This 4 ingredient pasta salad made with pesto sauce, mozzarella balls and grape tomatoes is the perfect dish to take to a potluck dinner or any summer gathering. It’s simple to make, can be made ahead of time and is always a crowd-pleaser.
This simple caprese pasta salad recipe is a take-off of the classic tomato, mozzarella and basil version often served at Italian restaurants.
It’s a flavorful dish that isn’t too heavy, so it’s perfect for summer cookouts and picnics.
Made with only 4 ingredients that don’t need a lot of prep work, this recipe is super easy. But it still packs a lot of flavor.
And like most pasta salads, it can be prepared ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve it.
Which is why it’s one of my favorite dishes for cookouts, picnics or really any summer celebration.
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Here is your shopping list:
- pasta – 12-ounce box of rotini, bowties, penne or other short pasta. I like rotini the best because it has lots of grooves for holding the pesto.
- vegetables – 12-ounce package of grape or cherry tomatoes.
- cheese – 8-ounce package of small mozzarella balls (also known as mozzarella pearls). For the least amount of work, get the small ones that are already bite-sized.
- pesto sauce – 8-ounce container of basil pesto sauce. I used Barelli rustic basil pesto. This adds the basil flavor required for a Caprese salad.
- To add a little more color, try using tri-color rotini pasta.
- You can use 4 or 5 Roma tomatoes instead of the grape or cherry tomatoes. Chop them into bite sized pieces.
- If you can’t find small mozzarella pearls, buy a block of mozzarella cheese and chop it into 1/4-inch squares.
How to make 4 ingredient pasta salad
This recipe makes about 12 appetizer-sized servings.
Cook the pasta
In a large pot on high heat, boil enough water to cover the pasta.
Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and turn the heat down to medium-high. This will help to keep the water from boiling over the top of the pot.
Cook the pasta until it is al dente (soft but still firm), following the directions on the package for the length of time. If there is a time range, use the lower value.
The pasta shouldn’t be too soft or it could get mushy after the sauce is added.
When it is finished cooking, pour the pasta into a colander over the sink and rinse it with cold water.
Pasta that will be served cold is the one time when you really do want to rinse it. This helps to prevent it from sticking.
Let the pasta cool. You don’t want to mix it with the rest of the ingredients while it is warm since it can melt the mozzarella.
This salad does not require a lot of prep work, but it does help to cut the grape tomatoes in half.
This lets them be more evenly distributed throughout the salad.
And makes them easier to eat. (As you know if you’ve ever tried to spear a whole one with a fork and had it fly off your plate or explode tomato juice everywhere).
If you don’t have a sharp chef’s knife, then a serrated knife is usually your best bet for easily cutting through the tomato skins.
Put it together
Put the tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, pesto and cooked pasta in a large bowl and toss to combine.
Make sure to stir it well so that all of the pasta is coated with pesto.
Also, the tomatoes and mozzarella tend to fall to the bottom of the bowl, so scoop all the way down to the bottom to make sure they are well distributed throughout the salad.
If you are making the pasta ahead of time, you can either wait until just before serving to stir it all together.
Or save 1/4 cup of the pesto to add to the salad after you take it out of the refrigerator. The flavor tends to fade a little over time, so adding a little extra in just before serving helps to keep it fresh.
The salad can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Other summer salads you might like
- Bow tie pasta salad with Italian dressing
- Best Italian pasta salad with pepperoni
- Berry salad with balsamic vinaigrette
- Mandarin orange romaine salad
- Grilled chicken mango avocado salad
4 Ingredient Pasta Salad
- 1 saucepan
- 1 collander
- 1 large bowl
- 1 12-oz package rotini pasta
- 1 8-oz jar basil pesto
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes chopped in half
- 1 8-oz package small mozzarella pearls
- Follow the instructions on the package to cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water until al dente.
- Pour it into a collander over the sink and run cold water over it.
- Let the pasta cool completely.
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, tossing until all of the pasta is coated with pesto.
- Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- To make the pasta salad ahead of time, save 1/4 cup of the pesto sauce to mix in just before serving. This keeps the flavor fresh.
- You can use 4 or 5 Roma tomatoes instead of the grape tomatoes.
- Chopping a block of mozzarella cheese into 1/4-inch squares will work instead of the mozzarella pearls.
Nutrition values are estimates only, using online calculators. Please verify using your own data.
Have comments or questions on our 4 ingredient caprese pasta salad with pesto? Tell us in the section below.
This post was originally published on May 6, 2022 but was updated with new content on December 14, 2023.