In its simplest form, Caprese is a side dish made of mozzarella cheese, sliced tomatoes, and fresh basil drizzled with olive oil. That’s it!
For this recipe, I wanted to extend the reach of those beautiful tomatoes and cheese without overcomplicating a recipe where the beauty lies partially in its ease to assemble.
To keep things simple, I only added pasta, minced raw garlic, salt, and pepper. We love garlic in our family, so I like this with five cloves, but feel free to add as much or as little as you’d like!
A Versatile Pasta Salad
I love this pasta salad because it’s so versatile. I can use it to serve my family dinner on a busy weeknight, pack it in my daughter’s lunch for summer camp, or bring it along as a side dish to a neighborhood potluck. It tastes lovely warm, cold, or at room temperature.
Tear the Basil and Mozzarella
If you have little ones who love to help in the kitchen or friends standing around before a party asking what they can do, put them to work tearing basil leaves and mozzarella.
I don’t bother with a knife to cut the basil because it’s easy to bruise, and the casual thrown together look of this salad is what makes it such a welcoming, easy summer dish.
I treat the mozzarella the same way. Slice the round ball then tear the slices into pieces and toss them in with the cooked pasta.
In Season Tomatoes Are Best
I’m the first person to say grocery store tomatoes have come a long way since the ‘80s, but still, nothing beats a fresh, ripe garden tomato. If you really want this dish to shine, wait to make it until tomatoes are in season.
This recipe calls for cherry tomatoes, but if you don’t have any or can’t find them, then go ahead and slice a large tomato as you would to top a hamburger, then cut it into half-moons or quarters.
How to Serve This Salad
Fresh basil and tomatoes are always best served straight away, but life is life, and sometimes you have to make salads ahead of time. If that’s what’s happening in your world, we’ve got you covered!
The oil will solidify once you store this salad in the refrigerator, and it will look weird and a little unappetizing. To make it presentation-worthy again, do the following:
- If you have leftovers you want to serve the next day: Just zap your refrigerated leftovers in the microwave for 30 seconds, and toss before you serve it for round two. That should be enough time to return the oil to a liquid state. If not, keep heating it gently, 15 seconds at a time.
- If you want to take this to a picnic or a potluck: Then make the whole thing a day ahead of time, but wait to add the mozzarella. Keep the salad in the fridge. Zap it in the microwave following the instructions above, then add the torn mozzarella just before leaving for your get together.
Try These Other Pasta Salad Recipes!
- Pesto Pasta Salad, anyone?
- Orzo is the cutest of all the pastas. Try it in this Cherry Tomato Orzo Salad.
- Greek Salad, but with pasta!
- Pasta Salad with Corn, Bacon and Buttermilk Ranch is a summertime favorite!
- Pasta and Bean Picnic Salad! No mayo needed!
Caprese Pasta Salad
- 1/2 pound small shaped pasta, such as orecchiette, farfalle, or campanelle
- 1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3 to 5 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound (3 cups) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 8 ounces mozzarella, torn
- 10 large fresh basil leaves, torn
Cook the pasta:
Bring a large pot of water to boil and add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions, or until the pasta reaches al dente stage. If the pasta is too soft or overcooked, it will break apart when mixed with the other ingredients.
Make the sauce:
In a large serving bowl, stir together the oil, minced garlic, pepper, and 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt.
Drain the pasta:
When the pasta is done, drain it into a colander and tap it a few times to make sure you get most of the water off the pasta. Add the pasta to the bowl with the olive oil. Stir to coat.
Bring it all together:
While the pasta is cooling, slice the mozzarella in rounds, then tear those rounds into smaller pieces about the size of a nickel or a quarter, though they will range in shape and size. Don’t worry if the pasta isn’t completely cool. Just toss it a couple of times before you add the cheese. Add the torn cheese to the pasta. Slice the tomatoes in half, and tear the basil leaves, adding each as you go.
Give everything a quick stir to coat it in the olive oil, and you’re done! Serve cold, warm, or at room temperature.