Pesto caprese pasta salad takes all those classic caprese flavours and blends them into a substantial side dish. This salad is flavourful enough to be serve on it’s own too or just toss in a little grilled chicken for a lunch you can prep ahead of time.
Serve this salad up for your next BBQ with this asparagus, rocket and parmesan salad to cover all the bases.
Why you’ll love it
If there is one pasta salad you’ll want to make on repeat, it’s this pesto Caprese pasta salad. It’s quick, incredibly easy and insanely delicious. Perfect for summer BBQ’s, a picnic or potluck or just a make-ahead salad.
Tossing together classic Italian flavours like tomato, mozzarella and basil with the all-Italian carb, pasta, may just have been my best salad move yet. Loaded with flavour this salad is kind of enigmatic, being big enough to eat as a meal but also light enough to have as a side.
It’s also great to make ahead for weekday lunches as it takes little time to make but is very satisfying. Served alongside simple grilled meats, suits this salad perfectly but why not chop up some cooked chicken for a full meal in one dish. So easy.
What is caprese salad? Originating on the island of Capri, a classic caprese salad is a much-loved Italian salad of mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and basil leaves, served drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar. That’s it, simple fresh flavours that the Italians do so well.
So, this salad is different in that it has pasta and pesto added. The pesto is my homemade basil pesto (which I promise is ridiculously easy) but you can certainly buy a good-quality pre-made version. Toss it all together with a little white balsamic for zing and you have one wonderful salad.
Ingredients for caprese pasta salad
Detailed quantities and instructions in the recipe card below.
- Pasta: Use a short pasta. Fusilli and rotini pasta are my faves because they hold onto all that pesto sauce, but penne, elbows and macaroni work too.
- Bocconcini: To keep it really simple, I use baby bocconcini (mini mozzarella balls or mozzarella pearls) and just chop them in half but feel free to get a ball of fresh mozzarella cheese and cut it into small pieces. Or even tear up some burrata into small pieces for extra luxury.
- Tomatoes: Again, I use grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes to cut down on chopping and plus they look so pretty but if you have a whole bunch of regular tomatoes on hand, feel free to chop those up.
- Basil pesto: Please, please, please make your own. You’ll be so happy you did because it tastes so good and, well, satisfaction. But if you know a good store-bought jar version that you love, it will certainly work. Made with fresh basil, parmesan, olive oil, pine nuts and garlic (sometimes lemon) pesto is a robust flavoured condiment.
- White balsamic vinegar: With it’s light zingy and almost floral flavour, white balsamic works perfectly here but you can use regular “dark” balsamic vinegar if you prefer.
- Pine nuts: I love a crunch in a salad and toasted pine nuts give both that crunch plus a delicious nuttiness that this caprese pasta salad definitely benefits from.
- Salt and pepper: Add salt and pepper to taste. Different pestos will have differing amounts of salt so while I suggest an amount, it’s also good to check your pesto first and add salt as required.
What’s is white balsamic vinegar?
Often when we think of balsamic vinegar, we think of the most well known dark balsamic vinegar. So what’s the difference between white balsamic vinegar and balsamic vinegar. There are a number of differences actually.
While both made from white grapes, white balsamic is normally pressure cooked and aged for 1-12 years. The more popular dark-coloured balsamic vinegar is simmered for lengthy periods until it caramelises and gets thick and syrupy. The caramelisation gives it a much sweeter and bolder flavour.
While you can use either for this salad, the white version has a lightness to it that allows everything else to shine and also doesn’t discolour the salad.
Tools you’ll need
- A large saucepan for cooking the pasta.
- A nice big bowl for mixing.
- A big serving platter.
How to make pesto caprese pasta salad
Detailed quantities and instructions in the recipe card below.
- Cook the pasta: Cook your pasta according to the packets instructions but makes sure you don’t overcook it and make it mushy. Also, make sure the water is well salted. Bring the water to the boil first, then add the pasta.
- Make the pesto: If you are making your pesto from scratch, you’ve just made my day – you’ll love it. It only takes about 5 minutes so you can do that while the pasta is cooking.
- Chop the ingredients: Cut the cherry tomatoes and baby bocconcini into small pieces (small enough that you can get a bit of everything in one bite).
