“What can I bring?” is something that I find myself saying quite a bit in the summer. There are cookouts, picnics, bbqs, and beach outings—maybe that’s why summer is so busy! Summer is a season for gathering people, especially outdoors over a meal. And this Southwestern Pasta Salad with Grilled Chicken was the perfect addition to a recent outdoor gathering.
I created this pasta salad after we were invited to one of Chicago’s “Movies in the Park”. Every summer, the city hosts hundreds of free movies in the neighborhood parks, complete with inflatable movie screens and fresh popped popcorn. It seems the whole neighborhood comes out to enjoy a movie under the stars. Our friends Stephanie and Garrett invited a group of us, and we showed up in force to watch Jumanji 2.
Jumanji 2 is not a movie I would have watched on my own, but it was super cute and pretty funny. Also, how is The Rock in so many movies? I can’t seem to watch a movie/movie preview without him in it!
A group of us got together around 7:30pm for the movie, which meant I wanted to put together something relatively substantial so it would count as dinner. 🙂 I also wanted something that could sit out for a few hours while we watched the movie in 80°F weather.
I’ve had plenty of Italian-inspired pasta salads, but never a southwestern pasta salad. And this one was a hit! It has so many fresh summer flavors: tomatoes, green onions, fresh corn, radicchio, and cilantro, plus grilled chicken and black beans to add some protein and a dinner-like quality to the salad. I tossed it with a cilantro vinaigrette instead of a creamy dressing so it could stand the outdoors better than a mayo-based dressing would.
The group noshed on the Southwestern Pasta Salad with Grilled Chicken, along with fresh fruit and fruit dip, a cheese & charcuterie platter, popcorn, brownies, and Rice Krispie treats with sprinkles (I’m never making Rice Krispie treats without sprinkles after tasting those).
The southwestern pasta salad takes about 30 minutes of prepping, cooking, and chopping, but I can tell you that it’s worth it. And it makes plenty of pasta salad—this recipes serves 10–12 people.
For the pasta, I used gemelli. Rotini (corkscrew pasta) would work well too—you want something with some texture that will hold onto the vinaigrette. As far as other substitutions, frozen corn would be a great stand-in for fresh (especially fire roasted frozen corn!). You could use romaine lettuce if your crowd won’t like the somewhat bitter taste of radicchio.
Since it doesn’t have mayo, this Southwestern Pasta Salad is great for outdoor events even when the weather is warm. If you’re concerned about the cheese and warm temps, you could leave that out (which also makes it dairy free!).
Southwestern Pasta Salad with Grilled Chicken
For the pasta salad:
- 1 lb short pasta I used gemelli
- 1 lb chicken breasts
- 2 teaspoons taco seasoning
- 2 ears sweet corn kernels cut off the cob
- 1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
- ½ head radicchio or substitute romaine lettuce, thinly sliced
- 4 scallions thinly sliced
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes halved
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning pasta water
- Optional: ½ cup crumbled cotija cheese tortilla strips
For the vinaigrette:
- 1 bunch cilantro finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon agave or honey
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Preheat a grill to medium high heat.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and season it with salt. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain and rinse the pasta.
- Meanwhile, season the chicken breasts with the taco seasoning and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Place on the preheated grill and cook for 4–5 minutes per side, or until no longer pink in the middle. Let cool slightly and chop into ½ inch pieces.
- In a jar with a tight fitting lid (I used a mason jar), combine the vinaigrette ingredients. Shake until combined.
- In a large bowl, combine the pasta, chopped chicken, corn kernels, black beans, radicchio, scallions, tomatoes, and the remaining ¾ teaspoon salt. Pour in the vinaigrette and toss gently to combine. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Gently stir in the cotija cheese just before serving. Serve cold or at room temperature.