Caprese Pesto Pasta Salad is the perfect side dish for summer entertaining! Fresh, earthy pesto and chopped basil tossed with gluten-free pasta, fresh tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. This pasta salad will be your go-to side all summer long.
I don’t eat pasta very often anymore, but in the summer, pasta salad is a must! And not just any pasta salad; Caprese Pesto Pasta Salad. It’s SO worth it. This Caprese Pesto Pasta Salad is perfect for summer potlucks, backyard parties, and easy lunches when you need something quick – esp in the summer when life gets busy and things aren’t as planned as usual.
Check it. You’ve got creamy pesto that you’ve either made yourself in advance, or bought from the grocery, mozzarella balls the same size as a cherry tomato (ciliegine), fresh basil, summer tomatoes and pasta. I mean, but what’s not to love?
Should I make this pasta salad recipe in advance?
Yes. Whether this Caprese Pasta Salad with Pesto is for a party or cookout, lunch for the week or office potluck, the longer these flavors marry together, the better this pasta salad recipe will be.
This is a cold pasta salad recipe that I suggest serving at room temperature or slightly chilled. If you’re making this Pesto Pasta Salad for a gathering, I would suggest making it a day in advance, and removing from your refrigerator about 30-minutes before you plan to serve. Right before serving, add a tablespoon of olive oil and mix well.
I love to make a batch of dairy-free Roasted Garlic Pistachio Pesto a day before I make this pasta salad. But it’s summer and we’re too busy living it up, so if you’d rather buy a jar of store-bought pesto, that will work as well.
What kind of mozzarella to use
Caprese Salad is made with fresh mozzarella cheese. Fresh mozzarella is soft and easy to tear. Its flavor is pretty close to ricotta cheese, but the texture is different.
For this Caprese Pesto Pasta Salad, you can use any fresh mozzarella you like. You can tear or slice a fresh mozzarella ball, or use ciliegine, also known as cherry mozzarella or bocconcini. Sometimes I’ll see smaller balls of mozzarella called, pearls. These will all work for this caprese pasta salad recipe.
What kind of pasta to use
I highly recommend dried pasta instead of fresh – not that I have ever made fresh pasta, but I have bought fresh pasta and it is wonderful, though it won’t hold up to the heartiness that is a summer pasta salad.
Short pasta shapes, like fusilli, farfalle, penne or orecchiette are the way to go when making a summer pasta salad. Their small bite-sized shapes make them easy to serve and eat, and their little folds and ridges mean that pesto goodness will get soaked up in between. For this recipe, I used gluten-free penne pasta. Please use gluten-free if you like, but don’t feel like you must. You do you.
I kept this pasta salad easy with just five ingredients. But if you’re feeling festive, you could add chopped artichokes, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers and/or a drizzle balsamic glaze. This quick + easy Caprese Pesto Pasta Salad is ready to chill out in the fridge in under 30-minutes!
other summer sides to make:
- classic creamy coleslaw
- strawberry spring mix salad with goat cheese
- mom’s potato salad
- classic deviled eggs in the instant pot
Caprese Pesto Pasta Salad
- 1 lb. penne pasta (or farfalle, orecchiette, etc) - gluten-free, optional
- 1 cup pesto - homemade or store bought
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella - ciliegine, bocconcini, pearls, etc
- 1 1/2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup fresh basil, torn or finely chopped - chiffonade
- 1 tablespoon olive oil - optional
- To a large pot, boil water and cook pasta according to package directions.
- To a large mixing bowl, combine cooked pasta, pesto, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. Mix well and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, up to overnight.
- Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving, drizzle in 1 tablespoon olive oil and mix well. Serve and enjoy
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