Pack big flavor into every bite with a 25-minute recipe for Caprese Pasta Salad with Chicken starring a homemade sweet and tangy balsamic vinaigrette. Whether you’re planning a picnic, hosting a summer gathering or simply craving a refreshing meal, this pasta salad is sure to be a hit!
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Pasta salads are one of my favorite make-ahead potluck dishes to bring to any gathering. They’re fast and easy to prepare, travel well in a sealed container and are always a crowd-pleaser. This version is no exception!
Caprese Pasta Salad stars the classic Italian trifecta of tomatoes, garlic, and basil, plus al dente noodles and creamy mini mozzarella balls, all tossed in a quick-fix balsamic dressing. Add tender cooked chicken and you’ll have a satisfying meal-in-a-bowl perfect for any night of the week.
Why You’ll Love It
- Quick and easy to make. Perfect for those busy days when you want a flavorful meal without spending hours in the kitchen.
- Packed with the vibrant flavors of summer.
- Can be served warm, room temp or chilled.
- Stars a delicious quick-fix garlicky balsamic dressing that’s sweetened with a squeeze of honey. It’s the perfect complement to the juicy tomatoes, fresh basil and mini mozzarella balls.
- Can be enjoyed as a standalone dish, perfect for lunch or a light dinner.
- Can also be served as a side dish alongside grilled meats, shrimp skewers or roasted vegetables. Crusty bread or garlic bread makes a great accompaniment.
- Tastes great (if not better!) when made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator so the flavors have a chance to marinate and intensify.
- Pasta: Just like my favorite BLT pasta salad, I recommend using a short pasta variety such as rotini, penne or farfalle. You can also opt for whole wheat or gluten-free pasta if desired.
- Tomatoes: Any variety of tomatoes will work in this recipe, including halved cherry tomatoes, but I prefer the sweetness and size of cocktail tomatoes.
- Mini mozzarella balls: If you can’t find mini mozzarella balls, you can use regular-sized mozzarella balls and cut them into smaller pieces. Alternatively, you can use cubed mozzarella cheese.
- Cooked chicken: You can use roasted or grilled chicken. For a great shortcut option, I often use store-bought rotisserie chicken (it’s my shortcut secret for everything from enchiladas to taco dip!).
- Honey: Agave nectar or maple syrup can be substituted if you don’t have honey on hand.
See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.
Pasta salad is one of the most versatile dishes, and one of my favorite ways to make use of leftover odds and ends from my fridge and pantry. Consider this recipe a template and feel free to get creative with additional mix-ins and variations, such as:
- Black olives
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Marinated artichoke hearts
- Roasted red peppers
- Salami or pepperoni
- Parmesan cheese
- For a vegetarian version, omit the chicken or substitute it with cooked chickpeas, grilled tofu or roasted vegetables.
- If you’re not a fan of balsamic, you could also whip up a classic Italian dressing, an herby basil vinaigrette, or my personal favorite, a tried-and-tested red wine vinaigrette.
- Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 11 minutes. Once cooked, drain and rinse it under cold water to stop the cooking process.
- Prepare the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, minced garlic cloves and honey. While whisking, stream in the olive oil and whisk until emulsified (well combined). Set the dressing aside.
- Assemble the salad. In a large bowl, combine the cooked pasta, diced tomatoes, halved mini mozzarella balls, diced cooked chicken and fresh basil leaves. Toss the ingredients gently to combine.
- Add the dressing. Pour the prepared dressing over the pasta salad mixture. Use a large spoon or tongs to toss the salad, making sure all the ingredients are coated with the dressing.
- Serve or chill for later. If not serving immediately, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or transfer the salad to an airtight container and refrigerate. Just before serving, give the pasta salad a final toss and garnish it with some additional basil leaves.
Pro Tip: This salad is great warm, room temp or cold and can be made up to a day in advance and stored, covered with plastic wrap, in the fridge, where the flavors will have a chance to intensify.
