This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
This Caprese pasta salad is filled with ripe grape tomatoes, fresh basil, and cool mozzarella tossed in a pesto vinaigrette and drizzled with a tangy balsamic glaze. It combines your favorite flavors of a fresh, summertime tomato mozzarella salad with the familiar backyard BBQ pasta salad.
You Will Love This
- It's SO quick and easy! No fancy kitchen gadgets or cooking skills required for this recipe. If you can boil water, you can make this pasta salad!
- It's a simple recipe with real ingredients! Just a handful of REAL ingredients is all it takes to throw this Caprese pasta salad together. Use whatever ripe, juicy tomatoes are in season (or sun-dried tomatoes when they're not) and your favorite fresh mozzarella.
- It has two dressings! There's a super tasty (and easy to make) basil pesto vinaigrette AND a balsamic reduction. Sometimes more is less, but in this case, more is better - trust me! There are some delicious options for a store-bought balsamic glaze, but if you've got the time try your hand at a homemade balsamic reduction. You literally just cook balsamic vinegar down in a saucepan until it reduces and becomes thick.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Rotini Pasta - Feel free to sub whatever kind of short cut noodles you like or have on hand.
- Olive Oil - Preferably an organic, cold-pressed olive oil. This is the base for a cold dressing, so we want the good stuff!
- Basil Pesto - A good, store-bought pesto is fine, but, if you have time, making homemade, fresh pesto will give this the very best flavor. It takes literally minutes to blend it up, and you can adjust the garlic and Parmesan to suit your personal taste.
- Balsamic Vinegar - The inexpensive balsamic vinegar on most grocery store shelves can work fine, but if you really want some deep, rich flavor, look for a traditional, aged balsamic. If the primary ingredient is “grape must,” you’re in business.
- Fresh Mozzarella - If you can't find cherry size mozzarella balls (also called Ciliegine) or mozzarella pearls, you can also use a large ball of mozzarella or a log—just tear it into bite-size pieces.
- Grape Tomatoes - You can substitute cherry tomatoes, if you can’t find grape tomatoes, but remember that cherry tomatoes aren’t as meaty. A better substitute might be cubing a fleshy, full-sized tomato such as a beefsteak.
- Fresh Basil - Fresh basil is key to a fresh Caprese flavor. If you buy cut basil a day or two ahead of time, put the stems in water (like a fragrant bouquet) and keep it at room temperature. The leaves can brown in the fridge.
- Balsamic Reduction - You can buy a balsamic reduction, but making your own is easy. Just bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil on the stove, and let it simmer until it’s reduced by about 75% and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Add pasta, tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil to a large serving bowl. Reserve a tablespoon or so of the basil for garnish.
Pour dressing over pasta salad and toss to coat evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Drizzle Caprese pasta salad with balsamic glaze and garnish with fresh a bit more fresh basil.
- Salt your pasta water. Your pasta water should be as salty as the sea. Salting the pasta water is the first chance you have to season the pasta and is the best time to bring out all the flavors of your delicious noodles. Once you start salting your pasta, you will never stop!
- Cook pasta just until al dente. There's nothing worse than soggy noodles in a pasta salad. The noodles will continue to soak up a bit of the dressing as it sits, so cooking the noodles just until al dente will ensure that they don't end up mushy.
- Save some dressing to mix in at the last minute. Tossing the salad in about a quarter-cup of vinaigrette just before serving will give it a bright, fresh feel and flavor.
A well-balanced Caprese salad, made with high-quality ingredients, is not an unhealthy meal option. Mozzarella is a great source of calcium, tomatoes are rich in antioxidants, fresh basil aids in digestion and absorption of nutrients, and olive oil is one of the healthiest fats you could include in your diet. I steer away from words like healthy and unhealthy though; all foods should be enjoyed in moderation!
Caprese salad is named after Capri - the Italian island in the Bay of Naples - where it originated.
Caprese salad is served at room temperature and this Caprese pasta salad taste best at room temperature as well! If you're not serving the salad immediately, it can be made in advance and refrigerated. When you're ready to serve let it sit out on the counter for 5-10 minutes to come to room temperature. This will boost the flavors of the ingredients!
Favorite Pasta Salads
- Mexican Street Corn Pasta Salad
- Antipasto Tortellini Salad
- Sun-Dried Tomato Bowtie Salad
- Caesar Kale Pasta Salad
- Pesto Tortellini Pasta Salad