This easy pasta salad is the perfect summertime side dish for your next potluck! Homemade kale pesto, crispy prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and fresh tomatoes make a simple caprese pasta salad that’s always a hit.
This simple pesto caprese pasta salad is everything summertime dreeeaaaaams are made of!
We’re working with a quick, homemade kale basil pesto here. Throw the pesto sauce together in a food processor, then toss it with some hot pasta and let it cool. Stir in some mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes, and crispy prosciutto pieces, and you. are. in. business.
How to make this recipe ahead of time
Make the kale pesto 3-4 days ahead of time and store it in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to use it. You can also freeze this pesto for 2-3 months if you prefer!
Make the pasta a day or two ahead of time. Cook and drain your pasta, and toss it with the pesto while it’s still hot (the oil in the pesto helps prevent the noodles from sticking!) Let the pasta cool, and then stir in your mozzarella pearls and store in an airtight container in the fridge for a day or two.
When you’re ready to serve, crisp up your prosciutto and stir in your cherry tomatoes. You can skip the prosciutto or use a different protein (chicken and pepperoni both hold up well in the fridge) if you’re short on time – the prosciutto can just soften and lose its crisp texture if you make it too far in advance! We recommend adding tomatoes just before serving, since storing tomatoes in the fridge can alter their texture a bit.
Riffs and Substitutions
This pasta salad is VERY forgiving – mix it up with anything you have on hand! Some of our favorite additions and riffs:
- Add extra protein. Add some shredded chicken or chopped rotisserie chicken, cooked Italian sausage, crispy bacon, or pepperoni for an extra protein boost!
- Drizzle the finished pasta salad with a few teaspoons of balsamic glaze for extra flavor.
- Add extra greens. Add a few handfuls of fresh spinach or arugula to this pasta salad to stretch it further and give it a quick boost of veggies.
- Cut a ball of fresh mozzarella into small cubes if you can’t find mozzarella pearls.
- Add your favorite veggies. This pasta salad is great with chick peas, chopped bell pepper, black olives, artichoke hearts, cucumber, grilled corn or asparagus, or roasted veggies (butternut squash, zucchini, and sweet potato are all good!)
- For a creamy pasta salad, stir in a scoop of mayonnaise or greek yogurt.
- Swap the pasta for cheese tortellini for a fun twist!
This easy, summery pasta salad features classic caprese flavors and a homemade pesto!
For the Pesto:
- 1/4 cup shelled walnut pieces
- 2 packed cups fresh basil leaves
- 1 packed cup fresh kale leaves
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- kosher salt to taste
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (you might not use it all)
For the pasta salad:
- 1 pound pasta (we used fusilli)
- 2 heaping cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella pearls, drained
- 2 ounces prosciutto (about 4–5 large slices)
- salt to taste
MAKE THE PESTO:
- Add walnuts, basil, kale, garlic, parmesan, and a pinch of salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine and roughly chop.
- With the food processor running, slowly stream in olive oil. Add a few teaspoons at a time until your pesto is relatively smooth, but not runny. You may not need all of the oil.
- Set pesto aside while the pasta cooks. If you’re making the pesto ahead of time, store it in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days until you’re ready to assemble the pasta salad.
PREP THE PASTA SALAD:
- Cook pasta in very salty water until al dente.
- Drain cooked pasta, then pour it into a large mixing bowl. Add the pesto a bit at a time and mix until the pasta is evenly coated. We typically use all of our pesto here, but you can mix in half the pesto and then give it a taste to make sure you want more! Set the bowl aside for 30-40 minutes to let the pasta cool to room temperature.
- When pasta has cooled, add mozzarella pearls and stir to combine. If you’re making this pasta salad ahead of time, transfer the pasta to an airtight container in the fridge for 1-2 days until you’re ready to assemble.
- An hour or so before you’re ready to serve, heat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the prosciutto on a baking sheet lined with a nonstick baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 7-10 minutes or until prosciutto is darkened and crispy. Prosciutto tends to crisp up pretty quickly, so keep an eye on it. Let prosciutto cool until you’re ready to serve.
When you’re ready to serve, add quartered cherry tomatoes to pasta salad and toss to combine. Use your hands to crumble the crispy prosciutto across the pasta salad. Taste and add salt if necessary (the prosciutto is very salty – you likely won’t need any extra salt!) Serve immediately.
If your pasta salad is dry after assembly, toss it with an extra drizzle of olive oil.
Substitutions. This recipe is very forgiving – adapt it to use what you have on hand! The fresh kale adds a bit of bitterness to this pesto: for a mellower sauce, swap extra basil for some or all of the kale. You can also blanch and drain the kale before making the pesto if you like, but we find you don’t really need to add that extra step. Omit the parmesan cheese in the pesto if you like. Use pine nuts in place of walnuts, or leave the nuts out entirely.
Additions. Add grilled corn, roasted veggies (sweet potato, butternut squash, zucchini), chickpeas, sliced olives, or any other pasta salad veggies you love!
To make this vegetarian, omit the crispy prosciutto and be sure to use a parmesan cheese made without rennet.
To make this vegan, omit the parmesan, mozzarella, and prosciutto. You can add chickpeas or grilled corn in place of the mozzarella pearls if you like!
Keywords: potluck, cookout, summer
The photos for this recipe were taken by Casey at The Mindful Hapa!