Zesty Italian Pasta

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Easy CAPRESE PASTA -- so quick and amazingly delicious! Angel hair pasta tossed with a cherry tomato and Zesty Italian sauce and topped with fresh mozzarella cheese and shredded basil. Recipe via chelseasmessyapron.com

This Zesty Italian Pasta is a quick, easy-to-make dish bursting with a lively tang from the Italian dressing and sweet cherry tomatoes. Together they create a delectably chunky sauce that beautifully coats the pasta. To finish things off, we throw in some creamy mozzarella and fresh basil ribbons to provide even more flavor and a great textural contrast.

Overhead image of the Zesty Italian Pasta

Zesty Italian Pasta

The vibrant flavors of this pasta dish start with a base of sautéed onions and garlic, setting the stage for a bold and flavorful sauce that takes shape as you simmer cherry tomatoes with Italian dressing. The dressing infuses the sauce with a tangy zestiness, complementing the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. Once softened and smashed, the tomatoes create a chunky sauce that clings to the delicate strands of pasta, providing a burst of flavor in every bite.

But what’s a good pasta without some cheese?! We add fresh mozzarella pearls at the end, offering delightful pockets of creamy, melted goodness. And to bring a final burst of flavor and freshness, we add in fresh basil.

Best of all, this flavorful pasta comes together with ease, making it perfect for busy weeknights. Leveraging the convenience of store-bought Italian dressing as a key ingredient in the sauce, you can have this delightful meal served in 30 minutes or less!

QUICK TIP

Zesty is a brand name for Kraft’s extra-flavorful Italian dressing. I recommend this particular dressing because it’s so…well…zesty! See the blog post for a guide to Italian dressings for more information.

Process shots-- images of the onions being sautéed and then tomatoes, garlic, and dressing all being added to the pot

Italian Pasta Ingredients

  • Angel hair pasta: Angel hair is very thin pasta, which means it cooks quickly. Be careful not to overcook it– it can become mushy quickly. If you don’t have angel hair, you can substitute with thin spaghetti, but adjust cooking times accordingly.
  • Olive oil: Extra-virgin olive oil is best for this recipe because of its superior flavor. 
  • Red or yellow onion: Onions add sweetness and depth to the sauce. The color of the onion doesn’t matter much, but red onions can add a pop of color. Make sure to chop the onions very finely to allow them to blend well into the sauce.
  • Minced garlic: Fresh garlic will give the most robust flavor, but you can use jarred minced garlic for convenience.
  • Zesty® Italian Dressing: This brings tanginess and zest to the dish. The quality of the dressing will directly affect the overall flavor of the pasta, so choose a good-quality brand.  I recommend Kraft Zesty® Italian Dressing. (This guide may help you decide what brand to use!) 
  • Cherry or grape tomatoes: These tiny tomatoes bring sweetness and create the base for our sauce. Make sure to halve them for a quicker cooking time and better incorporation into the sauce.
  • Fresh basil: Basil adds a burst of fresh flavor and color. It’s best added at the end of cooking to maintain its bright flavor and color. Slice the basil into thin ribbons (also known as a chiffonade cut) to help distribute it evenly throughout the dish.
  • Mozzarella pearls: These are small balls of mozzarella cheese that melt into the Italian pasta, adding creamy bites. If you can’t find pearls, you can cut a block of mozzarella into small cubes.
  • Fine sea salt and pepper: These basic seasonings are essential for enhancing the flavors of the other ingredients.

QUICK TIP

A Few Optional Ingredients:

  • Red pepper flakes: These add a bit of heat to the pasta. You can add them directly into the sauce or sprinkle them on top of individual servings, according to each diner’s preference.
  • Parmesan cheese: Grate a block of Parmesan cheese over the finished dish, adding a salty, nutty element that complements the zesty and sweet flavors of the sauce. Freshly grated Parmesan has a stronger and fresher flavor than pre-grated cheese. We like to buy a block of Parmesan cheese and use a microplane to grate it on top.

Process shots of Zesty Italian Pasta-- images of the noodles being cooked and added to the sauce

How To Make Italian Pasta (Tips)

  • Fresh ingredients: Whenever possible, use fresh ingredients. Fresh basil, tomatoes, garlic, and mozzarella will significantly enhance the flavor profile of this Italian Pasta.
  • Salt the pasta water: Salting the cooking water is essential. This is your chance to season the pasta itself, and it can make a significant difference in the overall taste of the dish. The water should taste like the sea – salty but not uncomfortably so.
  • Do not rinse: After draining the pasta, do not rinse it with water; the starch on the pasta helps the sauce cling better.
  • Tomato: When cooking the cherry tomatoes, be patient and let them cook thoroughly until they burst and release their juices. This enhances the sauce with a fresh tomato flavor.
  • Dressing as a sauce: Using the Italian dressing as a sauce is a clever shortcut, but make sure to add it in stages to allow its flavor to infuse throughout the cooking process.
  • Timing: Try to time it so that your sauce is ready just as your pasta finishes cooking. This way, you can transfer the pasta directly from the pot to the pan, ensuring it doesn’t clump or stick together.

Use A Large Skillet!

A large skillet is crucial in this recipe, for a few reasons:

  1. It provides adequate space to sauté and mix the ingredients effectively, ensuring uniform cooking.
  2. Tossing the pasta in the sauce, a critical step for even flavor distribution is much easier in a large pan.
  3. The size of the skillet also comfortably accommodates the entire dish, and its broad base promotes better heat distribution for consistent cooking.

