I love how FAST and easy this Caprese Pasta Salad recipe is! Packed with sweet tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella, this 20-minute vegetarian pasta is coated in a light and creamy balsamic and olive oil dressing. This is the perfect recipe for summer!
The combination of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil is one of my favorite things to eat in the world. Often times, I’ll just have a dinner of Caprese salad, drizzled in generous amounts of extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper, with crusty bread to mop up the extra. God bless the Italians for coming up with such a perfect, simple flavor combination.
Caprese screams summertime to me. It’s when tomatoes are at their prime, and when basil grows out of control (I have SO much right now in my garden). It also takes me back to two summers that I spent in Italy when I was in grad school- I would have Caprese salad, sandwiches, or pizza at least once every two days when I was there.
Not only is the flavor of Caprese salad always refreshing and wonderful, but it is SO easy to make. This Caprese pasta salad is no different.
The whole recipe only takes 20 MINUTES, and uses only six main ingredients!
The creamy balsamic dressing is a simple mixture of a little bit of mayonnaise, some balsamic vinegar, and extra-virgin olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. Just whisk these ingredients together in a large bowl.
I’ve used both a high-quality, aged balsamic vinegar for this, and a less expensive version as well. I actually liked the less expensive one better, since it had more of a pungent, tangy, vinegar-ey taste that paired well with the sweet tomatoes and creamy mayo. Aged balsamic is DELICIOUS (drizzled on strawberries, for example), but I thought it was a bit too sweet for this pasta salad.
The dressing can be made while the pasta cooks. You can also prep the tomatoes (just cut them in half), the mozzarella (cut into cubes), and basil (cut chiffonade into ribbons) while it cooks.
Chiffonade. It sounds fancy, but it isn’t. I promise. It’s a super easy way of creating thin ribbons. Just stack the leaves on top of each other, then roll into a cigar shape. Then, slice thinly with a knife. Stacking and rolling makes it super easy for your knife to glide right through each layer, creating beautiful thin ribbons. Here’s a great tutorial.
Once the pasta is cooked, rinse it under cold water in a colander until it’s completely cooled. Then, shake any excess water off as best you can. If the pasta is hot or warm when you add it to the dressing, it will absorb a lot of it, causing the pasta salad to dry up. If there’s too much extra water, it will make the dressing too soupy.
Then, just add the pasta, along with the tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil to the bowl with the dressing and toss to coat. That’s it!
Told you it was easy.
Finally, I recommend drizzling a little bit of extra balsamic vinegar and olive oil on top right before serving, along with some fresh cracked black pepper. My go-to high quality olive oil that you can get at most grocery stores is California Olive Ranch Extra-Virgin.
One more thing: you can make this Caprese Pasta Salad in advance, but it will get a bit watery because the salt will draw the liquid out of the tomatoes. And, the basil will get soggy.
I suggest mixing everything except the tomatoes and basil, then adding them in right before serving if you make it in advance. You can do this up to 24 hours before serving, and since it’s a pasta salad and served cold, it’s the perfect thing to make ahead of time!
For a heartier meal, I recommend adding some grilled chicken to the pasta salad. You may also be interested in this Italian tortellini salad with chicken.
Here’s the printable recipe. Enjoy!
Caprese Pasta Salad with Creamy Balsamic Dressing
- 8 oz. rotini pasta or other shape
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cut into cubes
- 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes halved
- 1/4 cup fresh basil cut into thin ribbons (chiffonade)
- kosher salt to taste
- black pepper to taste
- Extra balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and black pepper for serving (optional)
- Cook pasta according to directions in salted water. Drain and rinse under cold water until completely cooled. Shake off as much excess water as possible.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise (2 tablespoons), balsamic vinegar (2 tablespoons), olive oil (1/4 cup), and kosher salt and black pepper to taste.
- Add the drained and cooled pasta, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil to the bowl with the dressing. Stir to coat.
- Drizzle with more olive oil and balsamic and top with fresh cracked pepper before serving, if desired.
- Make ahead instructions: This pasta salad can be made in advance up to 24 hours, however, the salt will draw out some of the liquid from the tomatoes, making it a bit more watery, and make the basil a little soggy. If you make it in advance, I suggest adding the tomatoes and basil just before serving.
- Make it a meal: For a heartier meal, add grilled chicken to the pasta salad, or chickpeas for a vegetarian option.
- The provided nutrition information does not include any added sodium from seasoning to taste, any optional ingredients, and it does not take brands into account. Feel free to calculate it yourself using this calculator or by adding the recipe to Yummly.