THIS CAPRESE PASTA SALAD IS FRESH YET SATISFYINGLY DELICIOUS LOADED WITH BALSAMIC CHICKEN, JUICY TOMATOES, CREAMY MOZZARELLA, FRESH BASIL AND CREAMY AVOCADO PESTO DRESSING!
This Caprese Pasta Salad boasts layers of flavor that elevates it to a MUST MAKE Pasta Salad! It makes a fabulous light lunch or dinner that is healthy yet tastes luxuriously delicious.
WHAT IS CAPRESE SALAD?
Caprese Salad is an Italian Salad that gets its name from the Italian island of Capri. It is loaded with plump, juicy tomatoes, fragrant basil and soft, rich mozzarella complimented by tangy balsamic AKA the quintessence of the perfect bite in my book. Healthy yet satisfying, fresh yet cheesy, creamy yet tangy.
I love Caprese so much I’ve already celebrated the flavors in my Caprese Chicken Salad, Caprese Pasta with Balsamic Chicken and Sheet Pan Caprese Chicken and Veggies and now we get to celebrate in this Caprese Pasta Salad with Pesto Avocado Dressing!
Caprese Pasta Salad
This Caprese Pasta Salad boasts the classic combination of fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese, BUT it has a few unique twists you will LOVE.
First, we add cooked, shredded chicken to make this Caprese Pasta Salad a complete meal because trust me when I say you are going to want to eat this salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The chicken is tossed in balsamic vinegar which infuses the chicken with tangy balsamic goodness that is keep-sneaking-a-piece-delicious.
Caprese Pasta Salad Dressing
The next unique feature of our Caprese Pasta Salad is the dressing. Oh. My. Yum. I love avocado in my Caprese Salads for the rich, creaminess it adds, so thought, why not make it into a dressing? Yes, yes and yes.
Our Avocado Pesto Dressing is a simple blend of avocados, basil pesto, Greek yogurt, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and milk to thin. It is creamy, slightly tangy and herbalicious. So now our Caprese Pasta Salad gets creamified while still remaining, healthy, light, fresh with just the right amount of cheeeeeeese!
Caprese salad is only a handful of ingredients (aside from the dressing), so it is important that you use quality, fresh ingredients. I found my juicy tomatoes, milky mozzarella pearls, fresh basil and creamy avocados all at Walmart. I loooove that Walmart is a one-stop-shop. You not only can pick up all your fresh produce but your pasta, balsamic vinegar, and anything else you might need so you don’t have to run around to three different stores.
Walmart’s fresh produce is restocked at least once a day and comes with a 100% fresh guarantee. If you’re not satisfied with their produce, they’ll give you a full refund! Walmart not only offers a variety of in season fresh produce delivered to you daily. Walmart believes in supporting local communities, which I absolutely love! So if you haven’t checked out Walmart’s fresh produce lately, now is the time and this Caprese Pasta Salad is your first reason why.
HOW TO MAKE CAPRESE PASTA SALAD
This Caprese Salad comes together in a flash!
- Cook pasta. Cook pasta in generously salted water just until al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water. I like to toss my pasta with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking together.
- “Marinate” chicken. Our chicken is the main balsamic component in our Caprese Pasta Salad. “Marinating” simply means adding some balsamic vinegar, a splash of Dijon mustard and salt to your shredded, cooked chicken then letting it sit while you prep the rest of your ingredients. You will be AMAZED at the flavor the chicken soaks up in this short amount of time.
- Make Avocado Pesto Dressing. This dressing is SO easy. Simply add all of the Avocado Pesto ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth. Add additional milk as needed to thin to pourable consistency. You want the dressing to be creamy but thin enough to spread.
- Toss to combine. Add pasta, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and optional pine nuts and stir to combine. Toss with desired amount of dressing (you may not use all of the dressing) and chill for one hour. Chilling is essential for the flavors to meld. If you taste the salad right away you will be disappointed but if you allow the salad to chill, you will be amazed at the drastic change.
Stir in spinach and EAT!
HELPFUL TIPS TO MAKE PASTA SALAD
- Make your own Shredded Chicken. A rotisserie is a nice shortcut in your Caprese Pasta Salad but it more expensive and may requires an extra trip to the grocery store. Instead, it is super easy to make your own shredded chicken! I’ve included detailed instructions below.
- Pasta Substitute. I like to use rotini pasta because the shape cradles the dressing but bowtie/farfalle pasta or any other medium pasta will also work well.
