Easy Pasta with Fresh Tomato Sauce
This simple pasta dinner borrows its name and ingredients from Caprese salad, a dish named for the Southern Italian island of Capri. The freshness of its ingredients makes it one of our all-time favorites, particularly toward the end of summer when garden tomatoes are at their peak.
Making Caprese pasta is really easy. Fresh tomatoes are seeded, chopped, and marinated for a few minutes in olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Then they’re tossed with the cooked pasta, extra-virgin olive oil, basil, parsley, and fresh mozzarella. The residual heat softens them just enough to form a light sauce that coats the pasta, lending flavor to every bite.
In addition to the basics like garlic and extra-virgin olive oil, these are the ingredients you’ll need to make Caprese pasta.
- Pasta: We usually use linguine or spaghetti because the light sauce coats the long strands so nicely, but you can choose one of the more delicate cuts of macaroni that hold the sauce. Rotini and fusilli are both good options.
- Tomatoes: Nearly any type of fresh, ripe tomato will work in this recipe, although we do advise against plum tomatoes as they are a little drier and less flavorful when served raw. If you have fresh, homegrown tomatoes, by all means, use them, they’ll be delicious. Since we don’t have that option available to us, we like to use Campari tomatoes (sometimes referred to as cocktail tomatoes). No matter what type of tomato you use, remove the seeds and chop them into 1/2-inch pieces so they combine easily with the pasta.
- Balsamic vinegar: The recipe calls for a relatively small quantity of balsamic vinegar but even a little can add a color cast to the fresh mozzarella cheese. We generally keep both white and regular balsamic on hand, so we opt to use the white here to avoid that problem.
- Fresh mozzarella: If your local supermarket carries them, mozzarella “pearls” are the most convenient choice for this dish because you can just drain them and toss them with the pasta. If you buy a block or the larger, cherry-sized balls (ciliegine), just cut them into 1/2-inch pieces.
- Fresh basil and parsley: Because the sauce for this pasta is uncooked, fresh herbs are essential for both flavor and texture. To prepare the basil, remove the leaves from the stems, stack them, then roll them into a cylinder and slice to make thin strips (chiffonade). For the parsley, just remove the thick parts of the stems and chop using a rocking motion with your knife.
How to Make Caprese Pasta
- Put some water on to boil for the pasta.
- Seed and chop the tomatoes, place them in a large bowl, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar. Add minced garlic and combine.
- Set the tomato mixture aside for 15 minutes for the flavors to blend and the tomatoes to give off their juices.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions and reserve a little of the cooking water before draining.
- Transfer to a large mixing bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and a tablespoon or two of the cooking water. Toss to coat.
- Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, and fresh mozzarella and combine thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
- Transfer to a serving platter or plate individual portions and garnish with additional herbs if desired.
Scaling Our Caprese Pasta Recipe for Two
As written, this recipe serves four people. Cutting back to two servings is easy enough, but what do you do with the extra fresh mozzarella and herbs, as neither one keeps for very long? Here are some ideas for scaling down the recipe and using up the leftovers:
- How to scale the recipe: To make two servings, cut all the ingredient quantities in half except for the fresh mozzarella. Add an extra ounce (4 ounces total). The preparation instructions remain the same.
- Storing fresh mozzarella: Keep fresh mozzarella in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to 5 days. If the liquid level is low, add enough water to cover the cheese.
- Using leftover fresh mozzarella: One way to use up leftover mozzarella is to make a simple, cheesy, garlic bread and serve it along with a good-sized salad for dinner. Cut a store-bought baguette into thirds, freeze two pieces, and cut the remaining one in half lengthwise. Combine two or three tablespoons of softened butter, with a little olive oil, and a small clove of garlic, minced or pressed. Spread evenly on both halves of the bread, sprinkle with a little black pepper and dried oregano, then top evenly with mozzarella. Bake in a 375°F oven until golden brown and bubbly.
- To use up the leftover herbs: Make a fast herb coating for baked or broiled fish fillets or chicken breasts. Finely chop your herbs and mix them with just enough mayonnaise to coat your fish or chicken. Add a little lemon juice and some all-purpose seasoning, then pop them in the oven to cook. The mayonnaise will help to keep the fish or chicken moist and the herbs and lemon will add fresh flavor.
Make It A Meal
While Caprese pasta is essentially a one-dish dinner, we generally add something green to make a more balanced meal. A salad on the side is always a good choice, but zucchini, simply seasoned with salt and pepper and oven-roasted until lightly caramelized goes nicely too. As for what to drink, think dry rosé or Pinot Grigio, or try a less common Italian white wine like Soave or Verdicchio.
- 8 ounces pasta, linguine, spaghetti, penne, etc.
- 2 lbs ripe tomatoes, (see notes for recommendations)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, preferably white
- 1/4 cup chiffonade of fresh basil
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 6 ounces fresh mozzarella pearls, (see notes for substitutions)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
- Seed and chop the tomatoes into 1/2-inch pieces (no need to peel), then add them to a large bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Drizzle the tomatoes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and balsamic vinegar and combine well. Set aside for 15 minutes for the flavors to blend and the tomatoes to give off their juices, then mix in the basil and parsley.
- Cook the pasta according to package directions and reserve 4 tablespoons of the cooking water before draining.
- Transfer the pasta to a large bowl, and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and about half of the reserved cooking water. Toss to coat.
- Add the tomatoes, basil, parsley, and fresh mozzarella and combine thoroughly. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
- Transfer to a serving platter or plate individual portions and garnish with additional parsley and basil if desired. Serve immediately.