Craving fresh, easy dinnertime recipes this summer? Me, too. This Caprese pasta salad recipe is just the ticket! This recipe has been one of my favorites for the past five years, and I’m re-sharing it today in case you have missed it.
This pasta recipe really straddles the line between “pasta dish” and “pasta salad,” since it’s great whether you serve it warm or cold. It’s made simply with whole wheat pasta, lots of cherry tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, fresh basil and olive oil.
Briefly cooking the tomatoes on the stove makes their bright flavor sing. It also releases some juices that combine with the olive oil to turn into a light pasta sauce. Dinner is ready in twenty-five minutes.
This recipe started to take shape while my little brother was in town, way back in the summer of 2013. 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 several 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.
This recipe was roughly inspired by the classic Caprese salad. 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. If you haven’t tried burst cherry tomatoes yet, you’re really in for a treat!
Watch How to Make Caprese Pasta Salad
Caprese Pasta Salad Notes & Tips
This dish might seem a little watery after you stir the pasta into the tomatoes, but don’t worry. Give it a 20-minute rest and you’ll find that the pasta absorbs some of the moisture and the sauce thickens up.
Mozzarella “pearls” seem to be pretty easy to find these days (they are little mozzarella balls about the diameter of a dime). If you can’t find them, you can buy a standard mozzarella ball and tear it into smaller pieces, or cut any mid-sized mozzarella ball (Ciliegine) into smaller pieces.
The balsamic vinegar is a key component here. If your finished dish doesn’t quite taste spectacular, add a little more of it.
Use white balsamic vinegar if you can (it’s generally available next to the regular balsamic in the vinegar aisle), but regular balsamic will work, too.
If you want to stretch this recipe a bit to serve a larger crowd, use 8 ounces pasta and 3 pints of cherry tomatoes. Then add some extra basil and vinegar, to taste.
You can get by using less olive oil, if you’re worried about using 1/3 cup here. But I think it’s totally irresistible as written.
Caprese Pasta Salad
- Prep Time: 5 mins
- Cook Time: 10 mins
- Total Time: 15 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: Entree
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian
This Caprese pasta salad recipe is easy, delicious and perfect for summertime! Just cook cherry tomatoes with olive oil to make the perfect pasta sauce. Recipe yields 4 modest servings.
- 6 ounces (2 cups) whole grain fusilli or rotini pasta
- ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 8 ounces mozzarella “pearls”, or one mozzarella ball, torn into bite-sized pieces
- Several sprigs of fresh basil (enough for 2+ tablespoons chopped)
- 2 to 3 teaspoons white balsamic vinegar or regular balsamic vinegar, to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta until al dente, according to package instructions. Drain the pasta and set it aside.
- While the pasta is cooking, combine the olive oil, tomatoes and salt in a large, non-reactive skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Cover the skillet (use a baking sheet if you don’t have a better lid). 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 6 to 12 minutes).
- Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the cooked pasta. Let the mixture cool for a few minutes while you chop the basil. We don’t want the cheese to melt on contact, so wait to proceed to the next step until your pasta is lightly warm (not hot).
- Stir the mozzarella balls and basil into the pasta. Add the vinegar, then taste and add additional vinegar and/or salt, if it doesn’t quite taste spectacular yet. For best flavor, let the mixture rest for about 20 minutes, so the pasta can absorb some of the sauce. Or, refrigerate it for future use.
- This salad will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Leftovers are great chilled or at room temperature. You can also reheat the pasta if you don’t mind the mozzarella melting (yum).
Make it gluten free: Use your favorite gluten-free noodles.
Make it vegan: This recipe would still be nice without the mozzarella. If you would like to add some creaminess, add a dollop of my vegan sour cream to individual servings before serving (see my cookbook, page 217).
Recommended equipment: 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).
This is really good. I added garlic, shallot, and doubled the basil.
WOW!!!! I made this for some friends going to the beach and HOLY COW was it good. 10/10 would recommend and I am bookmarking this one. Thank you!!!
Very easy. Cooking the tomatoes made a huge difference in taste compared to how I typically prepare this. Absolutely delicious and perfect as a summer side dish.
Love this for potlucks!
I add garlic when the tomatoes are about cooked.
loved it, my son and husband both dislike cheese, any cheese and kept asking for me to omit that part so that they can eat it since it looked so good.
Hooray! Thank you for sharing, Pelusa. I’m glad it was a hit!
Holy crap. This is the best pasta I’ve ever made. This is amazing!! It will be a forever favourite. I also added diced garlic to the pan with the salt, oil and tomatoes and I think it made it that much better. Enjoy!
I’ve made this a few times in the last few weeks– it’s the perfect light summertime dinner! This recipe is definitely going into my permanent rotation :)
DEE A WOOD
I’ve never left a comment for any other recipe, but for this I had to. This dish is remarkable, so easy, yet so full of flavor. I had never burst cherry tomatoes, and I don’t know how I’ve made it to this age without it. I’ll be sneaking this little trick into a lot more recipes. I followed the recipe to the letter and my whole family are now giving me side eyes wondering where this has been all our lives. Thank You.
I’m excited you loved it, Dee! Thank you for taking the time to comment.
I made this this recipe last week and it was delicious. THe leftovers were great when reheated and the cheese melted.
This is a super fun dish! A little extra vinegar, black pepper and voila. The hardest part is letting it sit there for 20 minutes. …….we only made it 5.
