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!
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).