Tortellini Caprese salad has all the classic Italian flavors with sweet juicy tomatoes, fresh basil, and delicious mozzarella balls. Kick it up a notch by tossing in cheese tortellini for the ultimate pasta salad! And the perfect finish: a drizzle of homemade balsamic glaze dressing!
🍅 What Is Caprese?
Caprese (pronounced kah-PRAY-say) salad, or Insalata Caprese, is a classic for a reason! It's named after the Italian island of Capri and made with fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella cheese with a simple seasoning of salt and olive oil. It's extremely easy to make but has big flavor thanks to the fresh, delicious ingredients. Did you also realize that caprese has the same colors of the Italian flag?
Double Cheese, Double Fun
Turn the beloved caprese salad into a fun pasta salad with the addition of stuffed cheese tortellini! Pasta and double cheese should always be invited to the party, right? It bulks up the salad, turning it into a satisfying yet light appetizer, side dish, or entrée. Since caprese only consists of a few ingredients, choosing high-quality ingredients, like in-season tomatoes, will really allow them to shine.
And the best way to turn this easy caprese tortellini salad into a showstopper? Homemade balsamic glaze! It's much simpler than you think, with only 2 ingredients and about 10 minutes cook time. It makes a simple pasta look fancy but with minimal effort. These bright and fresh summer flavors will make you the star of the party!
Why You'll Love It
- Fast and easy: With only 7 ingredients, minimal prep, and less than 30 minutes needed, this Tortellini Caprese salad comes together in a cinch!
- Versatile: Serve this tortellini salad as a party appetizer, side dish, or vegetarian main entrée. It's also great to meal prep a big batch for a healthy lunch, or pack it up for a summer picnic or potluck!
- Fresh: It's filled with juicy tomatoes, herbs, and a tangy balsamic dressing to brighten the whole dish. Serve it cold for an even more refreshing meal.
- Cheese tortellini: Family-friendly and makes it a heartier salad. I use refrigerated but feel free to use frozen or dried tortellini instead.
- Grape or cherry tomatoes: Keeping everything bite-size makes this salad easier to eat. They're available year-round but are best during the summer months.
- Mozzarella pearls: I recommend using fresh mozzarella cheese that's in water. They can also be called mozzarella medallions and are usually in a plastic tub in the refrigerated section. Different sized balls have different names but anything bite-sized will work (like perlini, noccioline, ciliegine, or bocconcini).
- Basil: Fresh is really key here. You can tear it for a more rustic vibe or slice it thinly into ribbons.
- Olive oil: Keeps the pasta salad hydrated and adds some richness. I recommend using a high quality, 100% extra virgin olive oil.
- Balsamic vinegar and brown sugar: For the glaze. You can buy it pre-made but it's so simple and more affordable to make at home.
Substitutions & Variations
- Use any type of tortellini you'd like. Cheese tortellini is my favorite to keep it classic, but spinach tortellini would be great. You can use ravioli too - the smaller the better. There are great gluten-free tortellini options as well.
- If you're having trouble finding mozzarella pearls, you can cube a fresh block of mozzarella cheese instead.
- Looking to bulk up your tortellini salad? Avocado, roasted asparagus, zucchini noodles, peaches, kale, or spinach are popular additions to caprese.
- Add in a couple tablespoons of pesto to amplify the basil flavor.
- For more protein, grilled chicken, prosciutto, or salmon would be delicious.
- Turn these into fun caprese kabobs! Thread the cheese tortellini, tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, and a leaf of basil onto a skewer and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Cute!
🔪 How To Make Tortellini Caprese Salad
⬇️ Please scroll down to the recipe card to see full ingredient amounts and instructions.
STEP ONE: Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Add the cheese tortellini and follow package instructions for cooking time. Boil 1 minute past al dente, then drain in a colander.
STEP TWO: Lay pasta out on a plate in a single layer to allow it to dry evenly without sticking to one another.
STEP THREE: Meanwhile, make the balsamic glaze. Add balsamic vinegar and brown sugar to a pot. Heat over medium to medium-low to gently simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often. There should constantly be small bubbles the entire time. Make sure to turn on your oven fan or ventilator because the vinegar can smell strong.
