Caprese Pasta Salad with PestoJump To Recipe
- Serves: 6
The ultimate summer potluck dish, this caprese pasta salad is made with chunks of pearl mozzarella, juicy cherry tomatoes and tossed in a bright pesto sauce!
- Author: Yumna Jawad
Caprese Pasta Salad with Pesto
It’s not summer without a good pasta salad! I’ve got your covered with the Sundried Tomatoes Pasta Salad, Vegan Macaroni Salad and now this Caprese Pasta Salad. I wasn’t gonna leave you hanging at your summer cookout and all those potluck dinners without a feelgood pasta salad!
What’s Caprese? It’s basically a salad made with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. It’s usually common at Italian restaurants. Super basic in ingredients but super not-basic in flavor! In my caprese pasta salad, I used those common ingredients and basically tossed them with pasta and pesto sauce to really amplify that basil flavor. Does that scream summer or what?!
Steps to Make Caprese Pasta Salad
Pick your favorite pasta and cook it al dente. Why al dente? Because you want it to have a firm but tender bite without being too soft and potentially mushy with the sauce. I’m using orecchiette pasta because my kids get a kick out of learning all the different pasta shapes. And this was an important culinary lesson for them!
Next I quartered some grape tomatoes and drained the pearl mozzarella cheese from the liquid in the container it came in.
Next I make the pesto in a food processor. I throw all the ingredients in except for the olive oil. I like slowly drizzling that while the machine is running to help emulsify the sauce. That is key I found to getting the perfectly smooth consistent texture.
Green gorgeousness amiright?! It’s a mouthwatering fresh and bright homemade pesto that you can whip up in a couple minutes. (Goooooogly eyes all over thissssssssss….)
When I toss the pesto with the pasta I usually start with half the sauce and add as needed. There’s no harm in leftover pesto sauce. EVER.
Then I add in those tomatoes, mozzarella pearls and fresh and fragrant basil and I’m basically done with the caprese pasta salad! It’s fun to serve it deconstructed like this, or you can give it a good toss to incorporate everything well.
Tips for the Best Caprese Pasta Salad
- Use high quality ingredients. As much as possible, try using peak seasonal tomatoes, good quality mozzarella (the kind that is packed in water, not the kind that you can shred), fresh basil and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. That is really going to make a difference in bringing out the bright fresh flavor of this summer pasta salad.
- Cook pasta al dente. This will ensure that the pasta doesn’t get mushy when you toss it with the pesto and will give you the best results for storing this pasta for days and days!
- Rinse the pasta. I know this is not recommended for warm pasta dishes. But when it comes to pasta salads, rinsing with cold water helps stop the cooking process immediately. You can also toss it in olive oil, but sometimes that just adds unnecessary dressing (and calories)
- Add fresh basil leaves before serving. This will give this make-ahead pasta salad a fresh and bright taste.
Want to turn this into a full meal? Add some grilled chicken or grilled shrimp for a heartier pasta option that can serve as a complete meal.
I hope you love this feelgood caprese pasta salad. If you make it, please leave me a comment below telling me how you like it, or use hashtag #feelgoodfoodie on Instagram so I can see (and regram!) your recreations.
Caprese Pasta Salad
- 12 oz Orecchiette pasta
- 1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
- 8 oz small (pearlini) fresh mozzarella balls, drained
- Few leaves fresh basil, for garnish
Walnut Pesto Sauce
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1 large clove garlic, peeled
- 3 tablespoons walnuts
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil; cook the orecchiette pasta according to package instructions al dente; drain and rinse the pasta under cool water to prevent them from sticking to one another, and set aside.
- To prepare the pesto sauce, place the basil, garlic, walnuts and Parmesan cheese in the food processor; season with salt and pepper, to taste, and blend. While the food processor is on, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the mixture. Stop to scrape down the sides as necessary, and continue to mix until the pesto is well-blended and smooth.
- Toss the half of the pesto sauce (or more) with the cooked orecchiette pasta. Fold in the grape tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil.
- Serve cold or at room temperature.
- Mozzarella “pearls” are widely available at most grocery stores these days. If you have a hard time finding them, you can substitute with a standard mozzarella ball cut up into smaller chunks. Don’t substitute with shredded mozzarella because it won’t have the same effect.
- If you prefer not to use walnuts, you can substitute with pine nuts or almonds or almost any other nut.
- This pasta salad does not need to be chilled before serving, but chilling it doesn’t hurt.
- Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Store any leftover pesto sauce in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- You can make this salad up to 24 hours ahead of time. Just add the fresh basil leaves immediately before serving for best taste.