The perfect Italian summer dish is a delicious Caprese Pasta Salad with tomato, mozzarella, and fresh basil. Even better if the pasta is coated in creamy Basil Pesto sauce! This dish is the perfect summer recipe to eat with your friends or family and it's fantastic either warm or cold!
Every single summer, in every Italian household, a cold pasta salad with tomatoes and mozzarella is served at least once, sometimes twice, sometimes every week.
If I have to say a classic Italian dish that reminds me of summer, this tomato and mozzarella pasta salad would be it. In my childhood, during summer, whenever we had a birthday party, a day on the beach, or a picnic, this Caprese pasta salad was ALWAYS there. Always.
Because it's simple, it's fresh, and it's absolutely delicious.
Most often, it's simply served with olive oil, tomatoes, mozzarella chunks, and fresh basil. But I love to mix the pasta with delicious fresh basil pesto sauce, which pairs perfectly with all the ingredients.
What does Caprese mean?
Caprese literally means "from Capri". Capri is a gorgeous tiny island near Naples, where I spent several summers in my teenage years.
Caprese salad was born on this tiny island, it's simply slices of ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese served on a plate and drizzled with olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and fresh basil leaves.
Simple. But on hot summer days, after a day on the beach, this simple salad becomes the most amazing dish. Especially with high-quality ingredients that are typical from the southern regions of Italy.
Try also this easy and delicious Caprese Bruschetta for a quick lunch or appetizer.
- Pasta: For a cold pasta salad is always best to use short-cut pasta, like penne, fusilli, farfalle, etc.
- Tomatoes: I like to use cherry tomatoes because they're more flavorful, but you can also use beefsteak tomatoes, vine tomatoes, or similar.
- Mozzarella: Look for a good quality Italian fresh Mozzarella (also called Fiordilatte). It should be submerged in its own water, as a sign of freshness and best consistency.
- Pesto: Use your favorite jarred basil pesto or make your own pesto from scratch!
This dish is very popular in Italy in summer because it's very easy and quick. You only need to cook the pasta, then everything is assembled and done in 15 minutes.
Cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water, following the cooking directions. Drain it when it's al dente, then cool it down immediately under cold water until the pasta becomes completely cold. This way it will stop cooking and stay al dente for many hours.
Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes and mozzarella into small pieces, then add them to a bowl and season with olive oil and salt.
Add the cooled pasta to the bowl with tomatoes and mozzarella. Then add the basil pesto.
Season to taste with salt, chili oil, or olive oil. Mix well and store covered in the fridge until it's ready to be served.
How to make Homemade Pesto
Authentic basil pesto should be made with mortar and pestle and lots of energy. But nowadays some modern tricks are acceptable to make it much easier and faster. Simply add the garlic, fresh basil leaves, Parmigiano cheese, and pine nuts to a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are finely minced.
Slowly add good quality extra-virgin olive oil and turn to medium/low speed until you get creamy, not too liquidy, sauce. You can add more Parmigiano if you like it more cheesy. Season with salt to taste and serve immediately.
You can store it in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days, the basil may oxidate and change color but the taste will still be good.
Check the full and complete recipe for Homemade Basil Pesto from scratch.
FAQ & Tips
Yes! It's actually recommended to make it in advance so the ingredients will infuse the pasta with flavor. Make it the day ahead of at least a few hours ahead and store it covered in the fridge. Take out of the fridge 15 to 30 minutes before serving.
There are many types of pesto available both jarred in grocery stores and in form of recipes. Try this recipe with red pesto, arugula pesto, kale pesto. Any pesto sauce would probably work well!
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Freezing is not recommended.
The secret to making the perfect pasta salad is to drain the pasta al dente, then cool it down immediately under cold water until the pasta becomes completely cold. This way it will stop cooking and it will stay perfectly al dente for many many hours. Washing the pasta will also remove the starch so it will not be sticky.
Related Recipes you might like
If you like this recipe, try also these other summer recipes:
- Grilled Vegetables Farro Salad
- Marinated Roasted Peppers
- Caprese stuffed Potato Gnocchi
- Classic Aperol Spritz
If you tried this recipe, please take a moment to rate it and share your thoughts in the comments. Your feedback means a lot to me! ★★★★★
You can find step-by-step photos, and tips in the post above.
Pesto Caprese Pasta Salad
- 6.5 oz Pasta, short cut
- 1 Mozzarella
- 6 Cherry Tomatoes, or 1 large tomato
- ⅓ cup Basil Pesto
- Olive Oil
- Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Toss the pasta and cook following the time on the package. Drain the pasta al dente, then cool it down immediately under cold water until the pasta is completely cold. (See notes)
- Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes and mozzarella into small chunks and add them to a large bowl. Season with olive oil and salt.
- Add the cooled pasta to the bowl and the pesto sauce. Season to taste, then mix well with a spoon and cover the bowl with wrap.
- You can let it rest in the fridge for a few hours or serve it immediately. You can serve it with fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of chili oil or extra-virgin olive oil.
Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.