- Assemble: First, in a large bowl, combine the cooled pasta, pesto, vinegar, half the salt and the pepper. Mix it up and give it a taste for seasoning. Now add the tomatoes, bocconcini, pine nuts and basil leaves plus the remaining salt if you feel it needs it. Mix it all up.
You can serve this immediately or chill until required. It can be served at room temperature or cold. It’s also nice heated up, the boccocini may begin to melt into it and, if you add some chicken, it’s a super satisfying dinner.
Tips and variations
I’m all about options. While some ingredients I would not swap, you may not be able to get everything or trying to work with what you have on hand. I truly believe cooking is all about having a good base recipe, then having the space to adjust and create to your needs and likes.
- Mozzarella: Make sure to use fresh mozzarella (the type stored in containers in brine). It’s tender and has a very mild flavour and is the authentic style for a caprese salad. You can use any from the large ball, to burrata to bocconcini but the block style just won’t be the same.
- Check the salt: The saltiness of this salad will depend on a number of things, including how much salt you added to the pasta water, whether you rinsed the pasta and the saltiness of your pesto. Don’t add all the salt until you’ve tasted it.
- Vinegar: If you can’t find white balsamic vinegar (known sometimes as golden balsamic vinegar) you can swap it for rice wine vinegar or regular balsamic vinegar. Remember, the regular balsamic will add a tinge of brown.
- Tomatoes: I love cherry tomatoes because they’re sweet and cute and actually, the perfect size in this salad where you want a bit of everything in one bite. However, if you’re in the midst of summer and have beautiful vine-ripened tomatoes on hand you can use those cut into small pieces.
- Pesto: While it wouldn’t be caprese, this salad is also amazing with a sundried tomato pesto.
- Pine nuts: Don’t have or can’t get pine nuts? You can certainly just leave nuts out altogether, but you could replace them with chopped almonds too.
- Gluten free: If you’d like to make this salad gluten-free, make sure to use gluten free pasta and double check the ingredients label if buying your pesto.
Store this salad, in an airtight container for 3-4 days in the fridge. As a salad, it does not freeze well
Delicious dinner alert! However, if you have loads left, freeze it in a foil container, maybe add a little more cheese and a little cooked chicken, then when you feel like a delicious easy dinner, whack it in a preheated (180C / 350F) oven for 45-1 hour depending on it’s size until hot in the centre and gooey.
More salad recipes you’ll love
- Creamy cucumber salad
- Simple potato salad
- Spiced roast sweet potato salad
- Roasted beetroot feta salad
- Warm potato and asparagus salad
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Pesto Caprese Pasta Salad
- 3 cups dried pasta, like fusilli, rotini or penne (250g / 8.8oz)
- ½ cup basil pesto, preferably homemade
- 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar (notes 1)
- ¼ teaspoon salt or to taste (notes 2)
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 250 g baby bocconcini, halved (baby mozzarella balls / mozzarella pearls) (8.8oz)
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (notes 1)
- ½ cup, not packed fresh basil leaves (small or roughly chopped)
- Bring a large saucepan half filled with water to a boil. Add enough salt to the water to make it taste salty. Add the pasta and cook 8-10 minutes (check the packet for recommended cooking time) until al dente.
- Drain the pasta and let it cool to at least room temperature before proceeding – you can give it a rinse under cold water to speed it up.
- In a large mixing bowl, add the pasta, pesto, balsamic, half the salt and pepper. Mix well.
- Add the tomatoes, bocconcini and pine nuts and mix well.
- Taste and add more salt if you like.
- Chill, then serve adding some fresh basil leaves over the top.
- Please take a moment to rate this recipe. I helps me to keep creating free recipes and helps other readers too.
- Tablespoons: I use a standard Australian 20ml tablespoon (equal to 4 teaspoons)
- Check how salty your pesto and cooked pasta are before adding the salt. The saltiness of the salad will depend on how much or little salt you add to your pasta water, whether you rinse your pasta or not, and how salty the pesto is.
- Can be served at room temperature or cold.
- If you can’t find toasted pine nuts, just toast them in a dry saucepan over medium heat, tossing them often until they start turning golden. Keep an eye on them as they can burn quickly.
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