Regular caprese salad is one of the most famous exports from the beautiful and charming island of Capri, off the coast of Naples in Italy. It has found its way into restaurants and homes all across the world. So, for this easy pasta salad recipe we wanted to use the caprese salad as a jumping off point to create the best pasta salad that is sure to get 5 stars from your family and friends!
Perfect for a summer picnic or barbecue, our Caprese pasta salad recipe is colorful and flavorful and super easy to make, with just pasta, cheese and veggies and a little salad dressing. Keep reading for our tips and tricks on making this delicious vegetarian pasta salad recipe. The best part is, we have also included tons of optional ingredients you can include to customize this dish for your family.
What you need to make this classic pasta salad
Not only is this great recipe easy to make, the clean up is even faster as you barely need any kitchen utensils or equipment to whip up one of the best cold pasta salads that can feed plenty of hungry bellies. Below you will find the equipment needed to make the homemade version of this simple pasta salad.
a large pot for boiling water
a large Tupperware or other airtight container for storing
Farfalle pasta (1 lb) – a short pasta that is the shape of a butterfly, this pasta is cute and looks great in a pasta salad. Other short pastas like macaroni, strozzapreti, penne. Follow the package directions for al dente pasta minus 2 minutes so that your pasta stays intact when mixed with the other ingredients.
Heirloom cherry tomatoes(12 oz) – although the recipe is great with cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes can work well too and have a nice flavor. If you want a pop of color, consider using the multi-colored small sweet tomatoes that come in yellow and orange besides the classic red. You will need to halve or quarter them to make sure they are bite sized pieces for the salad.
Fresh mozzarella cheese(8 oz)– we prefer the flavor of fresh mozzarella, but you will want to chop it up into 1/2 inch pieces and lay it on paper towels or in a drainer to remove the excess liquid so the finished cold pasta salad isn’t watery. If you prefer, you can use provolone or other white mild Italian cheese instead.
Black olives(6 oz) – we love pitted black olives and in our house they are always a huge hit. You can put them in whole (just make sure they are pitted!) or cut them in half or in rings, whatever you prefer.
Basil (a large bunch) – fresh basil is one of the best aromas around, and will fill your kitchen with the smell of summer. You should tear the basil into small pieces instead of chopping it to avoid it turning black. If you don’t have basil, you can substitute with dried oregano, but just use a little as the flavor is strong and will overpower the dish if you use too much
Extra virgin olive oil – you will really taste the olive oil in this, so this is a recipe when you want to use your most expensive and flavorful oil.
Balsamic vinegar and white balsamic vinegar – the rich flavor of balsamic vinegar is wonderful in this dish, but if you aren’t a fan you can certainly leave it out. If you don’t want your salad to have a brownish color because of the balsamic vinegar you can use white balsamic vinegar only or red wine vinegar. If you do choose to use red wine vinegar, use half the amount as the flavor is very strong.
Salt and pepper – you’ll need a pinch of each to flavor this delicious pasta salad, we love freshly ground black pepper for this recipe.
Marinated artichoke hearts – a 6-oz jar of marinated artichoke hearts is a great addition if you are looking to add more vegetables. Drain the artichoke hearts and chop them before adding.
Fire-roasted bell peppers – a 6-oz jar of pepper, drained and chopped into bite sized pieces bring great Italian flavor to this recipe. Even fresh bell pepper sliced thin can be a flavor explosion if this is one of the vegetables your family loves.
Fresh green beans – if you want to add a veggie to this cold pasta salad, consider blanching 1/2 pound of green beans and cutting them into 1-inch pieces.
Red onion – consider adding a thinly sliced small red onion to this dish.
Italian ham – this can be added if you want a more filling dish. Slice the prosciutto cotto (cooked Italian ham) into 1/2-inch pieces and mix in the salad.
Italian tuna – obviously not something you want to add if you already added a lot of the other extra ingredients, and we would only recommend adding tuna if you are not adding cheese as the two don’t go together very well. It is a good alternative for lactose-intolerant folks.
How to make caprese pasta salad step by step
Fill a large pot of water and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, add salt and the pasta noodles and cook pasta for 2 minutes less than the time indicated on the package directions for al dente.
Using a colander in the sink, drain the pasta and run cold water over it. Now coat it with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, toss and cover with plastic wrap, and then set aside to let cool the rest of the way.
While the pasta cooks, in a bowl combine all the ingredients for the vinaigrette salad dressing and whisk together. Adjust the salt if necessary and set aside. photos 1 – 3
In a large bowl or Tupperware, make pasta salad by mixing the fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, olives and basil and then adding the tangy Italian dressing. Cover with the tupperware lid or plastic wrap and leave to marinate for 10 minutes in the refrigerator.
Before serving, remove from the refrigerator for 1 hour to bring to room temperature. Toss all of the ingredients and serve.
Expert Tips to Make the Best Italian Pasta Salad Recipe
Don’t cook the pasta for too long: Especially if you don’t use an imported Italian pasta, it can overcook very easily. Also be sure to read the package instruction for al dente cooking time.
Shock the pasta in cold water for best results. Rinse the cooked pasta under cold water once you have drained it in the colander. Only add the pasta to the rest of the ingredients after it has completely cold so it doesn’t alter the texture or taste of the other ingredients by heating them.
Keep your pasta salad in the fridge: Keeping your pasta salad in the fridge before serving it will make sure all the ingredients are at the same cold temperature and that they have fully marinated in the pasta salad dressing and it will result in a more delicious and flavorful dish!
Use your creativity: You can easily add new ingredients and a different dressing, even a bottled dressing if that is your preference. Just make sure to mix everything together well and let it rest in the fridge before serving your Italian pasta salad!
Plenty of variations to try!
Like every island, the cuisine from Capri uses what is fresh and grown or caught in the area. So the staples of most Caprese recipes are tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh fish, fresh herbs and olive oil. But this dish is great with lots of other additions, we love adding black olives, sun dried tomatoes, chick peas, green beans, roasted peppers or red bell peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, Italian ham, Italian tuna, feta cheese, other veggies or flavorful extras that you can think of will be great! The only limit is your imagination and making a combination that works well together.
What’s more, this pasta salad is great during the summer because it only takes a few minutes to make and it can be transported to the beach or any of your summer parties, and is sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Can I make the pasta salad ahead of time?
This pasta salad is also an excellent make-ahead dish, as leaving it in the fridge will allow the flavors to more fully meld together. It is best when served at room temperature, so you don’t have to worry about keeping it in the fridge if you are at a picnic.
How long can I store this pasta salad recipe?
Not only can you make this pasta salad ahead, you can also store this absolutely delicious dish in an airtight container for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.
Can I use canned green beans?
Green beans are an optional for this dish and although canned olives or artichoke hearts work great, we do not recommend canned green beans for this dish. Instead, we highly recommend that you use fresh green beans for the best texture and flavor and resort to using frozen green beans if that is your only option.
Caprese Pasta Salad
Pasta salad recipes are all about freshness, flavor combinations, and vivid colors. In this easy pasta salad recipe, we use ingredients that are imported from Italy like fresh mozzarella cheese, black olives, extra virgin olive oil and also give lots of options for additions you can make depending on what you and your family love.