Crazy for caprese? Then Caprese Pasta Salad is your new summertime staple. Marinate pasta in zesty homemade basil vinaigrette, then load up with ripe cherry tomatoes, mozzarella and ribbons of fresh basil. Drizzle with balsamic glaze for a classic caprese finish.
I feel like a super-weird, super-niche superhero every summer when I start to drive myself a bit mad coming up with new recipes for tomatoes and corn and zucchini, oh my! But every summer I develop intense FOMO: “Oh no! What if I’m not using summer vegetables in the most amazingly incredible way?!?! To the test kitchen!!!”
Caprese is always a good place to start. It’s tried, tested, and true. Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella. It’s a simple, tasty foundation on which to build. And I’ve done so before.
My caprese chicken is one of OSK’s most popular recipes (and for good reason), but I didn’t stop there. It was easy to turn that dish into caprese chicken salad, but slightly more bold (I think) to take it in a more summery direction with peach caprese salad. I even already have a heartier caprese pasta with sausage.
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But this one? This one is especially for public consumption. Caprese pasta salad recipe was built with every picnic, potluck, and party in mind. More to the point, it was designed to make you look as good as possible at those events.
First, fresh tomato mozzarella basil pasta has that classic can’t-go-wrong caprese combination. But more importantly, it has the balanced combination of being super easy to make and tasting super fresh when it’s served.
Can I Make This Ahead of Time?
Fair warning – you should not make caprese pasta salad ahead of time in its entirety. Yes, that might be annoying, but I swear the final step is insanely quick and easy. Let’s proceed…
Fresh is best! Since your key ingredients are at risk of giving off added moisture and/or going limp, we don’t recommend making the entire recipe ahead of time. Cook the pasta, toss with vinaigrette, then fold in the tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil just before serving. Easy, right?
That being said, parts of this recipe are great to pre-prep in advance. Make the pasta and basil vinaigrette ahead of time, and even marinate in advance, up to 12 hours. You can also halve your mozzarella balls in advance (they usually come in brine, so store them for later use in the same container).
How to Make Caprese Pasta Salad
Classic caprese flavors translate beautifully to an easy-to-make, easy-to-share summer side in this Caprese Pasta Salad recipe. Make and marinate your pasta in advance, then add your easy caprese mixers in fresh! Ripe cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls and fresh basil add bursts of color and flavor to this crowd-pleasing pasta salad.
- Cook the pasta is heavily salted water (it should taste like the sea!) according to package directions to al dente, PLUS 1 minute. Drain, shake to dry, then return to the hot pot to evaporate any remaining water droplets.
- Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until completely smooth. Add a little water, a tablespoon at a time, if the consistency isn’t super smooth.
- Pour the vinaigrette over the warm pasta, toss until well combined, then rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours. At this point, you can chill the salad if preparing the further in advance. Be sure to remove from the fridge at least 1 hour before serving to bring to room temperature.
- Add mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and ground pepper to the pasta salad. and toss until well combined.
- Portion onto plates, then drizzle with balsamic glaze. Enjoy!
- The vinaigrette will be VERY tangy on its own – that’s normal! Don’t sweeten it. It will mellow out once tossed with the pasta and remaining ingredients. It will also seem like not quite enough (a scant ¾ cup) – this is okay too! You want a thin, even coating.
- Marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to two hours, then chill as needed. Marinating while the pasta is still warm will really infuse each piece of pasta with sauce and flavor.
- Cook the pasta to 1 minute past al dente for perfectly tender bites.
- Add the tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and additional fresh basil just before serving.
Substitutions and Add Ins for Caprese Pasta Salad
- Use pre-made pesto instead of making basil vinaigrette. It’s not ideal, but it’ll do in a pinch. Whisk 3-4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with ½-cup of jarred pesto to get to a more dressing-like consistency.
- Swap fusili for any other short ridged pasta, or upgrade to tortellini. (Just make sure it’s a complementary flavor for your mozzarella pasta salad!)
- If you don’t have balsamic glaze, you can make your own reduction. Simmer ½ cup balsamic vinegar with 2 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup for about 10 minutes, until reduced by half.
- Don’t want to spend time cutting the cheese? (Pun absolutely intended.) Use an 8 oz container of perlini (mozzarella pearls) instead of ciliegine (cherry mozzarella balls).
- Make it a meal – toss in chunks of grilled chicken or rounds of Italian sausage.
- Need it a bit zestier? Try thin slivers of red onion for some punch.
Is Caprese Pasta Salad Healthy?
Caprese pasta recipe is definitely a healthier choice when it comes to pasta salads. Not weighed down by mayo, heavy dressings, or sugary store-bought dressings, it’s a light, bright summer side dish that boasts fresh produce and healthy fats.
Serve it With…
Always serve pasta salad at room temperature, never cold. If preparing in advance – or enjoying leftovers – leave at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours, stirring once or twice, to remove the chill.
More Delicious Dishes for Potlucks and Picnics
- Italian Potato Salad
- Creamy Cucumber Salad
- Broccoli Bacon Salad
- Mediterranean Orzo Pasta Salad
- Cantaloupe Salad with Honey Lemon Dressing
Did you make this caprese pasta salad? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
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- 6-quart pot
- 1 lb fusilli pasta
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 8- oz container ciliegine fresh mozzarella cheese balls, halved
- 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- ½ c fresh basil, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- Balsamic glaze, to taste
- 1.5 c packed fresh basil leaves
- 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- ¾ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- 1-2 tablespoons water
- Fill a 6-quart pot with four quarts of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then season with the kosher salt. Add the pasta, then cook according to package directions to al dente, PLUS 1 minute. Drain the pasta, then shake to dry as much moisture as possible. Return the cooked pasta to the hot pot and toss to evaporate any remaining water droplets.
- While the pasta cooks, make the vinaigrette. Combine the basil, garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Puree until completely smooth. If the consistency isn’t extremely smooth, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until very, very smooth.
- Pour the basil vinaigrette over the pasta while it’s still warm. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours. Chill up to overnight if preparing in advance.
- Remove from the fridge at least 1 hour before serving to bring to room temperature. Add the fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, torn basil, and ground pepper, then toss until well combined. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper as needed.
- Portion onto plates, then drizzle with balsamic glaze. Serve at room temperature.