The traditional flavors of Caprese, fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomato, are wonderfully represented in caprese pasta salad. Perfect for picnics, or a light summer dinner.
Why you’ll love it: This recipe is not difficult to prepare, and it makes a big batch.
How long it takes: 25 minutes
Equipment you’ll need: big pot for pasta, stove, large mixing bowl, measuring utensils, sharp knife
Servings: 8 generous servings
You’re going to enjoy this Caprese pasta salad. I served it recently to guests for lunch and it was a big hit. One of the things that I really like is that you can make it a day ahead so it’s pretty much ready to go when you are.
Don’t you love Caprese? It’s a perfect marriage of flavors and textures: rounds of fresh mozzarella, topped with a slice of tomato, and a fresh basil leaf, drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with salt and pepper.
One of my favorite appetizers is hot Caprese dip, which is served all melty and yummy. Caprese Couscous Stuffed Tomatoes are a delicious summer side dish or vegetarian entrée. And if you haven’t tried this easy chicken Caprese quinoa bake, you’re missing out on a fabulous dinner.
More About Caprese
Did you know that Caprese is representative of the Italian flag, with its colors of red, green, and white? I think that’s kind of cool. By the way, if you’re wondering just how to say Caprese, have no fear. Say it like this: Kuh-pray-zee.
Caprese pasta salad incorporates everything that’s good about Caprese but adds a few more elements to make a delicious and filling salad that can be served as a main course or side dish. Like other pasta salads, Caprese pasta salad is perfect for picnics and potlucks, and is one of my most requested recipes. I think you’re gonna love it!
About this pasta salad
Begin this salad by cooking pasta. I like to use mini penne but choose the pasta you like best, as mini penne can be hard to find. Cook the pasta al dente, drain in a colander, rinse with cold water, and drain again. Make sure the hot pasta is cooled down by a cold water rinse so it doesn’t keep cooking and get all mushy.
While the pasta is cooking, prepare a simple vinaigrette dressing.
- white balsamic vinegar
- olive oil
- garlic powder
Set it aside.
Why white balsamic vinegar? Often Caprese is drizzled with regular balsamic which is dark brown in color. I prefer to use white balsamic for this pasta salad because everything’s mixed together and brown vinegar turns everything kind of an unappetizing color. However, I do like to drizzle balsamic reduction over the salad as a garnish, right before serving.
Continuing on, drain a container of fresh mozzarella pearls. I love those cute little balls of mozzarella. If you can’t find them, use another type of fresh mozzarella. You may have to slice it into bite size pieces. Please don’t use regular mozzarella cheese if you can help it, it’s just not the same.
Slice tomatoes and a red onion. If you think red onions are too strongly flavored, I have a great hint for you on the recipe card.
Mix everything together in a big bowl with half of the dressing and refrigerate until ready to serve. Why only half the dressing? The pasta tends to absorb a lot of dressing while it chills in the fridge, and your salad will seem kind of dry when it’s ready to serve. I like to stir in additional dressing right before I serve the pasta salad.
Oh, and don’t forget the fresh basil! I’m not much of a green thumb but I always grow a pot of basil on my deck. Raid your herb garden and fold in lots of freshly sliced basil right before serving your salad.
I just can’t wait for you to try Caprese pasta salad!
A classic Caprese salad, with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil, is a good-for-you salad or appetizer, as long as you don’t get carried away with the olive oil and cheese. This recipe for Caprese pasta salad has a fair amount of carbs but is still healthy in moderation. If you are watching your carb intake, reduce the amount of pasta in the recipe by half and increase the tomatoes or add other veggies.
Caprese salad is best served at room temperature. The tomatoes taste best when they are not refrigerated. If you aren’t planning on eating the salad within an hour or two, refrigerate it. Let it set out fifteen minutes or so before serving.
According to Wikipedia, this salad was named for the island of Capri, just off the coast of Italy.
Make It Your Own
Traditional Caprese antipasto salads require three essential ingredients: fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. But there are still lots of ways you can make this salad your own.
- Try a different variety of tomato. In fact, any fresh ripe tomato would be perfect. Bonus if you grow your own or visit your local farm market! Or add sun dried tomatoes for an extra burst of intense tomato flavor.
- Choose your favorite pasta. Any bite-size pasta will be fine. If you want, use whole wheat or gluten-free pasta or make it with tortellini.
- Make it a hearty main dish by adding grilled chicken, pepperoni, or diced ham.
- Increase the veggies. Try diced red or green bell peppers, kalamata olives, finely diced zucchini or cucumber, spinach, or another veggie of your choice.
- Instead of making your own balsamic vinaigrette, use bottled dressing. Another good choice is Italian dressing. Add an extra burst of basil flavor by stirring a couple spoonfuls of pesto into the dressing.
- Love garlic? Try adding a clove or two of minced fresh garlic to the dressing instead of the garlic powder.
Make Ahead and Storage Tips
Pasta salads are a great make ahead salad. Anticipating company? Make the salad on the day before, and stir in additional dressing and basil right before serving. So easy!
Store leftover pasta salad in the fridge for 3-5 days, in an airtight container.
For a perfect grab and go lunch, portion the salad into individual serving size containers.
More Pasta Salads
If you love pasta salads, here’s a few more popular recipes that I’m sure you’ll want to try:
- Bruschetta Orzo Pasta Salad
- Creamy Southwestern Orzo Salad
- Tortellini Pasta Salad with pepperoni and Italian vinaigrette
- Greek Pasta Salad with feta
- Summer Pasta Salad with chicken and vegetables
- Orzo Pasta Salad with yogurt dill dressing
- Panzanella Salad Recipe – no pasta but lots of crispy homemade croutons!
- Vegan Macaroni Salad with creamy dressing by Loving It Vegan
- Broccoli Pasta Salad by Spend With Pennies
- 16 oz. box dry pasta, mini penne, or your favorite pasta
- 8 oz. container fresh mozzarella pearls, drained and patted dry
- 2 pints grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
- 1 cup thinly sliced red onions (see note)
- 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar (see note)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 cup minced fresh basil, plus more for garnish
- Balsamic glaze, optional optional but highly recommended
- Bring pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta to al dente as directed on package directions. In colander set in sink, drain, rinse with cold water, drain well.
- Meanwhile make the dressing. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
- In large bowl, combine pasta, mozzarella, tomatoes, and drained onions. Add one half of the dressing; stir well. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Right before serving, add the remaining dressing and the fresh basil; stir well. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
- If desired, garnish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze and basil leaves.
- To tone down the sharp flavor of onions, soak the sliced onions in ice water while you prepare the salad. Drain well and pat dry before adding to the salad.
- White balsamic vinegar is preferred to regular balsamic because it doesn’t turn the salad an unappetizing color. Substitute white wine vinegar if you can’t find white balsamic vinegar.
- Try a different variety of tomato. Diced whole tomatoes are good, too.
- Choose your favorite pasta. Any bite-size pasta will be fine. Use whole wheat or gluten-free pasta or make it with tortellini.
- Add grilled chicken, pepperoni, or diced ham.
- Add diced red or green bell peppers, kalamata olives, finely diced zucchini or cucumber, spinach, or another veggie of your choice.
- Substitute bottled dressing instead of making your own balsamic vinaigrette.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.