Creamy Caprese Macaroni Salad

Caprese Macaroni Salad – creamy Italian-style pasta salad with tender macaroni, sweet cherry tomatoes, soft milky pearled mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves. A standout pasta salad upgrade with a Mediterranean flair, a new addition to backyard barbeques!

This creamy Caprese salad recipe has skyrocketed to the top of my list of favs when it comes to creamy macaroni salads. A unique take on a macaroni salad with mayo and a fresh reconstruction of a summertime Insalata Caprese (aka salad from Capri) with mozzarella, tomato, and basil.

Looking for a few more pasta salad recipes with different flavor profiles? You’ll want to check out our lemony Asparagus Pasta Salad, Creamy Pasta Chicken Salad, or Summer Pasta Salad with sweet tea vinaigrette! 

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Caprese Macaroni Salad with fresh tomatoes in a serving bowl

Why I Love This Caprese Salad With Macaroni

Just like the classic macaroni salad side dish, Caprese macaroni salad goes with everything from burgers to grilled chicken.

  • This favorite pasta salad has all the flavors of the traditional Caprese salad; silky fresh mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes, and fresh basil leaves.
  • Great make-ahead dish
  • This creamy macaroni salad recipe comes together in no time.
  • Made with fresh ingredients
  • Delivers a burst of flavor in every bite.
  • Perfect for feeding a crowd. Easily doubled or tripled.
  • Add a protein, like chicken, and serve it as a main course.

Mangia! Mangia!

Caprese Macaroni Salad ingredients

 

Ingredients For Caprese Creamy Macaroni Salad

  • Uncooked Elbow Macaroni – cook 1 minute past al dente to keep the pasta from hardening once it is cooled.
  • Mayonnaise – the versatile egg & oil immersion dressing that provides the base/binder for creamy macaroni salad. 
  • Italian Salad Dressing Mix – dry Italian seasoning mix from a prepared packet or a DIY mix.
  • Ground Mustard – powdered mustard seeds are pungent with balanced bitter and earthy tones. The flavor is “released” when mixed with wet ingredients.
  • Ground Black Pepper 
  • Sweet Cherry or Grape Tomatoes – washed, dried, and halved.
  • Fresh Mozzarella Balls –  I use pearls. If you can’t find them, try halved Ciliegine (cherry-size) or a fresh mozzarella log or ball, diced or torn into pieces. “Fresh” mozzarella will be packed in brine or liquid. You don’t want the low-moisture stringy melty kind for this Caprese macaroni salad recipe.
  • Fresh Basil Leaves –  Slivered/chiffonade cuts. Check out an easy hack, how to chiffonade fresh basil leaves.
  • Parmesan Cheese – preferably grate your own using a good quality Parmigiano Reggiano. Shaker bottle parms have cellulose and other additives.

how to make Caprese Macaroni Salad photo collage

How To Make A Caprese Pasta Salad With Macaroni

(full printable recipe at the end of this post)

A simplified step-by-step guide, complete instructions below:

ONE: Mix dressing ingredients and set aside.
TWO: Cook, rinse, drain, pasta and allow to completely cool.
THREE: Combine cooled macaroni, basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella.  
FOUR: Add dressing and gently toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
FIVE: Chill at least 1 hour before serving. Garnish with parmesan and extra basil.

Creamy Italian-style macaroni salad is quick to make and full of fresh flavor. The hardest part is waiting for the pasta to cool!

Creamy Caprese Macaroni Salad with fresh basil

Macaroni Salad With Mayo Recipe Notes & Tips

Cook the macaroni in well-salted water.

Rinse the cooked pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process and to rinse off the starch.

Secret step (not required but a great tip if you plan ahead) Toss the cooled macaroni with the dressing in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight before adding the remaining ingredients. This will allow the pasta to absorb some of the dressing, becoming more flavorful and less chance it will dry out.

