Cowboy Pasta Salad

published Jun 27, 2024
summer
Cowboy Pasta Salad Recipe

Cowboy pasta salad combines two potluck favorites into the ultimate summer side dish.

Serves10 to 12

MakesMakes 11 cups

Prep35 minutes

Cook10 minutes to 15 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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overhead shot of cowboy pasta salad, with some missing from the bottom right of the plate, and a spoon resting in it.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Spencer Richards

If you’re looking for a fresh take on the classic pasta salad to bring to the summer picnics, poolside dinners, and upcoming backyard get-togethers, I’ve got you covered. This pasta salad combines everything you love about summery cowboy caviar with al dente bowtie pasta. A bowl of this colorful medley has creamy beans, crunchy, in-season vegetables, and a citrusy dressing to bring it all together. The recipe is simple, comes together quickly thanks to canned beans, and can even be made a few hours in advance. Here’s how to do it. 

Why You’ll Love It

  • It’s the perfect potluck party dish. Every forkful of this pasta salad is packed with color, flavor, and texture, and with no eggs or mayonnaise, it can sit out safely with the rest of the potluck spread.
  • The homemade dressing is the star. Take shortcuts with canned beans and frozen corn, but there’s no substitute for this homemade citrus dressing. It comes together quickly with ingredients you probably have in your pantry and gives the pasta salad a bright flavor. 
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Spencer Richards

Key Ingredients in Cowboy Pasta Salad

  • Farfalle pasta: This bow tie noodle is a classic pasta shape for summer side salads. You can substitute other short pasta like fusilli or orecchiette.
  • Canned beans: Use 1 can each black beans and black-eyed peas, and make sure to drain and rinse the beans first. 
  • Corn: With sweet corn in season right now, that’s the best choice for this pasta salad (grab extra corn to enjoy in other corn recipes), but thawed frozen corn kernels also work well. 
  • Bell pepper: Orange bell pepper gives this pasta salad even more color, although red or yellow can be substituted.
  • Tomatoes: A serrated knife makes halving grape or cherry tomatoes easier. Or you can try this handy hack for slicing the tiny tomatoes
  • Lime vinaigrette: A bright and flavorful dressing made from fresh limes, garlic, and spices brings this pasta salad together.  

Cowboy Pasta Salad Recipe

Cowboy pasta salad combines two potluck favorites into the ultimate summer side dish.

Prep time 35 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes to 15 minutes

Makes Makes 11 cups

Serves 10 to 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the vinaigrette:

  • 3

    cloves garlic

  • 3

    medium limes

  • 1/3 cup

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons

    ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1 teaspoon

    dried oregano

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    chili powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

For the pasta salad:

  • 1/2

    medium red onion

  • 12 ounces

    dried farfalle pasta

  • 1

    pint grape or cherry tomatoes (about 10 ounces)

  • 1

    medium orange bell pepper

  • 1

    medium jalapeño pepper

  • 1

    (about 15-ounce) can black-eyed peas

  • 1

    (about 15-ounce) can black beans

  • 1 1/2 cups

    fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels (about 2 ears fresh)

  • 1/2

    bunch fresh cilantro or parsley leaves

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette.

  2. Finely grate 3 garlic cloves and the zest from 3 medium limes (about 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons) into a small bowl or jar. Juice the limes until you have 1/4 cup and add to the jar. Add 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Seal the jar and shake well to combine and emulsify, or whisk if using a bowl.

  3. Transfer about half of the vinaigrette (about 1/3 cup) to a large bowl; reserve the remaining vinaigrette for serving. Dice 1/2 medium red onion (about 3/4 cup). Add to the bowl and stir to break apart the layers and coat with the vinaigrette.

  4. Add 12 ounces dried farfalle pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions until al dente, 11 to 13 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the following, adding each to the vinaigrette in the large bowl as it is completed: Halve 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes. Core, seed, and dice 1 medium orange bell pepper (about 1 1/4 cups). Seed and mince 1 medium jalapeño pepper (about 2 tablespoons). Drain and rinse 1 (about 15-ounce) can black-eyed peas and 1 (about 15-ounce) can black beans. Add 1 1/2 cups fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels. Stir to coat with the dressing.

  5. When the pasta is ready, drain and rinse with cold water to cool. Drain well. Add the pasta to the bowl and toss to coat. When ready to serve, coarsely chop 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro or parsley leaves until you have 1/4 cup. Add the herbs and reserved vinaigrette to the salad, and toss to coat. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The vinaigrette can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container. The salad can be made up to a few hours ahead and refrigerated. Add the herbs and reserved dressing right before serving.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days.