This Caprese Pasta Salad recipe is an easy to make side dish that goes well with a variety of dinners, especially pizza.
It’s a family friendly side salad that’s perfect on those busy nights when you only have the time and energy to heat up a frozen pizza in the oven.
This caprese pasta salad is made with sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, spicy salami, fresh basil, and tasty Italian vinaigrette!
What’s a caprese salad?
My family loves traditional caprese made with slices of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil with a drizzle of balsamic glaze. It’s usually served as an appetizer.
Our love of caprese is why we always grow basil and tomatoes in our garden every year.
In turn, I’ve taken our favorite caprese appetizer, added pasta, salami and Italian dressing, and turned it into a hearty side dish – a Caprese Pasta Salad!
Why I love this caprese pasta salad recipe
What I love about this caprese pasta salad recipe is that you can make it one of two ways.
The first way is to serve it as just a caprese pasta salad, which will appeal to your kids, believe me. (My son devoured it!)
After all, what kind of kid doesn’t love pasta, cheese, and salami?
For the adults, add some baby salad greens to this pasta caprese recipe to add a little date night sophistication. Then serve a slice or two of your favorite pizza on the side!
With or without baby greens, this tomato mozzarella pasta salad recipe is ideal for busy weeknight meals or for bringing to a potluck party.
Leftovers (if you have any) make a terrific lunch the next day, too.
Tips for making caprese pasta salad
If you’re not gluten free, use regular pasta, whole wheat pasta, or any type of pasta you like.
Pasta: Besides rotini, you can also use other varieties like Cavatappi or radiatore. You want a large, textured pasta that will hold the dressing.
After making the pasta, make sure that it cools before making the tomato and mozzarella pasta salad.
Mozzarella: To save time, buy fresh mozzarella that breaks apart in small chunks – if you can find it.
Otherwise, use presliced mozzarella rolls, which makes it easy to cut a few slices at a time into cubes.
Cutting the basil: Do you know the trick to julienne basil, i.e., cut it into thin strips?
- Stack several leaves of basil on a cutting board.
- Then roll the leaves up from the tip to the stems.
- Remove the stems and cut into thin strips with a very sharp knife.
Here’s a video that shows you how.
Pepperoni: You can find the deli sliced pepperoni in the refrigerated section.
This type of pepperoni seems fresher and of a better quality than the vacuum packed pepperoni stores sell for making homemade pizza.
Vinaigrette: Use your favorite bottled Italian style vinaigrette dressing.
It’s such a time saver using store bought dressing. Just make sure to check the label for anything you’re allergic to, like gluten.
Lettuce: If you’re adding lettuce to the Caprese Pasta Salad, add a few tablespoons more of the vinaigrette to the bowl.
If you’re adding lettuce, use prewashed baby greens. I feel the baby lettuces, especially the mixed variety with spinach, add terrific flavor to this Italian pasta salad recipe.
How to make a make ahead caprese pasta salad
With a little planning, you can save time when cooking up your recipe for caprese pasta salad. Here’s how:
The night before, make rotini pasta with spaghetti sauce for dinner. Cook up two boxes of rotini instead of one. (Use a large stock pot.)
Make sure to cook the pasta al dente so the pasta is not under cooked, but isn’t mushy either.
This is especially important if you’re using gluten free pasta, which can be tricky to cook. (Nothing worse than mushy gluten free pasta!)
You should also heavily salt the pasta water. Salting the water makes any type of pasta, especially gluten free pasta, so much tastier.
Then put aside half in the refrigerator for the next day’s caprese pasta salad recipe.
The next day, place the pasta in a colander and rinse with cold water to get it unstuck.
Make sure to shake the colander to remove any excess water.
Other easy side dishes
Pasta salads are terrific to bring to potlucks, barbecues, and picnics.
Caprese Pasta Salad Recipe
- 1 (12 ounce) box rotini pasta, cooked (about 5 cups)
- 1 (16 ounce) package fresh mozzarella, cubed
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
- 1/2 cup deli sliced pepperoni, quartered
- 2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil
- 1/2 cup Italian vinaigrette dressing (plus more if needed)
- Baby salad greens (optional)
- Cook pasta until it’s al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water. Set aside to cool.
- When pasta has cooled add mozzarella, tomatoes, pepperoni, basil, and dressing. Toss the caprese pasta salad gently to combine.
- If desired, add several handfuls of baby greens to the caprese pasta salad. Add 2-3 tablespoons of dressing. Toss to combine.
- Serving size: 1/6 of recipe
Originally published on September 8, 2016. Updated with new information and pictures.