If Summertime needed an official pasta dish, I vote for this Cherry Tomato Penne Pasta Caprese with pearl mozzarella balls, blistered cherry tomatoes, lots of garlic, basil, and fresh arugula. Not only is it packed with summer fresh produce, but it’s also served warm. It is not hot, nor cold, so it is just right for evenings when it is too hot for a steaming bowl of pasta, yet you want something a bit more meal-like than a chilled pasta salad. And the best part is that it only takes 30 minutes to get it on the table!

penne pasta caprese with blistered tomatoes and mozzarella in a bowl

Why We Love This Recipe For Cherry Tomato Penne Pasta Caprese

My dear friends, I would like to start off by saying “you’re welcome.” Yes, I am that confident in how much you will love this penne pasta Caprese. You may ask, “Katie, why mess with Caprese if it’s already perfect?” And I would say, “because I am passionate about making the world a better place.”

In all seriousness, this pasta has everything a summer dinner needs. Fresh juicy tomatoes bursting with flavor, basil and arugula coming in packed with nutrients, succulent mozzarella, penne pasta, and did I mention mozzarella? 

Some of you may remember my Italian Pasta Salad recipe which quickly secured a spot on the BEST of list, but one could argue that this Caprese pasta is coming for its title because it has a secret element. It’s not hot, it’s not cold, it’s warm

You can enjoy this dish on a hot summer day when you’re not in the mood for a steaming plate, or when you want to experience the joy of a pasta salad but you’re looking to enjoy a meal – not a side! This recipe has the flavor and nutrition to make everyone at your table happy!

Key Ingredients for this Recipe

cherry tomatoes, penne pasta, arugula, basil, mozarella, and more ingredients for this caprese pasta salad

Cherry Tomatoes

You’re going to want to use plump cherry tomatoes for this recipe, and be sure to select ones that are brightly colored for the most flavorful and juicy tomatoes possible. You don’t need to do anything to the tomatoes before adding them to the skillet; the heat from the skillet will do all of the work. You’ll know they’re ready when they start to wrinkle.

Basil

Of course, every classic Caprese is going to include basil, but for this recipe, we’re going to add even more flavor and veggie content by including arugula too!

Mozzarella

I used pearl mozzarella in this recipe and it worked perfectly for the dish, but if you can’t find pearl, you can always get ciliegine mozzarella and cut it into quarters.

Additional Ingredients

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt

Step By Step Instructions To Make This Penne Caprese

rinse penne pasta and cook tomato mixture

Step 1: Cook Pasta

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil, and add your pasta until it’s cooked al dente. Quickly rinse with cool water, drain, and transfer pasta to a large bowl.

Step 2: Make Cherry Tomato Mixture

While the pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring until it’s fragrant and just starting to brown, which should take about 30 seconds.

Add in the cherry tomatoes and stir them often until they start to soften, which should take about 3 to 4 minutes. When the skins are wrinkled and about to loosen, remove the skillet from the heat. Like in my recipe for Skillet Cherry Tomato Panzanella, cooking them until they are juicy like this yields the perfect texture!

combine the pasta and all of the other ingredients in a large bowl

Step 3: Combine All Ingredients

Depending on your timing, you may have to rewarm the cherry tomatoes mixture if you had to wait for the pasta to finish cooking. Simply heat it until the tomato mixture is bubbling. Remove it from the heat and add it to the cooked pasta along with the mozzarella, arugula, basil, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine, season with black pepper, and enjoy!

cherry tomato penne caprese pasta in a bowl with arugula and basil

FAQs and Expert Tips

Can I use a different kind of pasta?

Feel free to use whole wheat pasta or your favorite gluten-free pasta. For more protein use Chickpea Penne Pasta.

What if I can’t find pearl mozzarella?

If you cannot find pearl mozzarella, you can buy the slightly larger ciliegnie and cut the balls into quarters, or you can buy a large ball and dice it if necessary.

How are the leftovers the next day?

