Recipe Review

I Tried the Grandma’s Pasta Salad Reddit Is Obsessed With (Now I’m Obsessed, Too)

updated Jun 22, 2021
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tortellini salad in a bowl
Credit: Patty Catalano

In my opinion, the best way to find new recipes worth making isn’t from the latest TikTok stars (although they sure have some great ideas!) — it’s from the the worn recipe cards our grandmothers used. Thankfully, contributors on the Old_Recipes subreddit have brought those analog favorites into the digital age.

Recently, Reddit user Nomoanya posted a recipe for a tortellini salad that she claims is “the yummiest pasta salad you’ll ever eat.” In the post, she explains that her grandmother made the salad for a baby shower in the 1970s, and it’s been a family favorite ever since. The recipe has a lot going for it — most notably easy instructions and a short ingredient list that includes things like fresh basil and prosciutto — and as a pasta salad lover myself, I couldn’t help but give it a try. Here’s what happened when I gave it a go.

How to Make Grandma’s Tortellini Salad

Bring a pot of water to a boil, add 1 pound of dried, shelf-stable cheese tortellini, and cook until tender. Drain the pasta in a colander and rinse under cool water. Slice prosciutto and a large handful of fresh basil into thin ribbons. Prosciutto tends to stick together, so carefully pull the strips apart so they do not clump.

Transfer the cooled and drained tortellini to a large bowl and pour in bottled Italian or French vinaigrette (I opted for Italian). Add frozen, unthawed peas, basil, and prosciutto, tossing the salad periodically to keep the prosciutto from clumping. Measure in the mayonnaise, toss again, then chill in the refrigerator or serve at room temperature as soon as the peas thaw.

Credit: Patty Catalano

My Honest Review of Grandma’s Tortellini Salad

This pasta salad has a little bit of everything — salty meat, fresh herbs, tender cheesy pasta, and a flavorful vinaigrette — so it’s no wonder it’s a family favorite. I found it to be absolutely delicious, and a recipe I’ll absolutely put on repeat for the rest of the summer. It makes for a great dinner side or easy make-ahead lunch.

I usually purchase refrigerated tortellini, but this recipe starts with the dried, shelf-stable variety. Despite my reservations, I trusted Grandma. I am so glad that I did, because not only did the pasta cook up perfectly tender, but there were also fewer burst tortellini than I usually experience with the refrigerated kind. My grocery store only sells 12-ounce packages of dried pasta, so I bought two bags and measured out the proper amount. Next time, I’ll just opt for a single 12-ounce package, although I’m not mad that now I have 1/2 pound of dried tortellini waiting in the pantry for emergencies.

I also appreciated that this pasta salad’s dressing will please both mayo-dressed salad lovers and those who prefer a lighter vinaigrette. You will want to make sure you use a bottled vinaigrette you enjoy, because it permeates the whole dish.

My only qualm is that while fresh basil, prosciutto, and green peas were the perfect mix-ins for this quick summer side, the proportions did not feel right. There was too much prosciutto (a statement I never thought I’d make) and it clumped together no matter how hard I tried to separate the thin strips. More on that below.

3 Tips for Making Grandma’s Tortellini Salad

  1. Reduce the prosciutto by half. I love delicate and salty wisps of prosciutto as much as the next person, but 5 to 6 ounces of the stuff is a lot. For a better flavor balance, less clumping, and to ease the strain on your wallet, use just 2 to 3 ounces.
  2. Add basil to taste. The original poster claims the vinaigrette is the star, but I think fresh basil is. Basil’s fresh and green flavor can be strong, so if you’re serving this to kids or to those who might be sensitive to basil’s herbaceous flavor, start with a small amount and garnish with more on top just before serving so the herbs stay fresh and green.
  3. Don’t shy away from homemade vinaigrettes. The original poster warns that this recipe “doesn’t work” with homemade salad dressing (likely because bottled dressings usually have a thicker consistency to enrobe the noodles) and urges readers to use the best commercially bottled vinaigrette they can find. I tested with a bottled Italian dressing and it tasted fine, but I think it would have tasted fresher and lighter for summer with a homemade vinaigrette. If you decide to go the homemade route, add the mayonnaise directly to the vinaigrette to help emulsify the ingredients and give it the thicker consistency you’re looking for.