America’s fascination with pasta salads has taken us a long way from the original macaroni salad. In the last few decades’ pasta salads have become colorful and fresh, relying on vinaigrettes and an array of seasonal vegetables, cheeses, meats, poultry and seafood to help them sparkle.

You’ll find varieties now include whole wheat, egg, cellophane, soba, quinoa and the standard semolina noodle. I like to use Italian style penne or fusil because it is so easy to eat with a fork.

This vegetarian pasta salad combines the flavors of Caprese (tomato, mozzarella and basil) into a colorful salad. This is a welcome treat. The key is to find ripe tomatoes; multi-colored cherry tomatoes work well too. An added bonus is that this recipe includes a no-cook sauce. Fresh mozzarella (I prefer the little fresh mozzarella balls called ciliegine) adds a creamy element to the salad. This is a basic recipe; feel free to add or subtract ingredients to make it into your own signature salad.

Cooking pasta for a chilled salad requires a few tricks to ensure that the pasta doesn’t stick together. Cook the pasta in boiling water and separate the noodles while cooking, using tongs or chopsticks. Check the pasta often and pull it out of the water while still slightly al dente since it will continue to cook. Drain the pasta and mix with the dressing or coat with oil to keep the noodles from sticking. You can make this up to one day ahead, cover and refrigerate. Perfect for a picnic, lunch on a boat, or as a star dish on a buffet, this pasta salad will be your backup for easy summer eating.

Ingredients

Caprese Pasta Salad

Serves 4 to 6

For the pasta:

1 tablespoon salt

1 pound dried fusilli or penne

For the sauce:

1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped or cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil

1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley

3 medium garlic cloves, minced

1 pound fresh Mozzarella cheese, diced into 1-inch pieces

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Add salt to a large pot of boiling water. Add pasta and cook over high heat until al dente, about 7 to 10 minutes. Drain well. Place in a large serving bowl, mix the tablespoon of oil into the pasta to keep it from sticking and cool. Reserve.

2. In medium bowl combine all the sauce ingredients and mix to combine. Season to taste. Add any optional ingredients.

3. When the pasta is cooled, combine the sauce with the pasta, and mix well, Season to taste, cover and refrigerate until chilled, about an hour or until serving.