Fresh and Easy Caprese Pasta Salad
This isn’t your average pasta salad – this super easy (but also kinda fancy) Caprese pasta salad is packed with flavor and nutritional benefits. With plenty of fiber and protein from whole wheat and chickpeas, this pasta salad can be either a standalone entree or a stunning side dish. Perfect for a quick summer lunch prep, picnic, or cookout!
Why I Love This Caprese Pasta Salad Recipe
What comes to mind when you think about pasta salad? For me, it’s my mom’s recipe – tri-color rotini pasta with diced string cheese sticks (oh yeah) and Italian dressing. Pretty simple, but I sure loved it when I was growing up. Now that I’m older, I thought it was time to put a grown-up twist on a traditional pasta salad. If you’d like a simple way to make your fave summer side dish just a bit fancier, I know you’ll appreciate this yummy Caprese pasta salad.
I love this recipe because it’s nutritious, super easy to make, and can feed a crowd if needed. It’s the perfect dish for summer meal prep, picnics, and barbeques.
How do you make pasta salad healthier?
I used these tips to make my Caprese pasta salad recipe more nutritious, but you can use these to makeover just about any pasta salad!
- Use whole-grain pasta – All pasta is good pasta in my book, but whole grains have a few more nutritional benefits. They contain more fiber to keep you full, improve digestion, and support a healthy heart. They also contain just a bit more protein to keep you satisfied.
- Add protein – Including protein-rich ingredients takes pasta salad from a side dish to a standalone entree. Remember – protein = fullness! Protein sources that work well in pasta salads can include beans, chickpeas, lentils, shredded or diced chicken, and tuna.
- Try a DIY dressing – Again, nothing wrong with the storebought stuff, but making your dressing at home can save you money and give you more control over the ingredients you include.
- Make veggies the star – Ask yourself – are there 2 or more veggies present here? Do they make up about 50% of the volume of my recipe? Some great veggies for pasta include; tomatoes, onions, peppers, leafy greens, broccoli, and cucumbers.
This recipe is fairly straightforward, but after making it quite a few times, I do have a handful of pro tips for you.
What if I can’t find fresh basil?
I’m going to let you in on a secret. All of the beautiful green ribbons you see in these photos are not basil – they’re spinach! I know – BLASPHEMY. You can’t have a Caprese salad without fresh basil. This is true, but either someone in my city is buying up all of the fresh basil from the stores, or there is a local basil shortage. Either way, I haven’t been able to find fresh basil for quite some time. Sometimes a girl needs to improvise!
If you can’t find basil for this recipe, you can chiffonade (aka thinly slice) spinach leaves to give it some color. For flavor, you can also use basil-infused olive oil or dry basil.
How to cool pasta quickly
You don’t have to wait for hours while your hot pasta cools off in the fridge! As you strain your pasta, rinse it in cold water, then place in a bowl and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Be sure to cook your pasta al dente (i.e. with a little bite to it, not too soft). Since this pasta will sit and cool, we want to be sure that it holds up and doesn’t get mushy.
To keep this recipe fresh for longer, leave tomatoes, spinach, and fresh basil out of the pasta and dressing mix. These ingredients tend to get mushy quickly with refrigeration and exposure to the acidity of the dressing. You can cut them and keep them in separate containers or leave them intact and cut them to add to your pasta salad as needed. This will give you an extra couple of days of freshness, at least!
- Make it gluten-free – Use gluten-free pasta and be sure not to overcook it
- Make it vegan and/or dairy-free – Use a non-dairy mozzarella substitute.
- Make it with a different protein – Shredded chicken also works great in this recipe.
- Make it without fresh basil – Chiffonade spinach instead and use 1 tablespoon dried basil and/or substitute in basil-infused olive oil.
Caprese Pasta Salad
- 1 lb whole wheat rotini
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup spinach
- 1/2 cup fresh basil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 15.5 oz can chickpeas
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella pearls
- Boil water and cook pasta according to instructions for al dente (~9 mins), then drain pasta and rinse under cold water. Refrigerate for 15 mins while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise. Add to a large bowl with a lid.
- Chiffonade basil and spinach (stack leaves, roll lengthwise, then slice into thin ribbons). Add to the bowl.
- Drain and rinse chickpeas. Drain mozzarella. Add both to the bowl.
- Make the dressing. Mix balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix all of the ingredients together and serve! Keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.