I’m offering an alternative to those typical deli salads with my Caprese Pasta Salad. It’s quick and easy and worth the few minutes of extra time at the stove. I love Caprese Salad. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a layered salad with slices of fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil leaves. I could have easily made a traditional Caprese Salad, but it can get fairly pricey to buy fresh mozzarella for a group. I stretched it along by taking the same flavors and turning it into a hearty pasta salad side dish. You start by marinating fresh bocconcini mozzarella balls and quartered cherry tomatoes in Italian dressing. I usually put this mixture in the fridge to marinate a few hours before I want to make the salad so the flavors can really develop. If you don’t have the time, just let them soak for at least half an hour. After the marinating, this dish comes together in a snap.
Toss the mozzarella and cherry tomatoes with the Italian dressing. Cover and refrigerate. If I’m making this for dinner, I usually get the cheese and tomatoes in the fridge to marinate a few hours before I plan to assemble the salad.
In a skillet on low heat, heat the olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook on low for 5-10 minutes allowing the garlic to soften (but not brown) and infuse the oil.
Meanwhile, boil the pasta. Add the drained pasta to the skillet and toss to coat. Set the pasta mixture aside to cool.
Once the pasta is cooled, add the cheese and tomatoes along with the dressing marinade. Season the salad with salt and pepper and top with 3 tablespoons fresh basil.