The Speckled Palate

June 26, 2019

Beef Taco Pasta Salad

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This post is sponsored by Panorama Meats. As always, all opinions, thoughts and recipes are my own.

Serve up Taco Pasta Salad to guests this summer! A mash-up of classic pasta salad and taco salad, this entree packs in the flavor to make a dish that’s great for sharing. Makes 8 servings.

A package of Panorama Ground Beef is shown beside the final recipe

In the South, we’re very much about making salads that aren’t actually salads.

Potato salad? Pasta salad? Coleslaw? They’re all in the same vein and are all generally used in entertaining, which makes me incredibly happy.

So today, I’m adding a new salad to the mix.

Simply put, this Taco Pasta Salad is a mash up of classic Southern pasta salad and Taco Salad.

Everyone who has tried it has been wild about these flavors together, so you’re gonna have to give it a go next time you’re hosting folks this summer.

I’m teaming up with my friends at Panorama Meats and using their organic grass-fed ground beef in this recipe. I love how much flavor their beef adds!

More summer entertaining recipes: Memphis-Style Barbecue Ribs / Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars / Spinach and Feta Burgers / Pulled Pork ShoulderOoey Gooey Bars / Spiked Watermelon Limeade

Ground beef is shown in a skillet, surrounded by other ingredients

Before we get started, let me tell you about Panorama Meats.

We discovered this brand when my husband picked up a few packages of their grass-fed, grass-finished ground beef after we moved into our new house last fall.

I was insanely pregnant, so I wasn’t eating other cuts of beef at the time because well-done steaks make me sad… and we were blown away with how much flavor this beef had.

You know how some ground beef can taste kind of… bland? Well, Panorama’s ground beef is beefy.

I’m thrilled to be working with Panorama this summer to highlight their amazing products.

You can find them at your local Whole Foods Market. They’re sold in 120 stores throughout Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, Florida and the Southwest, including Texas. They’re also sold at Brookshire Brothers in Texas.

Some quick facts you should know about Panorama:

  • USDA organic and Global Animal Partnership (GAP) Animal Welfare Rated Step 4
  • 100% grass-fed and grass-finished. This means they live in a pasture and eat all the grasses, legumes and range forage they want for the duration of their lives.
  • The nation’s largest producer of 100% grass-fed and grass-finished organic cattle
  • Whole30 and paleo diet approved

I’ve been on the grass-fed beef train for a while because I like the idea of animals who live happy lives. Honestly, Panorama has taken it to a new level for me. The quality and taste of their meat is simply incredible.

Other recipes I’ve created using Panorama products: French Onion Steak PastaGround Beef Meat PiesTexas ChiliHomemade Loaded QuesoGrilled Steak Flatbread Pizza Recipe

Close up of Taco Pasta Salad in a bowl, from above

What tools or products will I need to make Beef Taco Pasta Salad?

  • Skillet
  • Pasta pot
  • Mason jar
  • Sharp knife and cutting board
  • Large bowl for the salad
  • Tongs

A giant bowl holding Beef Taco Pasta Salad sits on a table, ready for eating

How to make Taco Pasta Salad

Cook the corn

If you’re cooking fresh corn, here’s what I suggest you do: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt.

Keep in mind that this water is going to cook the pasta, too, so don’t dump it out after the corn is done cooking!

So, when the water is boiling, drop in the ear of corn. It should be out of its husk. Cook it for 10 minutes.

When the corn has finished cooking, pull it out using a pair of tongs, and pat dry.

You can char it on the stovetop, a grill pan or a grill, but it’s certainly optional. If you do this, I suggest placing the corn directly on the grate of your gas range over the flame, only rotating it after you hear it pop. This will take a few minutes for you to get some color on most of the kernels.

When the corn has been charred, remove it from the heat and let cool before slicing off the cob.

Overhead image of all ingredients before tossing together

Cook the pasta

If you plan to use canned or frozen corn, you need to bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with sea salt.

Toss in the pasta, and stir with a wooden spoon so it doesn’t stick to itself.

Boil for about 9-10 minutes, or until it’s al dente.

What does al dente mean?

When the pasta has a bit of texture to it, but it’s not crunchy or soggy, either.

I find it’s helpful to set a timer on your phone or the oven to notify you around the time your pasta is going to be ready, so if the instructions on the pasta box say “Boil for 12 minutes,” I’ll set the alarm at the 8-9 minute mark.

This is the fun part—you get to taste the pasta, sometimes more than once, to ensure it’s cooked through!

When the pasta is almost done, reserve about ¼ cup of the salted, gluten-y water. I’ll just dunk a measuring cup into the water and place it on the countertop. This pasta water is going to help the dressing stick to the taco pasta salad, so it’s important!

When the pasta is finally done, drain in a colander, then transfer it back to the pot. Add olive oil to the pasta and stir it around with a wooden spoon to ensure that it doesn’t stick together.

Ingredients for Beef Taco Pasta Salad are laid out on a white background

Chop your veggies

I feel like it’s kind of ridiculous to add this as a bullet point on what you need to be doing with this taco pasta salad recipe, but the fact of the matter is this: this recipe calls for some chopping. A lot of it, in fact, and I know that can be overwhelming.

