re as obsessed with it as I am.
Do I Have to Use Homemade Pesto for BLT Pesto Pasta Salad?
Nope. Totally optional. Feel free to pick up a jar at the supermarket or Italian specialty store, and save yourself a step. I like homemade better, and it’s really easy to make, but if it doesn’t interest you leave it to the pros.
What Kind of Tortellini Should I Use?
I am not remotely brand loyal, but strongly prefer the refrigerated types of store-bought tortellini to the dry packaged varieties from the pasta aisle. I’ve never cared for the texture of dried tortellini. Feel free to use any type you’ve had luck with in the past, or even to make your own if you’re so inclined!
This BLT pesto pasta salad recipe has pretty strong flavors, so I use cheese tortellini (three cheese, four cheese, any type is fine) so as not to overload anyone’s tastebuds. Flavors that reflect the recipe ingredients would also be good – spinach ricotta or pesto, for example. I’d stay away from things like sausage and mushroom or butternut squash for this one. Keep it simple.
How to Prepare Tortellini for BLT Pesto Pasta Salad
Follow the package directions for whichever brand you’re using. I keep the refrigerated varieties in my freezer, and they go straight from the freezer into boiling water. When all the little pasta are floating, that’s a good time to test one and see if they’re done to your liking. Reserve a half cup of cooking liquid and drain the tortellini.
Can I Use a Different Kind of Pasta?
No tortellini? No problem. Feel free to try cheese or spinach ravioli (be careful mixing, they’re usually a little more delicate than tortellini), or substitute another pasta entirely. Farfalle (bowtie) pasta holds pesto really well and would be my next choice. After that, try another short, textured noodle like rigatoni or rotini. Let me know in the comments how it held the sauce!
While the water is boiling for tortellini, cook a half pound of bacon. Use homemade if you’ve been following along with me and making your own (instructions here), but your favorite store-bought brand is just fine too. Any method is fine for this recipe, as we don’t need the bacon fat for anything later. Check out How to Cook Bacon for detailed instructions on a variety preparations. If you’d like to go all out and make bacon pesto, make an extra two slices and toss them in the food processor with your other ingredients.
Assemble BLT Pesto Pasta Salad
Start by tossing the cooked tortellini with the prepared pesto. Add a tablespoon at a time of pasta cooking water if needed to loosen the sauce. Next, add the tomatoes and spinach. Toss everything together. Finally, crumble in the cooked bacon. Taste the pasta. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Taste again, and serve.
What to Serve with BLT Pesto Pasta Salad
This pasta salad can be either a main dish or a side. It travels well and doesn’t need to be warm, so it’s a great dish to bring to a potluck, picnic, or family dinner. It makes a wonderful accompaniment to grilled foods like burgers, brats, barbecued chicken, or even steaks. It’s also nice with a non-noodle soup, like tomato basil or my clam chowder. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
As always, please let me know how the recipe goes if you try it! Comment below with any questions, as my answers might help other readers as well. You can also email me at email@example.com. If you’d like to be notified of new bacony recipes, you can sign up for my email list above, or follow me on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook. Thanks for reading, and hope to see you again soon!
BLT Pesto Pasta Salad
Optional: Homemade Bacon Pesto
- 4 oz fresh basil about 2 cups, may substitute kale, spinach, arugula, or other greens
- 3 cloves fresh garlic
- 1 oz pine nuts about 1/4 cup, may substitute walnuts, pecans, or almonds
- 1.5 oz parmesan cheese about 1/2 cup grated, may substitute any hard white cheese
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 slices bacon cooked (optional)
BLT Pesto Pasta Salad
- 1 lb cheese tortellini cooked, preferably fresh or frozen, may use spinach or pesto flavor instead
- 1/4 cup pesto homemade or purchased
- 1 lb fresh tomatoes chopped, any variety or color
- 6 oz baby spinach
- 8 oz bacon cooked until crisp, crumbled
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Optional: Homemade Bacon Pesto
- Add to food processor: basil (or greens), garlic, nuts, and cheese. Cover. Turn on and pour olive oil slowly in through feeder. Process until well combined.
- Add bacon. Pulse for 2-3 seconds at a time until incorporated but still visible. Taste, and add salt and pepper to taste if needed. Set aside 1/4 cup for recipe, and refrigerate/freeze the remainder for another use.
BLT Pesto Pasta Salad
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.
- Toss cooked pasta with prepared pesto (or storebought if using). Add a tablespoon of pasta water at a time, if needed, to loosen sauce.
- Add spinach and tomato to pasta. Toss to combine. Add crumbled bacon and toss again.
- Taste pasta. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to use. Enjoy!