Caprese Pasta Salad

Caprese pasta salad recipe

My 20-year-old brother came to town and slept on my couch last weekend. He brought with him a caddy of toiletries and a beach towel, and contributed an empty pizza box, beer bottles and a raised toilet seat. In other words, he temporarily turned my apartment into a frat house. He also introduced me to Tinder and the term FBO (“Facebook Official”). Hanging out with a college kid made me feel like a clueless old person.

burst cherry tomatoes and pasta

I kicked my feet up and embraced the mess, all the while contemplating what it means to be a 20-something in the first world. My brother represents the hopeful 20-year-old who is ready to take on the world before he can legally drink a beer. Seven years his senior, I know more what life is like in the “real” world but nonetheless encourage my baby bro to dream big. Why not?

I’ve officially entered the last quarter of my twenties and I kind of like it here. I’m still plenty optimistic, but more grounded in reality. I can’t stop giggling at this list and this video. And this TED Talk on why 30 is not the new 20 rocked my world.

basil, mozzarella balls and pasta salad

This recipe started to take shape while my brother was in town. We stayed in for dinner to save money; he ate leftover cheese pizza while I haphazardly threw some cherry tomatoes in a pan and reheated spaghetti. He eyed my pasta while I wished for more pizza. I’ve refined the recipe a couple times since then and it’s about as simple as can be. Boil water for pasta, cook cherry tomatoes whole in the meantime, and toss in some chopped basil and mozzarella balls at the end.

Caprese salads might be ubiquitous this time of year, but for good reason. You really can’t go wrong with any combination of mozzarella, basil and ripe, peak-season tomatoes. Pasta just plays a supporting role in this recipe. The idea for cooking the cherry tomatoes comes from Tom Colicchio’s recipe for squid with burst cherry tomatoes in Food & Wine’s August issue. Briefly cooking the tomatoes on the stove makes their bright flavor sing and releases some juices that combine with the olive oil to turn into a light pasta sauce. Dinner is ready in twenty minutes.

Caprese pasta salad

Caprese Pasta Salad
4.8 from 5 reviews
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 to 4
A simple Caprese pasta salad with a twist. Cook cherry tomatoes with olive oil for a few minutes and they create their own pasta sauce.
  • 6 ounces whole grain fusilli or rotini pasta
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 8 ounces baby mozzarella balls (ciliegine), or one mozzarella ball
  • Several sprigs fresh basil (enough for 2 tablespoons chopped)
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar, to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain and return the pasta to the pot.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, warm the olive oil in a large, non-reactive, heavy-bottomed pot or pan over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and ½ teaspoon sea salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the tomatoes have started to burst out of their skins and the olive oil has a light red hue (about 5 minutes). Toss the tomatoes and their sauce with the cooked pasta. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes while you slice the mini mozzarella balls in half (if you're using a large mozzarella ball, tear it into little pieces) and chop the basil into short little strips.
  3. Toss the mozzarella balls and basil into the pasta. Add the vinegar and salt to taste.
  • This salad will keep well in the refrigerator for a few days. Leftovers are great chilled or at room temperature. You can also reheat the pasta if you don't mind the mozzarella melting (yum).
  • Cooking tip: an enameled cast iron Dutch oven is the perfect cooking pot for the cherry tomatoes (it's also great for cooking pasta and soups/stews, and it will last forever).


  1. says

    I absolutely love this pasta!

    I have had many run-ins lately with feeling a bit old since moving to a new church and spending time with lots more teenagers than usual. FBO is totally new to me, too. :-)

  2. Ansley says

    Yummers! How do you suggest reheating this for lunch the next day? I fear the mozzarella would melt too much.. .maybe eating cold is just fine?

  3. says

    What a beautiful recipe! I love the simplicity – I bet it really lets the flavors shine. Oh, and I listened to that TED talk, too. That was something I think every person needs to hear before they’re 25.

    • says

      Thank you, Olivia! Yes, I agree, I really wish I had watched that talk before I was 25. I stayed in a lousy relationship for far too long in my early twenties. Learned the hard way not to do that again. :)

  4. Becky says

    No mention of heating the olive oil in the pan before adding the tomatoes, but is that what you meant? In the summer I put halved or diced tomotoes in a bowl with salt and olive oil cover it with plastic wrap and leave it out in the hot sun 30-40 min. Pour the hot pasta over it – it’s a great no cook sauce!

  5. says

    This looks simply and lovely – meals that come together quickly in summer are wonderful. I also love the look of the wholewheat fusilli. Gorgeous!

  6. says

    Ah! So fresh + delicious. Perfect for this time of year for sure. I never get sick of recipes like this. Funny story about your bro. Hope you had fun hangin’! ;)

  7. says

    Hi Kate! I just found your blog and I love it. I’m a vegetarian as well so I’m about to raid your recipe list! Seriously, you have a beautiful site and this pasta is deliciously simple. Great work!

