~ All the great flavors of buffalo chicken dip, in a satisfying tortellini pasta salad! It’s perfect as a main dish salad, or as a hearty side for picnics, cookouts, tailgating and potlucks, and it’s sure to win raves every time you make it! Plus, it’s easy to prep ahead and can even be served without the chicken for a vegetarian option! ~
This Recipe Is: • Ready in 30 Minutes or Less • Make Ahead • Vegetarian Option •
This pasta salad is a surefire people-pleaser. I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt.
First, there’s the obvious reason that it has pretty much everything going for it: the beloved, ever-popular flavors of buffalo chicken dip, combined into a hearty pasta salad, with a satisfying mix of pillowy tortellini and crunchy accents.
Plus there’s a fab, make-ahead, hostess-pleasing bonus for you – it can be entirely prepped even a day ahead of time! Just stir the dressing in at the last moment, and you’re good to go!
Mmmmhmmm … yeah … people-pleaser.
The first time I ever threw this salad together (just because I thought it sounded like a good idea, something I’d certainly want to eat), was for a soccer picnic during a big weekend tournament. We all thought a little tailgate party would add to the fun for our boys (and for us, the hungry, road-weary spectators).
Great plan. But, as all soccer moms know … soccer plans are made specifically just so they can be changed (usually multiple times, right up to the very last minute, so you have no hope of staying organized or on schedule).
And so, our perfectly conceived idea of an evening tailgate turned into a breakfast buffet (after a heartbreaking loss, nonetheless). But most parents had already made dinner foods and desserts for what was supposed to be an evening picnic … m’kay. Well, we cobbled it all together as best we could. Some wise and thoughtful soul scavenged huge amounts of coffee, along with bagels and muffins to add to the mix … and we just went with it. ‘Cause that’s what you do during soccer season.
I really didn’t have a lot of hope for the buffalo chicken salad I’d been so excited about the night before. Who would want to eat buffalo chicken first thing in the morning?
Well, I gotta tell ya … apparently lots of people!
Even if our soccer boys didn’t score quite enough that morning, my Buffalo Chicken Pasta Salad racked up the bonus points like crazy. Gretchen and I immediately slated the recipe to share with you come summertime. If people scarf this down and beg for the recipe after eating it for breakfast during a post-defeat depression … well, friends … all I can say is … make this!
It’ll be the hit of any picnic, cookout or party! And, because it’s super easy and can be made way ahead, you’ll be totally chillax and able to enjoy the fun, free of last-minute cooking duty!
Oh … and since this is THK, you know you can even feel good about serving it! Instead of a bottled buffalo ranch salad dressing, we’ve healthified this delicious version to use a just-as-yummy dressing made from real ingredients, including superstar Greek yogurt.
And, we’ve worked in extra veggies, too! Buffalo wings are typically served with carrot sticks and celery on the side, so those veggies are the perfect flavor complement, and they add a terrific crunchy counterpoint. Add in lean chicken breast and flavor-packed but reduced-fat cheeses, and this is a far more nutritious salad than anyone will ever even notice (as they plow through their second helping!).
Oh, and for the vegetarian crowd? This is still outrageously delicious without the chicken. Buffalo chicken without the chicken? Yep – this salad’s got it all!
See … I told ya! A real people-pleaser! Whether you’re serving tired soccer parents, health-minded picnic-goers, or just your hungry family … this is your new go-to pasta salad for practically any occasion!
- 19 ounces cheese tortellini, cooked according to package directions, then rinsed and cooled (see note)
- 3 cups cubed, cooked, boneless, skinless chicken breast (see note)
- 2/3 cup diced, reduced-fat, sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
- 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
- 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup nonfat milk
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot) (see note)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- reduced-fat blue cheese crumbles, if desired (see note)
- additional hot sauce, if desired
- In a large bowl, combine tortellini, chicken, cheddar cheese, carrots, celery, and onion.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together Greek yogurt, milk, hot sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, kosher salt, and sugar.
- Just prior to serving, dress pasta salad with all but about ¼ cup of dressing, reserving ¼ cup to offer alongside the salad or to cover and refrigerate for moistening leftovers later (see note).
- Toss salad to mix and coat thoroughly with dressing, being careful not to damage the tender tortellini.
- Serve with blue cheese and extra hot sauce alongside.
Tortellini: We used Rosetto brand in testing this recipe. We typically recommend whole-grain pasta whenever possible, but the whole-wheat tortellini available in our local stores is notably higher in fat, and we always try to balance our preference for whole-grain foods against fat content and other nutritional issues. Choose the healthiest tortellini you can find. There is a definite difference in the fat content of various brands, so read the labels carefully. We encourage you to choose higher-fiber, low-fat, organic or all-natural products whenever it’s feasible.
Chicken: Nearly any boneless, skinless chicken breasts will work in this recipe, as long as they’re not overly flavorful from spices or marinades. We recommend simply cooking a couple of extra chicken breasts whenever you’re making chicken, so you have extra cooked chicken for this recipe without any extra work. A store-bought rotisserie chicken is another easy option, although in order to yield approximately 3 cups of meat for this recipe, you'll most likely need to use the dark meat as well as the breast meat.
Hot sauce: We've tested this recipe with up to 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of hot sauce, and many of our taste testers loved it with that much heat. However, we feel it's more broadly appealing with just 2 tablespoons of hot sauce, which is why we suggest simply offering additional hot sauce on the side. If your family or picnic-goers love spicy flavors, though, then feel free to use 3 or even 4 tablespoons of hot sauce instead of just 2.
Blue cheese: Just like with buffalo hot wings, blue cheese is outstanding with this salad, and we absolutely recommend sprinkling a little on top. However, since some people don't care for the flavor of blue cheese, to make this salad more broadly appealing, we suggest serving a small dish of reduced-fat blue cheese crumbles on the side, so people can add as much or as little as they wish.
Reserved dressing: If you like your pasta salad heavily dressed, you may certainly choose to mix all of the dressing in at once. However, we prefer to reserve about ¼ cup of the dressing to offer on the side, for those who like more dressing. Alternately, if you know there will be leftovers, it's nice to have that extra dressing to add into the salad when serving it again later. Like most pasta salads, this salad tends to soak up the dressing and will be a bit dried out by the second day. We love having a little extra dressing to revitalize any leftovers.
Make-ahead tip: You can toss the tortellini with the chicken, veggies and cheese, and then refrigerate the mixture, covered, for up to a day in advance of serving. Similarly, you can whisk together the dressing up to a day ahead and refrigerate it, separately from the tortellini mixture. We don't recommend dressing this pasta salad until right before serving, however, so that the pasta doesn't absorb too much of the dressing while it sits, ending up a bit dry at serving time.
Vegetarian option: This salad is also delicious without the chicken.