Treat yourself to this scrumptious Southwest Pasta Salad! This delicious recipe features a unique dressing, and it's loaded with black beans and fresh veggies. It's easy to make and the perfect addition to any summer BBQ!
Summer is here, and I'm ready for it! I'm lucky enough to have a patio with a pretty view, and sitting outside is my favorite way to enjoy a relaxing evening. Summers in Texas are pretty brutal, but it's usually fairly pleasant at night, especially if there's a breeze.
My husband and I eat dinner outside frequently, and I love making it extra special by cooking something extra delicious, like this Southwest Pasta Salad!
You are going to LOVE this tasty pasta salad recipe! It's full of zesty Tex Mex flavors and packed with crunchy veggies, black beans, and a unique pesto dressing. It would be the perfect addition to your next cookout, and it would make any summer road trip (or even a staycation) more memorable, too.
Best of all, it's super easy to make. Keep reading for all the mouthwatering details!
This simple recipe is inspired by my favorite Southwest and Tex Mex flavors, and it calls for straightforward ingredients that you can find in any grocery store. Here's what you'll need:
- Pasta - Use a short pasta for this recipe. I used fusilli, which catches the sauce so well, however other types (like rotini or farfalle) will also work.
- Veggies - This recipe uses a combination of grape tomatoes, red onions, bell peppers, and corn. Feel free to add other veggies, too.
- Olives - Simple black olives add a tasty pop of flavor.
- Cheese - This recipe calls for queso fresco, which is a mild Mexican cheese that's widely available. You can leave it out if you can't find it, or substitute another cheese.
- Dressing - I used my homemade Cilantro Pesto Sauce for this recipe, and it perfectly complements the recipe's Mexican / Tex Mex flavors! If you're not a cilantro fan, check out the Variations section below for more ideas.
This recipe is naturally vegetarian! You can make it vegan by leaving out the queso fresco, and you can make it gluten free by using GF pasta (just keep in mind that it sometimes comes in smaller boxes ... you'll need 16 ounces / 453 grams total).
You'll Also Need
To make this recipe, you need a large pot or dutch oven to cook the pasta (I used my trusty Calphalon Dutch Oven), a food processor (or high powered blender) to make the pesto, knife and cutting board to prep the veggies / other ingredients, and a large bowl to mix everything together.
How to Make Southwest Pasta Salad
This tasty Tex Mex Pasta Salad is simple to prepare! You'll find a detailed recipe card below, but here's an overview of the steps:
- Cook pasta. Start by cooking the pasta in a large pot of well-salted water. When it's tender, drain it, then rinse with cold water until it's cool. Tip: Rinsing the pasta removes the starch from the exterior of the pasta, which helps prevent it from sticking together.
- Make the pesto. Once the pasta begun cooking, make the pesto. Start by toasting the almonds in a small skillet until golden brown. Combine the almonds with the serrano pepper and garlic in your food processor, then pulse until chopped. Next, add the cilantro, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Blend this mixture until it's mostly smooth, stopping a few times to scrape down the bowl as needed. Tip: If you're unsure about the spice level of the pepper, start by adding a little ... you can always mix in more later.
- Prep the veggies + other ingredients. Once the pesto is done, chop (or slice) the veggies and olives, drain and rinse the beans, and crumble the cheese.
- Mix everything together. When everything is ready, transfer the pasta and pesto to a large bowl, then mix together. Next, toss in the veggies, beans, and cheese. Taste the pasta salad, then add more salt to taste, if needed.
And that's all there is to it ... your delicious Southwestern Pasta Salad is ready to eat!
This recipe keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days. So don't be afraid to make it in the morning, then enjoy it later in the day. Give this easy pasta salad a try at your next cookout ... I think you're going to love it!
