This colorful, easy-to-make summer pasta recipe is a cool mix of garden vegetables and fresh herbs, all held together with a creamy cilantro-lime dressing. Comes together in under 30 minutes; perfect as a light main, hearty side, or easy potluck dish.
Why You Will Love this Recipe
We all have a few go-to meals that we pull out in a pinch. Fast, easy, and forgiving, this recipe is one of our summer favorites - a cool bowl of garden-fresh awesome with a little pasta thrown in.
One of the things you will love best about this pasta salad recipe is how quick and easy it is to put together. If you have the dressing made already you can make it in less than 10 minutes!
The thing that makes this recipe a real go-to, though, is its flexibility. You can use small pasta, any fresh or cooked garden vegetables, and small cooked beans. It's a great way to use up leftovers, too: add roasted vegetables, leftover corn-off-the-cob, cooked meats - whatever you can find in the fridge. I don't think we've ever made this pasta salad the same way twice, and yet it's a winner every time!
What Goes into this Pasta Summer Salad Recipe
The ingredient list for this pasta salad is very flexible. Choose any small pasta, any fresh or cooked garden vegetables, and any small cooked beans.
★ Pasta: Rotini and bowtie pasta work especially well for this salad.
Sometimes we use a lot of pasta, and sometime much less, depending on whether we are going for a "pasta salad" or a "salad with pasta."
★ Summer vegetables: Use the garden veggies you love: tomatoes, zucchini (cooked or raw), cucumbers, onions, sweet peppers, fresh peas, snow peas, cooked eggplant, etc.
★ Corn: The corn adds a welcome pop of sweetness to the salad.
Tip: If you leave out the corn, add 2 teaspoons of sugar to the dressing.
★ Beans: We prefer using black beans when we have them, but small red beans, navy beans, calypso beans, or any small cooked beans will work.
★ Fresh herbs: Use your choice of fresh cilantro, mint, and basil; or use a mixture of two or all three.
This cilantro-lime dressing is super versatile all by itself! We try to keep a bottle in the fridge all the times, especially in the summer. (Visit Creamy Cilantro Lime Dressing for more ways to use this tasty dressing.)
★ Cilantro: Use fresh cilantro. If cilantro taste like soap to you, try making the dressing with basil (or a 50/50 mixture of mint and basil) instead.
★ Greek yogurt: We use full-fat plain Greek yogurt when we make this dressing. You can also use 2% Greek yogurt with good results.
We do not suggest using non-fat yogurt: it makes the dressing too runny for our tastes.
★ Diced green chilis: You can roast a couple of mild chilis yourself, or use a small can of diced green chilis. In this case, either one is a good choice.
When I use canned chilis, I try to buy the whole ones in a big can and distribute them into freezer bags to be used as needed. This ends up being much less expensive than buying the little cans.
★ Lime zest: Make it a habit to zest every piece of citrus that goes through your kitchen before juicing it. When sealed in a small, air-tight bag, citrus zest freezes very well, and will keep for up to three months in the freezer.
★ Oil: We use a light-tasting olive oil or Canola oil. Use any light, neutral oil.
How to Make this Summer Pasta Recipe
Layer all the dressing ingredients in a blender cup and blend until smooth.
We usually make this salad with leftover pasta. If you need to cook the pasta, do so ahead of time, according to the package directions. When the pasta is done, rinse it under cold water and drain, then chill until ready to use. Cooked pasta will last up to 5 days in the refrigerator.
Gently toss salad ingredients - vegetables, beans, corn, fresh herbs, and cooked pasta - together in a large salad bowl.
Pour prepared dressing over the top.
Toss to coat everything. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve.
The salad is ready to eat immediately; however, it is even better when given a little time to marinate, and be made up to a day ahead of time.
There are hundreds of different summer salad combinations, depending upon what vegetables, beans, and pasta you use.
• Chicken Pasta Salad: Add a couple of handfuls of diced chicken to the salad.
• Italian Pasta Salad: Add thin strips of pepperoni, genoa sausage, etc., and cubed mozzarella.
The salad below was made with leftover grilled eggplant, small red beans, and bowtie (farfalle) pasta.
Store pasta salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
How to Quickly Chill Pasta for Salads
While the pasta is cooking, fill a large bowl halfway with ice. Add just enough cold water to come up to the top of the ice.
When the pasta is cooked as desired, immediately drain it in a colander. Place the colander in the prepared ice bath and give it a little shake to allow all the pasta to float free in the ice water for a minute or two.
When fully chilled, lift the colander out of the ice water and drain. The pasta will be chilled and ready to use.
We recommend making summer pasta salad ahead of time to give the flavors a chance to marry and meld. While the salad is ready to eat once it is assembled, it will be all that much better after marinating 4-8 hours, and up to 24 hours.
Once prepared, pasta salad will last 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator.
More Pasta Recipes
Looking for more main course summer pasta salad ideas? Try our delicious Cold Turkey Pasta Salad with honey-citrus dressing!
Garden-fresh Summer Pasta Salad
- 1 Blender or immersion blender
- 4 cups cold cooked pasta rotini, bow-tie, etc.; ~6 ounces dry pasta
- 2 cups chopped or sliced summer veggies tomatoes, onions, eggplant, zucchini, etc.
- 1½ cups black beans drained and rinsed; or small red beans
- 1 cup sweet corn give or take
- ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs i.e., basil, cilantro, mint
- Layer all the dressing ingredients in a blender cup and blend until smooth.
- We usually make this salad with leftover pasta. If you need to cook the pasta, do so ahead of time, according to the package directions. When the pasta is done, rinse it under cold water and drain, then chill until ready to use.Cooked pasta will last up to 5 days in the refrigerator.
- Gently toss salad ingredients - vegetables, beans, corn, fresh herbs, and cooked pasta - together in a large salad bowl.
- Toss to coat everything. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- The salad is ready to eat immediately; however, it is even better when given 30 minutes (and up to 24 hours) to marinate.
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