- Salt the Pasta Water: Salting the water when cooking pasta is an important step that can significantly elevate the flavor of the final dish.
- Cook the Pasta Al Dente: Make sure to cook the pasta just until it’s al dente, meaning it has a slight bite to it. Overcooking the pasta can result in a mushy salad. Follow the package instructions and test the pasta for doneness by tasting it a minute or two before the recommended cooking time.
- Use Ripe Tomatoes: Choose ripe and flavorful tomatoes for the best taste. Look for tomatoes that are firm yet slightly soft to the touch, with a vibrant color and a sweet aroma. They will provide the perfect juiciness and freshness to the salad.
- Adjust the Dressing to Taste: Taste and season the dressing with salt and pepper. Additionally, feel free to adjust the amount of balsamic vinegar, honey or garlic to suit your personal preference. Start with the recommended measurements and then taste and adjust accordingly.
- Making Ahead: If you’re looking to make this recipe in advance, leave out the fresh basil and stir it in right before serving for a bright green pop of color and fresh herb flavor in every bite.
The best way to store pasta salad is to let it cool completely and then transfer it to an airtight container with a lid. Alternatively, you can keep it in a large bowl covered securely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the leftovers promptly, they can last for up to 2-3 days. However, it’s important to note that the texture and flavors may change slightly over time, as the ingredients continue to marinate. Before consuming, give it a thorough mix to redistribute the dressing and ingredients.
Frequently Asked Questions
Burrata, with its creamy center and softer texture, is an indulgent substitute for mozzarella in a Caprese pasta salad. Alternatively, fresh goat cheese or crumbled feta cheese can provide a tangy and salty flavor to elevate the dish.
Typically the best type of pasta to use for a pasta salad is a short pasta shape with nooks and crannies to hold the dressing and other ingredients. Popular choices include penne, fusilli, farfalle (bowtie) or rotini.
It’s not necessary to wait for the pasta to cool completely before making pasta salad, but it is recommended to cool it down slightly to avoid wilting any of the other ingredients. Also, warm pasta tends to absorb dressings more readily, which can result in a drier salad. For optimal results, I recommend cooling the pasta for 5-10 minutes before adding any mix-ins or dressing.
Yes! When possible, I recommend making pasta salad ahead of time and stashing it in the fridge so the flavors have a chance to mingle and intensify.
- Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad
- Greek Tortellini Pasta Salad
- Chinese Chicken Pasta Salad with Sesame Dressing
- Southwestern Pasta Salad with Avocado Dressing
- Pesto Pasta Salad with Chicken
- Zucchini Pasta Salad
For the pasta salad:
- 1 pound uncooked pasta
- 3 cups diced tomatoes (See Kelly's Notes)
- 1 cup mini mozzarella balls, halved
- 2 cups diced cooked chicken (See Kelly's Notes)
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
For the dressing:
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 Tablespoon honey
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Make the pasta salad:
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 11 minutes. Drain the pasta, then add it to a large bowl and let it cool slightly.
- To the bowl, add the tomatoes, mozzarella, chicken and basil. Toss to combine.
Make the dressing:
- In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, garlic and honey. While whisking, stream in the olive oil and whisk until emulsified. Taste and season the dressing with salt and pepper.
- Add the dressing to the bowl with the pasta and toss to combine, then serve immediately or refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap.
- Any variety of tomato will work in this recipe, including halved cherry tomatoes, but I prefer the sweetness and size of cocktail tomatoes.
- Store-bought rotisserie chicken is a great shortcut option.
- Taste and season the dressing with salt and pepper. Additionally, feel free to adjust the amount of balsamic vinegar, honey or garlic to suit your personal preference. Start with the recommended measurements and then taste and adjust accordingly.
- This salad is great warm, room temp or cold and can be made up to a day in advance and stored, covered with plastic wrap, in the fridge, where the flavors will have a chance to intensify.
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