This recipe is super easy to customize according to your tastes and to what's in your pantry! Here are some ideas:
- Pasta - I like using short, twisted pasta for this recipe because the twists catch the pesto perfectly. Fusilli (which is what I used) and rotini both work great. Feel free to try other shapes, like gemelli, cavatappi, or even farfalle, too.
- Dressing - One thing that makes this recipe unique is the Cilantro Pesto Dressing ... it's so tasty! If you're not a cilantro fan though, don't worry, you can still make this Tex Mex Pasta Salad! Try using this Kale Pesto instead, make the pesto with all parsley, or use a vinaigrette dressing instead (like this Lemon Dressing or this Red Wine Vinaigrette). The Chili-Lime Vinaigrette from my Mexican Kale Salad would be delicious, too (I'd recommend doubling the ingredients).
- Hot Peppers - The pesto also calls for a serrano pepper. Serranos have a clean, bright flavor that I love. They're spicier than jalapeños, but I wouldn't say that they're scorching hot. If you can't find serrano peppers, you can substitute a jalapeño or ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper. And of course, you can leave out the peppers altogether if you can't take the heat!
- Veggies - Another way you can customize this recipe is by adding other veggies, like diced avocado or thinly sliced zucchini. You could also swap in Roast Vegetables or Grilled Vegetables for the raw ones called for in the recipe.
- Cheese - Queso Fresco is a fresh, mild Mexican cheese that's easy to find in most grocery stores. It's shaped like a flat disc, and it crumbles easily. This recipe uses a small amount of Queso Fresco ... use the rest to top your favorite Mexican recipes, like enchiladas, egg dishes, and tacos. If you'd like, you can substitute Cotija cheese, which has a stronger, saltier flavor, or even feta cheese.
- Vegan - Want to make this pasta salad vegan? It's already vegetarian, so to make it vegan simply skip the cheese. You could also sprinkle the cheese on at the table, if you're serving a mixed crowd of eaters.
- Hot or Cold - This pasta salad is prepared cold, but it can also be served hot. To do that, cook the pasta until al dente and saute the veggies in a little olive oil. Before draining the pasta, reserve ½ cup pasta cooking water. Then, drain the pasta, but do not rinse it. Return it to the pot, then mix it with the pesto and other ingredients, adding just enough pasta cooking water so the pesto coats the pasta and veggies.
Store leftover Southwestern Pasta Salad in an airtight container in your refrigerator. It will stay fresh for up to four days.
Looking for more veggie pasta salad ideas? Try one of these recipes next:
- Italian Pasta Salad
- Cold Asian Noodle Salad
- Greek Pasta Salad
- Kale Pasta Salad
- Greek Tortellini Salad
- Vegan Pasta Salad
Southwest Pasta Salad
For Pasta Salad:
- 1 pound (454 grams) short pasta (such as fusilli or rotini)
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved (about 2 cups)
- 1 large bell pepper, chopped
- ½ small red onion, chopped (about ½ cup) and rinsed with cold water
- 1 (15-ounce / 425 grams) can black beans, drained and rinsed
- ¾ cup corn kernels (defrosted, if frozen)
- ½ cup halved black olives
- ½ cup crumbled queso fresco
- ½ cup slivered almonds
- ½ to 1 whole serrano pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup cilantro (lightly packed)
- 1 cup flat leaf parsley, (lightly packed)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta, then cook until tender.
- Drain pasta in a colander, then rinse with cold water. Drain well.
- While pasta is cooking, place almonds in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook until lightly browned and toasted (about 5 minutes), stirring frequently.
- Let almonds cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor. Add serrano pepper and garlic. Pulse until finely chopped.
- Add cilantro, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Process pesto until smooth. Taste and add more salt, if desired.
- Transfer cold pasta to a large bowl. Add pesto and gently toss to coat.
- Add tomatoes, bell pepper, onions, black beans, corn, olives, and queso fresco. Mix well, then adjust seasoning to taste with additional salt, if necessary.
- Serve at room temperature or chill until ready to eat. Enjoy!