Yesterday we got a little heavy, so let’s lighten things up today with a quick and easy Summer-in-a-bowl recipe: this roasted cherry tomato caprese pasta salad.
I started tackling some overdue garden projects over the weekend, the pup by my side, sweeping up pine needles, pulling weeds, and planting pots of cheery petunias and violas. Generally sprucing things up now that all things green are exploding in our backyard with abandon. Basically trying not to be the worst house on our manicured, garden-centric block.
I also planted our first tomatoes – a couple of cherries that I can’t wait to start harvesting in a month or two.
The inspiration for this roasted tomato pasta salad comes from those tomatoes, and of course the classic Italian caprese salad, a layered combination of fresh tomato and buffalo mozzarella slices with basil and a drizzle of good balsamic vinegar. Simple perfection. And the sort of light, flavorful dish I could eat every single day during the Summer months, especially with vine-ripened, peak-season tomatoes…
While I’m waiting on my plant babies to grow, there are always store-bought tomatoes from down south to tide me over, and my go-to method for bringing out tons of flavor: quick roasting.
Roasting the tomatoes brightens and intensifies their flavor, releases sweet tomato juices which help to create a bit of a sauce, and transform the raw tomatoes into something greater than the sum of their parts. I used a half and half combo of cherry and grape tomatoes here, but you can use any kind of tomato you’ve got. The sweeter the better.
I added some cavatappi to the mix, a corkscrew shaped pasta that holds up well to the chunky roasted tomatoes and soft, pillowy mozzarella pearls. The ridges in the twists and spirals of the pasta trap bits of the tomato-balsamic vinaigrette, holding on to more flavor.
File this one away – you can make it in advance, it travels and stores well for cookouts, potlucks and leftovers, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to be eating it all Summer long!
- 1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes
- 8 oz uncooked macaroni pasta*
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp pure cane sugar
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1 garlic clove, finely-minced
- 1 Tbsp minced fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried oregano)
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella pearls
- 2 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, minced
- kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut the largest tomatoes in half, leaving smaller ones whole. Place the tomatoes in an even layer on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil, just enough to lightly coat. Shake the pan a few times to toss the tomatoes in the oil. Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the tomatoes are just beginning to wrinkle and burst. Remove from the oven and let cool to room-temperature.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, and cook al dente according to package directions, generally about 10 minutes.
- While the pasta is cooking, make the balsamic vinaigrette: Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sugar, shallot, garlic and oregano until combined.
- Remove the pasta from the heat, drain, rinse briefly in cold water, and return to the pot. Toss with the balsamic vinaigrette. Stir in the roasted tomatoes, along with any tomato juices, the mozzarella and the basil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Serve at room-temperature or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Use your favorite short, tubular or shaped pasta. I used cavatappi pasta here, but penne, rotini, farfalle, gemelli, casarecce etc. are also great choices.
The tomatoes can be roasted up to a day in advance, and stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Make the caprese pasta salad a meal by adding slices of grilled chicken or salmon.
**For an even faster caprese pasta salad, skip the roasting step and use fresh cherry tomatoes. This works best if you have really flavorful, peak-season tomatoes. If yours are just so-so flavor-wise, go ahead and roast the tomatoes to pull out all that sweet flavor.