FIVE STARS. This pasta was delicious. I made it just as written. I will add garlic the next time I make it. This is easy to make and the fresh mozzarella balls really added something.
I added shallots and garlic and at the end added grated Asiago cheese. Delicioso! Yum! Will be making this again!
This recipe is amazing – I have made it over 15 times and will continue to use it as a stable. DELISH
I just have to leave a comment because I have made this recipe over 20 times! Thank you Kate for such an amazing dish :) It will forever be a favorite
I love that! I appreciate you coming back to let me know how much you love this one, Ashley.
Hi, when you say 2 cups of pasta, do you mean 2 cups dry, or 2 cups cooked? I don’t usually follow recipes to the tee but from I’d like to with this one since it seems to be finely tuned. Thanks!
Hi! Two dry cups. I hope that helps.
What a fun summer pasta salad! I love the simplicity of the ingredients. The balsamic vinegar was the perfect touch at the end. This was a hit at our picnic, but I think it could be served hot or cold and be delicious either way! The only difference I made is that I used 16 oz of rotini pasta, not 6.
Thank you! I appreciate your review, Aubrey.
Excellent recipe! I added half a sweet onion before the tomatoes and by the time the tomatoes were done the onion was lightly caramelized. I was cooking this for my wife and kids and the kids thought it was a little too tart with 3 tsp of balsamic so next time I am only going to put in 2 tsp and this will be the perfect for the whole family.
Exquisite! Had a ton of basil so threw it in and served over arugula. Perfect heat wave dinner!
Sounds delicious, JLM!
Made this for a barbecue recently and it got raves from everyone. The flavor was way more complex than other caprese pasta salads I made, even though the recipe is crazy simple. I also think there’s something weirdly therapeutic about the step where you cook the cherry tomatoes. This recipe has shot to the top of my list for backyard entertaining.
Thank you for coming back to comment, Jenn!
An update on this recipe: a pregnant friend who was at the barbecue where I first made this recently called and said she needed this exact recipe, because it’s her most major craving. She ate this one time a year ago. That’s how good it is! (I did send her the link so hopefully you will have another happy review soon.)
That’s wonderful, Jenn! I appreciate your comment.
Made this without the cheese and it was delicious. Wonderfully easy crowd pleasing recipe. Thanks!
You’re welcome, Carolyn! Thank you for your review.
Hi there, this recipe looks delicious! Is it in your cookbook too?
Hi! I’m glad you like it. My cookbook has different recipes than the blog, specifically designed for the cookbook.
I love this recipe so much! I make it basically any time we have people over and my 10 month old LOVES it, so it’s the perfect recipe for the whole fam! Impressive, delicious but also easy and fast to put together with simple ingredients. ❤️❤️❤️
Paul in Sacramento
Summer is a great time to make this!
I’ve been making this for the last few years. It’s always great. Even in winter, if you access to good tomatoes. However, if you can score some fresh homegrown cherry tomatoes during the summer with fresh basil, you will be blown away. I love fresh basil so I always use a lot more than than the recipe calls for. The flavors are so fresh and vibrant. And, it’s so easy to make! I prefer to use the white balsamic vinegar. It’s more visually appealing, but I’ve also enjoyed it with regular balsamic vinegar. And, I love garlic, so I add some crushed garlic to the last minute of bursting the tomatoes. Yum!
Another great summer recipe is Kate’s Creamy Cherry Tomato and Summer Squash Pasta with goat cheese. Check it out!
I just made this recipe for 4th of July barbecue for my family. They loved it and so did I. It was a big success. It was such an easy recipe to follow. I spiced up the flavor a bit with a bit of garlic powder and added a bit more basil
I have to say, I’ve made this salad more times than I can count. It is sincerely one of THE BEST salad recipes I’ve ever come across / ever made / ever ate. And it is super, super easy to make. Would highly recommend!
Thank you, Chad! I’m excited you love it.
I too doubled the basil because…why not. Loved it so much that I am going to make it for my next sisters weekend.
Holly M Kiper
Excellent flavor!!!Everyone loved it!
That’s great, Holly! Thank you for your review.
hi Kate, I’m retired Air Force vet. I never thought of myself as some great cook, but in the last 10 years I have been doing my best to surprise my wife of 27 years who is a vegetarian with meals. I’ve got better and people seem to like my foods (lol MY FOODS) I am guess I’m good at following instructions. This looks easy enough for me to give it a go. I’ve made salads like this before but never your way. Sounds great. I’ll let you know, Mark
Thank you for your service, Mark! I hope you love this one too, Mark.
Thank you! I tried this recipe for the first time and enjoyed it very much. It is good served warm, right after making it, and also as a cold pasta salad.
I’m happy you enjoyed it, CJ! I appreciate your review.
BEST Caprese Salad ever–and I even forgot to add the vinegar! Will add a splash when I finish it off for lunch tomorrow.
Hooray! I’m glad you think so.
Delicious!! I will add more basil next time because, why not?
Super simple summer dinner. Thanks!
You’re welcome! Yes, more basil please. Thank you for your review!
Absolutely love your Caprese recipe salad and so does my friend whom I’ve passed along your website info
This was the perfect light Italian summer recipe! Subbed in chickpea pasta for some extra protein and added garlic and oregano to the tomatoes for an extra pop of flavor. So simple yet so delicious!
I’m glad you loved it, Jake! Thank you for your review.