Home > Dinner > Pasta & Pizza > Zesty Italian Pasta Zesty Italian Pasta November 15, 2013 | 30 Comments SAVE TO RECIPE BOX Jump to Recipe This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy. 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. 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?! Fresh mozzarella pearls are added 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. 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 opt for a good-quality brand. I recommend Kraft Zesty® Italian Dressing. (This guide may help you decide what brand to use!) Cherry 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. Ribboning the basil (also known as a chiffonade cut) helps 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. 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 pasta 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 adhere 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: It provides adequate space to sauté and mix the ingredients effectively, ensuring uniform cooking. Tossing the pasta in the sauce, a critical step for even flavor distribution is much easier in a large pan. The size of the skillet also comfortably accommodates the entire dish, and its broad base promotes better heat distribution for consistent cooking. 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 mush). 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. More Pasta Favorites: Pesto Pasta Salad with cherry tomatoes and cucumbers Sausage Pasta made with Italian ground sausage Chicken And Broccoli Pasta with a creamy pasta sauce Buffalo Chicken Pasta with a creamy two-ingredient sauce Chicken Pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach FOLLOW ALONG! Subscribe to my newsletter and follow along on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram for the latest updates, recipes and content. Zesty Italian Pasta 5 from 12 votes - Review this recipe 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. SAVE TO RECIPE BOX Print Recipe Zesty Italian Pasta 5 from 12 votes - Review this recipe SAVE TO RECIPE BOX Print Recipe 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 minutes Cook Time 10 minutes minutes Total Time 25 minutes minutes Servings 4 servings Chelsea Lords Calories 486kcal Author Chelsea Lords Cost $7.85 Ingredients▢ 8 oz (1/2 lb) angel hair pasta, 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▢ 2½ 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 pepper▢ Optional: red pepper flakes, grated Parmesan cheese InstructionsPASTA: 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 & 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 NotesNote 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 FactsServing: 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. DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE? I love hearing from you when you've made one of my recipes! Tag me on Instagram at @ChelseasMessyApron or leave me a comment below.