You’ve got no idea what to make for dinner, you’re staring at a half-empty refrigerator with a rumbling belly and hungry family to satisfy, but inspiration suddenly strikes! Tomatoes, mozzarella, balsamic and a little pasta? Sounds like time to make a simple, delightful pasta salad. You’ve got everything you need on hand to make a quick bruschetta while pasta bubbles and balsamic vinegar reduces, so dinner will be done in just 10 minutes. With the hot summer definitely upon us, fast and fresh is definitely the way to go!
I cannot stress enough how simple this dish is to make. Do you know how to boil noodles? Can you watch liquid bubble away? Can you quarter cherry tomatoes? Then you, too, can make this delicious pasta salad that’s way better than anything you’d grab at the deli or salad bar. The secret is the depth of flavor the reduced balsamic vinegar imparts into the pasta, combined with the pops of mozzarella and the fresh herbaceousness and brightness of the quick bruschetta. When you use a small pasta, you can create the perfect bite of fresh tomato, tangy coated pasta and chewy mozzarella. If you’re in the mood for even more savory flavors, try oven roasted tomatoes in place of the bruschetta and top with melty broiled mozzarella rounds.
This would be a great side dish for Bruschetta Chicken on a hot summer’s day. I’m also planning to prepare a big batch of this for potluck dish to enjoy with family and friends at the Fourth of July! If I stick it in a big ol’ blue bowl, it’ll be extra patriotic 🙂
Bruschetta-Caprese Pasta Salad
- 8 ounces mini penne
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
- ½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar, divided
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
- 8 ounces fresh ciliegine or other small mozzarella balls, drained
- Pour ½ cup of balsamic vinegar into a small pot over medium heat. Allow vinegar to reduce, stirring occasionally, until it coats the back of a spoon (about 5-7 minutes).
- Cook and drain pasta to package directions and set aside
- While the balsamic vinegar reduces and pasta cooks, combine cherry tomatoes, 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar, olive oil and dried oregano. Stir until all tomatoes are well-coated and place in refrigerator.
- Combine pasta and reduced balsamic vinegar, stirring well to coat the pasta. Add tomato mixture and mozzarella balls, stirring to distribute well. Serve topped with additional oregano.
Maybe I had mentally dozed off during our weekly marketing meeting or my mind had wandered off to someplace more interesting than the small talk after we wrapped up the webinar, but my brain suddenly snapped back into focus as soon as I heard it… “caprice salad”. What? I had to ask my boss to repeat himself and explain what he was talking about. “You know, the salad with the tomatoes and mozzarella; a caprice salad.”
Before he’d even finished, I was doubled over in laughter. “Like a Chevy Caprice? I think you mean a Caprese (ka-pray-zey) salad… and you call yourselves Italian.”
Of course, this is the same man that swears gnocchi is pronounced yonky, so I don’t know what I was expecting.
Ever since that meeting, I can’t help but laugh to myself when I see a menu or recipe with Caprese in it 🙂 This pasta dish’s deliciousness is no laughing matter though! Call it Caprice, Caprese and Catie for all I care, this is a one tasty baked pasta.
Simple spaghetti noodles are coated with a sauce spiked with cream and cheese, tossed with mozzarella balls and grape tomatoes, topped with more of the same and baked until bubbly and delicious. The baked tomatoes are warm, oven-roasted pops of flavors while the melty, gooey cheese melds perfectly with the simple and creamy sauce. Unlike many pasta casseroles that may weigh you down with that carby feeling, this dish stays light and filling at the same time.
Creamy Caprese Pasta
- 1 pound spaghetti or other thin pasta
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
- ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese + more for garnish
- 4 ounces mozzarella balls
- 1 pint of grape tomatoes
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare pasta al dente according to directions.
- While pasta is cooking, heat tomato sauce over low heat in a large saucepan. Once warm, stir in heavy cream and grated parmesan.
- Drain pasta and combine with sauce until well-coated. Add about ¾ of the mozzarella balls and grape tomatoes, stir to combine and pour into a baking dish.
- Top the pasta with the remaining tomatoes and mozzarella, adding additional parmesan cheese as a finishing touch.
- Bake for 25 minutes, or until cheese is golden and bubbly.
Enjoy this as a side or a main course; add protein for a heartier dish.
Based on a recipe from How Sweet It Is
I made these bacon-spinach-tomato couscous cups for dinner last night, and they were a hit! The recipe is based on Iowa Girl Eats Mini BLT Quinoa Cups, adapted to fit Manckwhite tastes and pantry contents. These little suckers are savory and delicious; they take a little work between frying bacon, making couscous and baking the whole shebang, but I think they’re worth it : )
Also, make sure to check out the whole Iowa Girl Eats blog and recipe repertoire! She has wonderful healthy (and not so healthy) recipes that are easy to make, adapt and enjoy. Kristin’s Friday Favorites are a great resource for food, travel and fashion eye candy, too.
Mini BLT Couscous Cups (makes 30 mini cups)
- 1 box couscous mix (we got ours from HEB), prepared to box directions
- 2 eggs
- 3 egg whites
- 1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed completely dry
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 6-8 slices of bacon
- 1/2 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
- 2 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Prepare couscous to box directions and set aside.
- Fry or bake bacon until very crispy. Crumble into bits and set aside.
- Combine eggs, egg whites, spinach, cheeses, bacon, and tomatoes in a large bowl. Add couscous and stir well to combine.
- Spray 2 mini-muffin tins with nonstick spray, then fill each cup to the top with the mixture, smoothing the top with the back of a spoon.
- Bake for 15-17 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
- Let cool 5 minutes, then pop out with a butter knife. Cool completely on a cooling rack. Store in the refrigerator, or freeze then reheat by microwaving for 30 seconds.
The combination of eggs,cheese and bacon makes the taste of these cups is a little quiche-y, which means they are great for brunch OR dinner. I’m having our leftovers for lunch today (and probably tomorrow as well).
Download a PDF of this recipe!