Leftovers of this pasta can be enjoyed cold or hot! It can be reheated, 1 serving at a time, in the microwave for about 2 minutes. The arugula will wilt and the cheese will be melted too, so keep that in mind.

Could I add pesto to this dish?

I don’t see why not! Just stir some Basil Pesto into the mixture instead of using whole-leaf basil, but don’t use too much and risk overpowering the other ingredients.

Expert Tip For Timing

When developing this recipe, I found that having both hot pasta and hot blistered cherry tomato sauce melted the mozzarella into stringy globs that are hard to serve and eat. I came up with the idea of rinsing the pasta to cool it down while keeping the tomatoes hot. We loved the slightly melted mozzarella balls and agreed that the texture of the just wilted arugula is fresh and lovely this way. 

To get the perfect temperature dish, try to time it so the sauce and pasta are done at the same time. You’ll rinse the pasta so that it is not too hot. If the tomatoes are done before the pasta, simply re-warm the cherry tomato sauce in the skillet before adding it to the rinsed pasta. Doing so ensures that the mozzarella will melt ever so slightly and the arugula will wilt a little bit but not totally lose its fresh texture.

Additional Summer Pasta Recipes To Try

Thanks so much for reading. If you are new here, you may want to sign up for my free weekly email newsletter where I share weeknight meal plans delivered right to your inbox. Or follow me on Instagram. If you make this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It is very appreciated. Happy Cooking! ~Katie

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penne caprese pasta salad

Cherry Tomato Penne Pasta Caprese


  • Author: Katie Webster
  • Total Time: 30 mins
  • Yield: 8 cups; 6 servings
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

If Summertime needed an official pasta dish, I vote for this Penne Pasta Caprese with pearl mozzarella balls, blistered cherry tomatoes, lots of garlic, basil and fresh arugula. Not only is it packed with summer fresh produce, it is served warm. It is not hot, nor cold so it is just right for evenings when it is too hot for a steaming bowl of pasta, yet you want something a bit more meal-like than a chilled pasta salad. And the best part is that it only takes 30 minutes to get it on the table!


Ingredients

Coarse kosher salt to taste

12 ounces dry penne pasta (3 cups)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Pinch red pepper flake, optional

2 pints cherry tomatoes, preferably a blend of colors and varieties, cut in half

1 8 ounce container drained pearl mozzarella or Ciliegine mozzarella cut into quarters

4 cups arugula, washed and spun dry and roughly chopped if large

½ loosely packed cup roughly chopped basil

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package instructions for al dente. Quickly rinse with cool water, drain well and transfer to a large bowl. 
  2. When pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes if using. Cook, stirring, until it is fragrant and just starting to brown, about 30 seconds. Add cherry tomatoes, and cook, stirring often, until they are starting to soften and the skins are wrinkled and starting to loosen, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and hold until the pasta is done.
  3. When the pasta is rinsed, rewarm the cherry tomatoes just until the tomato mixture is bubbling. Remove from the heat and add to the cooked pasta. Add in mozzarella, arugula and basil, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Season with black pepper and serve.

Notes

Ingredient Note:

Feel free to use whole wheat pasta or your favorite gluten-free pasta. Or for more protein use Chickpea Penne Pasta. 

If you cannot find pearl mozzarella, you can buy the slightly larger ciliegnie and cut the balls into quarters. Or you can buy a large ball and dice it if necessary. 

Make Ahead:

Leftovers can be enjoyed cold or hot. This can be reheated, 1 serving at a time in the microwave for about 2 minutes. The arugula will wilt and the cheese will be melted too. 

  • Active Time: 30 mins
  • Cook Time: 30 mins
  • Category: Main Course
  • Method: Stove Top
  • Cuisine: Italian

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups
  • Calories: 388 cals
  • Sugar: 7 g
  • Fat: 24 g
  • Carbohydrates: 35 g
  • Fiber: 4 g
  • Protein: 11 g

Keywords: Penne Caprese, Pasta Caprese, Cherry Tomato Pasta, Caprese with Arugula, Healthy Pasta Caprese, Summer Pasta Recipe