If there’s one pasta salad you’ll be making on repeat all summer long, it’s this caprese pasta salad with cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. It’s fast, it’s simple, and it’s cravingly good.
Where my husband is the macaroni salad maven, I am the pasta salad lover of the family. But this caprese pasta salad…well, it may have won him over. In his words, “This is my favorite. It isn’t boring and has some zip, but is still really simple and goes with just about anything.” 100% agreed.
Tossing in your favorite short pasta with the classic caprese salad flavors of sweet tomatoes, creamy mozzarella, and fresh slivered basil is just about as natural as craving ice cream on a hot summer day. What’s even easier is the supremely simple balsamic dressing that lightly coats each pasta noodle, sweetly flavoring each tangy bite.
What’s in This Caprese Pasta Salad
Originating on the island of Capri, caprese salads are the signature of Southern Italy where the small towns up and down the Amalfi coast produce the most delicious tomatoes you will find anywhere in the world.
My favorite caprese salad recipe is the showcase for summer’s freshest, vine-ripened garden tomatoes. But what’s great about this caprese pasta salad is it can be made with sweet cherry tomatoes found in the grocery store, so you don’t have to wait for summer’s harvest to make it. Unless of course, you have garden sweet cherry tomatoes ready to eat.
Here’s what you’ll need for this caprese pasta salad:
- Short pasta such as cavatappi, spiral, shell, penne
- Cherry tomatoes (sweet red or yellow)
- Mozzarella balls (ciliengine or pearls)
- Fresh slivered basil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Golden balsamic vinegar (I like DeLallo’s golden balsamic vinegar)
- Garlic clove
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
How to Make Caprese Pasta Salad
Cook short pasta to al denté and rinse. Just about any style of short pasta works well with this salad and adds bites of sweet berries with every forkful of pasta. Cook the pasta 1-2 minutes less than the package directions so it is tender but still retains a bit of bite. I don’t usually drain my pasta (the gluten helps tomato sauces stick to the noodles) but I do rinse for pasta salads like this one so it doesn’t get sticky.
Should cherry tomatoes be cut for this salad? Yes! Because the more the merrier, and you’ll avoid exploding cherry tomato bombs as well. Slice the cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls in half to make more for each bite.
Don’t skimp on the fresh basil. An abundance of fresh slivered basil gives this pasta salad a bite of fresh flavor in every forkful.
How to Make the Balsamic Dressing
Start with the best fruity olive oil you can afford. When it comes to sautéeing, lower-priced olive oil is fine, but for finishing a dish and salad dressings I always use the best extra virgin olive oils that won’t break the bank. For dressings, I prefer a light and bright extra virgin olive oil with fruity notes.
Golden balsamic vinegar: What’s the difference? This balsamic dressing is slightly different from my go-to balsamic vinaigrette recipe. I use golden balsamic vinegar here because it’s slightly sweeter than regular balsamic and has a less caramelized flavor. With its lighter color, it’s also better for this salad because it won’t add that brownish tinge. Rice wine vinegar can be substituted, or use regular balsamic vinegar if you don’t mind a bit of color.
Use a jam jar or a mason jar to mix the dressing. The simplest way to emulsify a salad dressing without any mess Is to simply shake it up. Or, go basic with a fork or small whisk to meld the flavors together.
One clove of garlic in this balsamic dressing is surprisingly plenty. Don’t underestimate the power of the clove. Just one clove of garlic flavors the pasta perfectly. Use a garlic press or finely mince the garlic so it spreads evenly into the salad.
The Best Type of Mozzarella for Caprese Pasta Salad
Use fresh mozzarella. Unlike blocks of mozzarella that are shredded for pizzas or layered in lasagna, fresh mozzarella in water (and drained) is best in this recipe. Mozzarella balls tender bite and mellow flavor is a caprese classic. I slice ciliengine mozzarella balls in half so they go further. If you can find pearl size balls, the combination of both is a pretty display. If you can’t find containers of mozzarella, substitute diced fresh mozzarella in the log form instead.
Substitutes for fresh mozzarella. If mozzarella isn’t available, try a good quality chunky feta or goat cheese instead.
How to Make This Salad Ahead of Time
If making ahead of time, prep all of the ingredients and dressing up to 24 hours in advance, then compose the salad up to an hour or so before serving.
What to Serve With Caprese Pasta Salad
- Grilled Balsamic Chicken
- The Best BBQ Chicken
- Grilled Greek Chicken Kebabs
- Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri
- How to Make the Best Grilled Salmon
- The Best Garlic Burgers EVER
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
Caprese Pasta Salad
- 1 pound short pasta , such as fusilli, orrechiette, penne
- 16 ounces mozzarella balls , ciligiine or pearls
- 3 cups cherry tomatoes
- ½ cup slivered fresh basil
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 garlic clove , pressed or minced
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and season generously with kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook just until al dente. Drain in a colander and rinse lightly with cold water. Set aside to cool.
- While the pasta is cooking, drain the mozzarella balls then cut in half. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and add to a mixing bowl with the mozzarella balls. Add the cooled pasta and slivered basil.
- In a small bowl or mason jar with a lid, add the olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, garlic, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix well then drizzle over the pasta. Toss to coat and taste for seasoning. The salad is best after about 30 minutes and can be refrigerated for 3 days.
More Favorite Salad Ideas
- How to Make the Very BEST Potato Salad
- DIY Caprese Salad Bar
- Classic Macaroni Salad
- Mediterranean Orzo Salad
- Thai Quinoa Salad
- Kale Caesar Pasta Salad
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Oh so good, I used bow tie pasta. I made this for the first time for company, everyone loved it. Every bit was so flavorful. Definitely will make again.
Delish! I added some chopped cucumber and red onion. Such a fresh, yummy late summer salad, perfect for using up a bunch of the cherry tomatoes my garden is still producing.
Took this to a bbq and people could not stop raving about it. I know they weren’t just being nice because I overheard people I didn’t know asking each other “do you know who made the pasta salad?” Lol. So simple and perfect. I used white wine vinegar and drizzled the top with bottled balsamic glaze.
I’m glad everyone enjoyed!
Caprese is an absolute favorite flavor combination for me and this salad did not disappoint! I used Rotini and kale with dried basil leaves instead (because it’s what I had) and every single bite was delectable. Thank you so much for this simple, yet impactful, delightful dish!
Yay! So glad you liked it KJ, and that you made it work with what you have on hand. Thanks for the comment.
Delish, used small shells, a firmer mozzarella cubed small, and also added sweet corn. It was all the best of summer in one bowl
So glad you liked it Amanda! Small shells work great in this salad.