- Don’t overcook pasta. It is important to not overcook your pasta – you want it al dente so it still has a little bite otherwise your Caprese Pasta salad will be soggy/mushy – which no one wants!
- Stop Pasta from Cooking. To stop your pasta from cooking after it’s removed from the heat, rinse and drain it in cold water then toss it with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking together.
- Tomatoes: Don’t substitute the cherry tomatoes for Roma or another variety because they will fall apart in the salad.
- Spinach: Take care to use baby spinach otherwise be sure to tear your spinach into smaller pieces.
- Pine Nuts: I highly recommend pine nuts for this Caprese pasta Salad recipe but they are not essential if you don’t have them on hand.
- Mozzarella: Mozzarella pearls are the perfect size for a salad but you can also use mozzarella snacking balls and quarter them. You can also use fresh mozzarella (not the block you shred) and cube it. The soft and buttery mozzarella are and melt-in-your-mouth YUM. I promise you will be combing through the pasta salad just to find these pearls of satisfaction.
- Add-Ins. I’ve kept this Caprese Pasta Salad pretty traditional (aside from the dressing) but don’t be afraid to add in more of your favorite vegetables. Sweet corn, red bell peppers, cucumbers and bacon would all be fabulous, just to name a few ideas.
- Cool Pasta. Unlike vinaigrette dressings, you will want to make sure the pasta is completely cool before mixing in the creamy dressing to ensure the dressing doesn’t separate.
HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN SHREDDED CHICKEN
To make your own shredded chicken for Caprese Pasta Salad:
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add 1 pound chicken breasts pounded thin and cook 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown on one side.
- Flip chicken and add 1 ½ cups chicken broth. Cover and reduce heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes, then flip chicken over and continue to cook 5-10 minutes or until chicken is cooked though and tender enough to shred. You may need to add more chicken broth if it is already absorbed when you flip your chicken over.
- Remove chicken from skillet and let rest 5 minutes before shredding. Use 2 cups for the Caprese Pasta Salad.
HOW TO PREP CAPRESE PASTA SALAD IN ADVANCE
- You make the pasta and prep the rest of the Caprese Salad ingredients except for the Avocado Dressing up to 2 days in advance and keep them in separate, sealable containers in the refrigerator.
- Don’t make the Avocado Dressing until ready to serve because the avocado will cause the dressing to discolor.
- If you expect leftovers, then I would half the dressing and make fresh dressing for the leftover Caprese Pasta Salad.
*Locally fresh produce varies by location.
LOOKING FOR MORE PASTA SALAD RECIPES?
- BLT Pasta Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing
- Strawberry Avocado Pasta Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing
- Southwest Orzo Salad with Chipotle Honey Lime Dressing
- Greek Pasta Salad with Sun-Dried Tomato Feta Pesto
- Southwest Tortellini Salad with Creamy Salsa Dressing
- Bacon Pea Cream Pasta Salad with Lemon Parmesan Dressing
- Cowboy Pasta Salad
LOOKING FOR MORE SALAD RECIPES?
- Perfect Fruit Salad with Honey Citrus Dressing
- Chinese Chicken Salad with Sesame Ginger Dressing
- Cilantro Lime Chicken Taco Salad
- Honey Mustard Chicken Cobb Salad
- Teriyaki Chicken Salad with Pineapple Sesame Dressing
- Southwest Pepper Jack Salad
WANT TO TRY THIS CAPRESE PASTA SALAD RECIPE?
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Caprese Pasta Salad
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- 16 oz. rigatoni pasta
- 3 cups packed baby spinach
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
- 8 oz. mozzarella pearls
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil
- 1/4 cup pine nuts optional
- 2 cups cooked shredded chicken
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
Avocado Pesto Dressing
- 2 small avocados peeled and pitted (not large Haas)
- 1/2 cup basil pesto
- 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup milk plus more as needed
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- Cook pasta in generously salted water just until al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water.
- Meanwhile, add chicken to a large serving bowl (whatever you are going to make salad in). Add 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir until evenly combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Add All of the Avocado Pesto ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth. Add additional milk if needed to thin to pourable consistency.
- Add pasta, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and pine nuts to a bowl and toss to combine. Stir in desired amount of dressing (you may not use all of the dressing). Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes. Chill any remaining dressing separately. When ready to serve, stir in spinach and additional dressing if needed. Best if served within one hour.
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