Should macaroni salad be served cold? Creamy Caprese macaroni salad can be served chilled or at room temperature. But serving at room temperature is ideal, as it allows the flavors to bloom and the pasta will have a better texture. The flavors don’t come through as well when served chilled directly from the fridge. Let it sit on the counter for a bit before serving. *Be sure to not let it sit out for a few hours to avoid food poisoning.

If using a mozzarella log or larger balls, you will want to cut, cube, or tear into bite-sized pieces.  

Allow mozzarella to drain in a colander for at least 10 minutes, but do not “dry” with a cloth or paper towel, as this will draw moisture from inside the cheese.

creamy Caprese Macaroni Salad on a wooden spoon

Substitutions for Caprese Macaroni Salad

  • Fresh feta or crumbled goat cheese for mozzarella.
  • Substituting ½ mayo with greek yogurt or sour cream
  • EVOO & Balsamic or white wine vinegar.
  • Pesto for mayo
  • Chiffonade fresh spinach leaves for basil, and add diced onion

chicken and Caprese Macaroni Salad on a plate

Storing Creamy Macaroni Salad

Any version of Caprese salad that contains the combo of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil will keep only as long as the fresh mozzarella does. I recommend you eat what you make, um, no, I mean not just you, share! But fresh mozzarella is always at its best the day it is opened. Because it will be dressed with mayo, it should remain unspoiled for about three days. 

Keep Caprese macaroni salad refrigerated to retain freshness, storing it in an airtight container and using a piece of BPA-free plastic wrap. Press the wrap gently onto the surface of the exposed macaroni salad, removing any air bubbles, then seal tightly with the lid.

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Creamy Caprese Macaroni Salad in a white bowl with a wooden spoon

Caprese Macaroni Salad with fresh tomatoes in a serving bowl

Caprese Macaroni Salad

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Minimum Chill Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Caprese Macaroni Salad - creamy Italian-style pasta salad with tender macaroni, sweet cherry tomatoes, soft milky pearled mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves. A standout pasta salad upgrade with a Mediterranean flair, a new addition to backyard barbeques!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon Italian salad dressing mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 pint sweet cherry (or grape) tomatoes, halved
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella pearls *(see notes)
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, slivered
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Cook macaroni in salted water for 1 minute past al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside to cool.
  2. Place tomatoes and mozzarella balls in a large bowl.
  3. For the dressing, use a small bowl to combine mayonnaise, dressing mix, mustard, salt, and pepper.
  4. Add macaroni and slivered basil to the bowl with tomatoes and mozzarella. Add dressing and gently toss to coat, taste for seasoning (add more salt or pepper if needed). Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving.
  5. Serve topped with a sprinkle of Parmesan and more basil if desired.

Notes

  • If you can't find the fresh mozzarella pearls, you can use fresh mozzarella ciligiine balls cut in half, or you can dice a fresh mozzarella log (these are usually sold in the specialty cheese section at the grocery store)
  • Rinse the cooked pasta with cold water to stop the cooking process and to rinse off the starch.
  • Secret step (not required but a great tip if you plan ahead) Toss the cooled macaroni with the dressing in a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight before adding the remaining ingredients. This will allow the pasta to absorb some of the dressing, becoming more flavorful and less chance it will dry out.
  • Should macaroni salad be served cold? Creamy Caprese macaroni salad can be served chilled or at room temperature. But serving at room temperature is ideal, as it allows the flavors to bloom and the pasta will have a better texture. The flavors don't come through as well when served chilled directly from the fridge. Let it sit on the counter for a bit before serving. *Be sure to not let it sit out for a few hours to avoid food poisoning.
  • Add grilled chicken to make this a meal

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 322Total Fat: 27gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 31mgSodium: 431mgCarbohydrates: 12gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 8g

Nutrition information is estimated based on the ingredients and cooking instructions as described in each recipe and is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Please note that nutrition details may vary based on methods of preparation, origin, and freshness of ingredients used and are just estimates. We encourage, especially if these numbers are important to you, to calculate these on your own for most accurate results.

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Caprese Macaroni Salad close up