This make-ahead Caprese Pasta Salad recipe is filled with fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, and perfectly al dente pasta. It’s the perfect thing to serve on a warm day.
Caprese most often refers to a salad composed of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, and basil. (Get our Caprese Salad recipe at our sister site, theCOOKFUL.) But you can take those delicious flavors and translate them into other dishes like this pasta salad or even, grilled cheese. Fun fact: it’s said the salad was created to celebrate the colors of the Italian flag – red, white, and green!
Caprese Pasta Salad
I love this dish because it stretches the somewhat pricey ingredients of a Caprese salad into a hearty side dish that goes with just about everything you’d want to serve at a BBQ or picnic. If you love classic Caprese salad, you’re going to love it on top of pasta.
You chop the tomatoes while the pasta is cooking and mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper in with the tomatoes. I like to use ditalini pasta which is shaped like short tubes (the name means “little thimbles”!) but macaroni or any small pasta shape will do. Then, add the drained pasta to the tomatoes while still hot. This helps not only to soften the tomatoes, but the hot pasta will soak up all the flavors.
Let the pasta salad cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least an hour. Then, when you’re ready to serve, mix in the fresh parsley and basil as well as more lemon juice and olive oil. Top with sliced mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil and you’ve got a fantastic side dish for any meal.
Make it Ahead
What I love about his recipe is that it can mostly be made ahead of time. You can do the first five steps and then keep it resting in the fridge for up to 24 hours.
If you make it ahead of time, the noodles may soak up all the dressing. Before you add the mozzarella, give everything a stir, and then taste. Add more olive oil and lemon juice if needed. I love the dressing because it’s so simple. I always have a few lemons and olive oil laying around, so all I really need to do is pick out some beautiful tomatoes and creamy mozzarella. If you have a bunch of basil in the garden, this is a great dish to use it up with.Print
This make-ahead Caprese pasta salad recipe is filled with fresh mozzarella, tomato, basil, and perfectly al dente pasta. It’s the perfect thing to serve on a warm day.
- 1 lb. Ditalini Pasta (or another small shape like elbow macaroni or bow ties)
- 3 medium tomatoes
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, divided (and maybe a bit more to taste)
- 5 Tbsp. olive oil, divided (and probably a bit more to taste)
- Kosher salt
- Coarse black pepper
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil, plus a few extra leaves for garnish
- ¾ lb. fresh mozzarella
- Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta.
- While the pasta cooks, roughly chop the tomatoes. Transfer the tomatoes, along with any juices that accumulated while chopping, into a large mixing bowl.
- Add 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and ½ teaspoon of coarse black pepper. Stir.
- Add the hot drained pasta to the tomatoes. Stir to combine. (Why add the pasta while it’s hot? It will immediately start sucking up the flavors you added to the bowl while also slightly cooking and softening the tomatoes, which will cause them to release more of their juices into the pasta.)
- Allow the pasta salad to cool to room temperature on the counter. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours or for as little as 1 hour.
- Fifteen minutes before serving, remove the pasta from the fridge.
- Add the parsley, basil, the other tablespoon of lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
- Stir. Taste. Add more salt and pepper to enhance flavors if required. Add another tablespoon or two of olive oil for moisture if required. Add another teaspoon or two of lemon juice for a bit of tang and brightness if required. (I wish I could be more specific about the amounts here but it all has to do with how much liquid the pasta has sucked up, which depends on many things including how long it all rested together before being served. Just taste and trust your instincts.).
- Slice the mozzarella cylinder in half lengthwise and then cut each cylinder into ¼ inch slices. Layer the mozzarella slices over the pasta salad.
- Drizzle the mozzarella with the final tablespoon of olive oil before enjoying it with friends.
This post was published in July 2012 and was updated August 2020.