  8. says

    I agree on the basil + tomato combo – pure brilliance! I’m not such a big cheese kinda girl, but have been making Caprese-minus-the-cheese salads a lot over the past couple of weeks! I love the simplicity of your recipe, and of course the gorgeous photos too! My sister is turning 22 this year and I’m going to be 25 in August, and even she has the ability to make me feel old sometimes! I think I need to check out the 20 vs 30 links you posted!

  9. says

    Firstly, love the white balsamic twist…. this sounds absolutely delicious. You are so good at life! Secondly, 30 is not the new 20 (I havent seen the TED Talk yet…) because I was an idiot at 20, and managed to run off my now-husband then-boyfriend because of the shenannigans I pulled. 30 is having a few things out of many — at least — figured out :)

    Brothers are amazing for so many reasons. I had a dream last night with my brother and I surviving a scary earthquake. I should call him!

  10. says

    Great idea to sauté the tomatoes until they burst. Caprese salads are something I look forward to every summer…the simplicity of the flavors is what great summertime dining is all about!

  11. Nicole says

    Perfect summer recipe. Also love Meg Jay’s “The Defining Decade” — should be required reading for every twenty-something.

  12. says

    My sister is 17 so I totally know what you mean about that naive idealism. It’s kind of cute and refreshing…but sometimes I also just want to shake her a little. :)

    Caprese salad is my summer favorite. This sounds fabulous.

    • says

      Yeah, I was tempted to tell my brother to check himself and to define a more realistic concept of success. Instead, I suggested we get ice cream. :)

  13. says

    Hi Kate–so excited to try this recipe. But, just an FYI–for whatever reason I can’t access your blog on my iPad. I don’t know if it’s the ads or something on my end. The pages show up but you can’t scroll down. Just thought you’d like to know in case anyone else is having this problem. I love to use my iPad when I’m cooking, but I can’t on your site. Thanks

    • says

      Hey Megan, thank you so much for the feedback on the iPad version of the site. It is kind of confusing, but you can see more by flicking the page over instead of scrolling down. I was worried that option wouldn’t be evident, so I’ll bring it up with the developers. The recipe view isn’t ideal, but they will be launching an optimized recipe viewer sometime in the next couple of months!

  14. says

    This totally made me laugh, Kate. There’s only 4 years between my brother and I, but he came to visit me when he was 20, and we had a very similar visit. I love the kid dearly, but he hasn’t totally grown out of all his college-student ways…although he’s left some of them behind.

    The burst cherry tomatoes are such a smart addition to this – must try this technique!

  15. Scott says

    I have been eating caprese-anything like it’s my 9-5 job this summer, so this is definitely a must try!

    (Also – I watched the “30 is not the new 20” video a few weeks ago with some friends. . . We were all so engrossed with what she was saying, you could’ve heard a pin drop. Such an awesome talk!)

  16. L R M says

    It was amazing!

    I actually used the whole package of wheat pasta (16 oz), so that I could have leftovers. I recommend this.

    So fresh and delicious! Thanks, Kate.

    • says

      Thanks for commenting! It’s great to get some feedback on this recipe. I haven’t heard much from readers about it, but I think it’s delicious!

  17. Cindi says

    I rarely eat pasta but for an occasional treat, but this was Oh Em Gee delicious!! I quartered the tomatoes and cooked them a little longer than the recipe called for. My husband is already asking me to make it again!

  18. Dures says

    Just tried it tonight for dinner. So delicious! Although, the tomatoes took alot longer than 5min to burst in my olive oil.

    • says

      Glad you enjoyed it, Dures! Either your cooking temperature was lower than mine or your tomatoes were bigger than mine. Regardless, glad it turned out well!

    • says

      I don’t doubt that she has a similar recipe. I always cite my sources of recipe inspiration, though, and Giada wasn’t one of them.

  19. Mary says

    That list on buzzfeed is amazing!! I live in a city that is home to a Big-10 university and used to work in a restaurant where I was one of 3 employees over the age of 23. We used to joke about how all we wanted to talk about was what we heard on NPR that morning and everyone else chatted about how drunk they got the previous night. I’ll take NPR, thank you very much! :o)

    • says

      Haha! I can relate, Mary. I used to work at a college bar… although, I was definitely guilty of some late-night shenanigans myself.

  20. Sydney says

    Hello! So I was looking at your recipes for a good vegetarian dish to make for my mother, who is stuck in bed because if her Multiple Sclerosis. I had already made her a healthy breakfast, so I wanted to make her a healthy lunch as well! So as I was looking for the ingredients to make this delicious dish, I realized we don’t have any cherry tomatoes left. So I, a 13, soon to be 14-year-old girl(one more week!) was wondering: is there any possible way to substitute the tomatoes with something else?? Thanks for taking the time to read this.

    • says

      Hi Sydney, I’m so sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier. I think tomatoes are pretty essential to this dish, but I hope you found a solution! Your mom is lucky to have such a great caretaker.

  21. Olivia says

    I made this tonight and it was so delicious! But I did change it up a bit, since I wanted more vegetables. So I added baby spinach, chopped radishes, and roasted eggplant. Also subbed out the mozzerella for feta, because that was what I had.

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