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!
This tasty pasta salad recipe is 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!
Let's talk about this easy pasta salad! I love reaching for recipes like this on hot summer days when I'm craving something fast, fresh tasting, and delicious.
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:
- Short Pasta
- Homemade Cilantro Pesto Sauce (Don't like cilantro? See alternatives below.)
- Veggies: Red Onion, Bell Pepper, Grape Tomatoes, Corn
- Black Olives
- Queso Fresco
Simple, right? And the flavors are super bright and fresh, too ... perfect for summer!
Tips and Substitutions
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. The Chili-Lime Vinaigrette from my Mexican Kale Salad would be delicious (I'd recommend doubling the ingredients).
- Hot Peppers - The pesto also calls for a serrano chili. 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 roasted 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 Queso Fresco. You could also sprinkle the cheese on at the table, if you're serving a mixed crowd of eaters.
How to Make Southwest Pasta Salad
Okay, ready to get started? You're going to love how quick and easy this Southwest Pasta Bean Salad is to make!
To keep things moving fast, prep all your veggies first, then start the pasta.
While the pasta cooks, you'll work on the homemade cilantro pesto. Begin by toasting the almonds in a small skillet. Nuts burn easily, so keep an eye on them, and stir often. You'll know they're done when they smell toasty and they turn a light, golden brown.
Combine the nuts in your food processor, along with the serrano pepper and garlic. If you're unsure about the spice level of the pepper, start small ... you can always add more later.
Pulse the nut mixture until it's finely minced. Then give the cilantro and parsley a quick chop (it's okay to include some stems), and add it to the food processor, along with the olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Blend this mixture until it's mostly smooth, stopping a few times to scrape down the bowl.
Once your pasta is al dente (tender, but still firm in the center), drain it, then rinse it with cold water. The cold water removes the starch from the exterior of the pasta, which helps prevent it from sticking together.
Tip: If you'd prefer, this pasta salad can 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.
Once the pasta and pesto are ready, it's time to put everything together. Transfer the pasta to a large bowl. Then, gently mix the pasta and pesto together.
Before you add the veggies to the pasta, I recommend rinsing the chopped red onion with cold water. This will take away any sharp, bitter flavor from the raw onions.
After you've done that, add it to the pasta, along with the corn, tomatoes, bell pepper, black beans, and cheese. Toss everything together, then give it a taste. If it seems a little bland, add more salt to taste.
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!
Looking for more 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
Southwest Pasta Salad
For Pasta Salad:
- 1 pound short pasta (such as fusilli or rotini)
- ½ small red onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved (about 2 cups)
- 1 large bell pepper, chopped
- 1 (15.25-ounce) 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 al dente.
- 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.
- Roughly chop cilantro and parsley, then add to food processor, along with 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.
- Place chopped onion in a fine mesh strainer, then rinse with cold water. Drain well.
- Add onion to pasta, along with tomatoes, bell pepper, 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!