You'll know it's done with a spatula or spoon leaves a clear path. It's ok if it still looks runny, it'll continue to thicken as it cools.
STEP FOUR: Prep the remaining caprese ingredients. Drain the mozzarella balls and halve the tomatoes. You can thinly slice (chiffonade) the basil or tear up the leaves.
STEP FIVE: To assemble the pasta salad, add tortellini, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and half the basil to a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper, especially the tomatoes. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and balsamic dressing, then mix to combine.
For a party or event, I recommend waiting to drizzle with balsamic glaze until you're ready to eat, or serving it on the side. It'll look better with a fresh drizzle. Over time, the balsamic will seep into the salad ingredients and become monotone.
What To Serve With Tortellini Caprese
- For more summer party options, serve this pasta salad along with Lemon Dill Hummus, Watermelon Beet Salad, or Hawaiian Mac Salad with Tuna.
- Caprese pasta salad would be a great side dish to Chicken Feta Spinach Burgers, Lemon Chicken Tenders, or Garlic Butter Shrimp Kabobs.
- Have a pasta party - and don't forget my invite! My favorites pastas are Lemon Broccoli Pasta with Shrimp, Pasta with Pink Sauce, and Creamy Chicken Gnocchi.
💭 Top Tips
- Cook the pasta thoroughly. Since it'll be in a salad, we can cook it a little past al dente so it won't be toothsome. Then rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and dry well. I recommend laying the tortellini out in a single layer on a plate to prevent them from sticking to each other.
- Since this salad has very few components, make sure to use high quality ingredients! Tomatoes are best in the summer, around June to mid-September.
- Store your tomatoes at room temperature. Keeping them in the fridge will dull the flavor. And they need more salt than you'd think!
- Be patient with the balsamic glaze. It'll take a good 10-15 minutes for the glaze to reduce and thicken. Don't be tempted to turn the heat to high because you can easily burn it. And it's better to take it off while it's still a little runny as it'll continue to thicken as it cools.
🥡 Storing & Make Ahead
Storing: Store any leftover Tortellini Caprese salad in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. You can enjoy it cold or at room temperature.
If you have any leftover balsamic glaze, store it in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. It'll keep in the fridge for 2 weeks. It can stiffen when cold so let it come to room temperature or microwave in 10-15 second intervals until pourable.
Freezing: I do not recommend freezing this salad. The fresh elements will not freeze and thaw well.
Make Ahead: This is a great recipe to make in advance! Cook the tortellini and make the balsamic dressing up to 3 days in advance. Store in the fridge, separately. Then day-of, prepare the fresh elements and assemble.
📖 Recipe FAQs
Caprese simply means "Capri style". It's named after Capri, an island off the southern coast of Italy near Sorrenti and the Amalfi Coast.
No need to! Caprese salad is best served cool or at room temperature. With this Tortellini Caprese pasta salad, I like to take it out of the fridge 10-15 minutes before eating. If I can't wait, I'll dig in right away. It's delicious either way.
In my opinion, yes! It has a good balance of carbs, fat, and protein with plenty of fresh ingredients. Making your own balsamic glaze also means no funky ingredients or preservatives.
🍽 Looking For More Salads?
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- Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook tortellini according to package instructions (up to 1 minute past al dente) and drain. Rinse with cold water and then spread out on a plate to dry and cool completely.
- In a small pot, combine the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Simmer gently over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until thickened and reduced to half its volume. A spoon should be able to leave a clear path and it should look thick and shiny. Let cool (it will continue to thicken).
- Add tortellini, tomatoes, mozzarella, and half the basil to a large mixing bowl. Season with salt, a splash of olive oil (if using), and a light drizzle of balsamic glaze. Mix well and top with remaining basil. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
- About 6 servings as an appetizer, 4 servings for a side dish, and 2 servings for an entrée.
- For parties or events, I recommend drizzling the balsamic glaze right before eating. You can also serve it on the side. Over time, the black vinegar will seep into the ingredients and it won't look as esthetic.
- If you can't find mozzarella pearls, you can cut a block of whole milk mozzarella into 1" cubes instead.
- When reducing the balsamic vinegar, make sure to turn on your oven fan or ventilator and don't get too close to the steam. The vinegar smell can be very strong.