Overhead image of the dish ready to be enjoyed

STORAGE

While this Zesty Italian Pasta can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days, it is best enjoyed freshly made.

If reheated, its taste and texture may alter slightly, with the pasta becoming softer (potentially mushy). So for the most enjoyable eating experience, aim to serve this pasta hot, right after it’s cooked– when its elements are at their peak.

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Zesty Italian Pasta

5 from 12 votes
This Zesty Italian Pasta is a quick, easy-to-make dish bursting with a flavorful tang from the Italian dressing and sweet cherry tomatoes. Together they create a delectably chunky sauce that beautifully coats the pasta. To finish things off, we throw in some creamy mozzarella and fresh basil ribbons to provide even more flavor and a great textural contrast.
Print Recipe

Zesty Italian Pasta

5 from 12 votes
This Zesty Italian Pasta is a quick, easy-to-make dish bursting with a flavorful tang from the Italian dressing and sweet cherry tomatoes. Together they create a delectably chunky sauce that beautifully coats the pasta. To finish things off, we throw in some creamy mozzarella and fresh basil ribbons to provide even more flavor and a great textural contrast.
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American, Healthy, Vegetarian
Keyword Italian pasta, Zesty Italian Pasta
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Chelsea Lords
Calories 486kcal
Cost $7.85

Ingredients

  • 8 oz angel hair pasta, (½ lb), uncooked
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red or yellow onion very finely chopped (1 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • ¾ cup good-quality Italian dressing divided (Note 1) I recommend Kraft Zesty® Italian Dressing
  • cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup fresh basil, ribboned
  • ¾ cup mozzarella cheese pearls (or a block of cheese cut to small cubes)
  • Fine sea salt and and pepper
  • Optional: red pepper flakes, grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  • PASTA: In a very large pot, bring 12 cups of water to a boil. Once boiling, add 1 tbsp of fine sea salt. Return the water to a boil, then add the angel hair pasta. Cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain the pasta once cooked, but do not rinse.
  • START SAUCE: While the pasta is coming to a boil, heat the olive oil in a large skillet (big enough to hold pasta later on!) over medium-high heat. Add the finely chopped onion and cook, stirring until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • DEVELOP SAUCE: Add the halved cherry tomatoes, ½ cup of the Italian dressing, and salt and pepper to taste (½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper recommended). Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • FINISH SAUCE: As the tomatoes soften, smash them with the back of a wooden spoon. Continue cooking for 2-3 more minutes until the mixture forms a chunky sauce.
  • COMBINE AND FINISH: Transfer the drained pasta to the skillet. Add the remaining ¼ cup of dressing and toss to coat the pasta evenly. Stir in the fresh basil ribbons and mozzarella cheese. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.
  • ENJOY: Optionally, add red pepper flakes, either to the skillet or individually on plates. Plate the pasta and use a microplane to grate fresh Parmesan cheese over each serving. Best enjoyed immediately.

Video

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Kraft Zesty® Italian Dressing: This particular brand of extra-flavorful Italian salad dressing brings tanginess and zest to the dish. I highly recommend this brand, since the quality of the dressing will directly affect the overall flavor of the pasta. (This guide may help you decide what brand to use!) Fat-free Italian dressing can be used.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 486kcal | Carbohydrates: 55g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Trans Fat: 0.03g | Cholesterol: 7mg | Sodium: 466mg | Potassium: 422mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 630IU | Vitamin C: 24mg | Calcium: 109mg | Iron: 2mg

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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Recipe Rating




30 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Thanks for this recipe , was fantastic good. I added grilled sliced sausage and black olives and chopped red pepper,, used shredded Parmesan instead of mozzarella. Was seriously out of this world, my wife was ready to lick the bowl.

    1. What a compliment!! I’m so thrilled to hear this was such a big hit; thanks for the comment Jim!

  2. Oh damn this looked good! But I fell asleep before I could finish reading all the stuff I don’t need to know about to make it. PUT YOUR RECIPE AT THE TOP. This is the #1 complaint about food bloggers out there. DO IT. DO IT.

  3. 5 stars
    Tried your recipe for dinner and it was delicious! My son said the sauce was sweet and tasty. Hoping to eat some for lunch tomorrow but there are no leftovers.

  4. 5 stars
    A GREAT pasta! I am very glad I found your website all your recipes are so very good. It’s my go to website now.

    1. You are so awesome Erin! I’m so happy to hear you all enjoyed this! Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  5. This is 4th year making your dish. We plan, planted our garden just for it. Tonight, 1st make of season, start kick our summer. THANK YOU so, much for this I actually dream abt it, drool -thinking abt it during off season.

    1. 5 stars
      Year 2023 – Now, our grand daughter is making your awesome recipe dish And its perfect as is THANK YOU

  6. 5 stars
    Tasted Great I just used marble cheese instead of mozzarella and used normal iron instead of skillet since I dont have one it worked fine I just had to give it time to melt and it was great thanks for the recipe!!!!

  7. 5 stars
    I don’t usually like to comment but this recipe was so easy to follow and very delicious I just had to tell you. The fresh mozzarella brings the dish together nicely. My dish doesn’t look as nice but tastes amazing. I would try this again!

  8. 5 stars
    So delish! I did sub balsamic vinaigrette for italian dressing because it’s what i had on hand, what a great caprese flavor!

    1. Sorry Rose, this isn’t a great dish to make ahead of time. It’s best served right after being made.

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