While the pasta cooks, I suggest chopping as many of your veggies as possible. (And if you haven’t set a timer for the pasta, I suggest doing that now because you can get so into the chopping that you forget about the pasta. Been there, done that.)

So get out a sharp knife and cutting board, and dice the green bell pepper and red onion. You’ll have leftovers of these, so pop them in your favorite food storage containers, and transfer the extras to the fridge for later this week. (Need some things to make with green bell peppers and red onions?)

Slice the cherry tomatoes down the middle to half them.

Remove the avocado’s pit and skin after opening it, and then chop into bite-sized pieces.

Remove the kernels from the cooked corn, too.

Chop that green onion.

Set everything aside for when you’re going to put together the salad.

Also? I realize that you probably won’t be able to finish all the chopping in the same time that the pasta is boiling, but it’s worth noting that getting started while the pasta boils makes the overall time of this dish shorter.

Ground beef is seasoned in a skillet

Brown the beef

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is warm, add the olive oil.

When the oil begins to shimmer, add the ground beef with the taco seasoning. After that, use a wooden spoon to break up the beef into smaller chunks, and move it around the pan as it begins to cook.

Since we’re using Panorama Ground Beef, you should know that grass-fed beef is lower in fat and requires less cooking time. Because of this, our cook time is a bit shorter on this ground beef.

When the meat is crumbly, browned and delicious, remove the pan from the heat, and set it aside.

Personally, I like for the beef to be warm when I put together this salad.

Honey is poured into a mason jar to make dressing

Make the dressing

In a quart-sized mason jar, combine the oil, ketchup, honey, red wine vinegar, sour cream and pasta water. Put the lid on, and shake, shake, shake!

After that, add the seasonings to the jar, and shake some more.

Your mixture should be relatively smooth, but know the sour cream can get a little clumpy sometimes. And it’s OK if it does—it’ll smooth out when you add it to the ingredients, especially since the beef and pasta should still be warm-ish.

If you don’t like lumps in the dressing, simply combine the ingredients in the food processor or the blender and mix ‘em together that way.

When your dressing is mixed, refrigerate it until it’s time to dress the salad.

The salad dressing is shown in a mason jar on a white background

Put together the Taco Pasta Salad

Using salad tongs, gently toss the pasta, beef, red onion, green bell pepper, tomatoes, avocados, corn, green onions and most of the cheese with the entire mason jar of the dressing.

This might take a little effort since this recipe makes a lot of Taco Pasta Salad, but it’s all good!

Once everything has been combined, sprinkle the additional cheese and parsley on top, and serve immediately to guests.

Please know that you can serve this dish warm or cold, though my family prefers it warm.

Ingredients for Taco Pasta Salad are shown lined up on top of the pasta, before tossing

Erin’s Easy Entertaining Tips

Make elements of the dish ahead of time.

Hosting friends or family members and need to make this recipe in advance? Here’s what you can do in advance:

  • Boil the corn if you’re using fresh corn. (If you’re not, that’s OK because canned and frozen corn work great here.)
  • Cook and drain the pasta.
  • While the pasta cooks, chop all your veggies (minus the avocado), and store them together.
  • Brown the beef as you continue to chop your veggies, if you’re unable to get them all chopped while the pasta cooks.
  • Mix up the dressing.
  • Store the pasta and beef in separate containers, and keep everything in the fridge until it’s time to serve the salad, then combine it all.

Bring this recipe on-the-go.

Attending a potluck, a picnic or even a barbecue? This Taco Pasta Salad would be a wonderful addition because it can be put together and transported easily, so long as it’s in a large enough bowl!

Since it can be served warm or cold (or lukewarm), you can easily bring it to a variety of events.

A woman sprinkles green onions on top of a salad

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the backstory of Panorama Meats?

In 2002, the company got its start when a group of family ranchers and rangeland conservationists in Northern California got together. Their idea was to produce a grass-fed beef that’s healthy for humans, humane for cattle and easy on the environment.

Today, Panorama’s participating family ranchers raise cattle on more than 1 million acres of USDA Certified Organic grasslands in Northern California, Southern Oregon, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, New Mexico, Nebraska and Colorado.

The combination of the cow’s correct diet—natural grasses, legumes and range forage—and low stress, humane living conditions, makes for both flavorful and tender naturally lean ground beef.

Cooked ground beef is shown in a skillet, after cooking, surrounded by other ingredients

How do you brown the ground beef?

Browning is the process of cooking the surface of the meat. It can also be used to cook the meat completely through, as we’ll do in this taco pasta salad recipe.

The browning process gives the beef a brown color, as well as adds flavor. It also pulls out excess fats from the meat.

Obviously, the longer it cooks, the browner (and more cooked through) the ground beef becomes.

So to brown ground beef, you throw it in a pan with a little oil, break it up with a wooden spoon (or another kitchen tool), season it and cook it over medium-high heat until it turns brown.

Overhead image of tossed together Beef Taco Pasta Salad

Why isn’t there lettuce in this Taco Pasta Salad?

When I was brainstorming about this recipe, I really wanted to try to recreate a taco salad inside a pasta salad. But in order to do that, I decided to skip the base of the taco salad because lettuce in pasta salad sounded weird to me.

The upside of this is I’ve added other taco toppings to this pasta salad… just because.

The end result is a flavor-packed pasta salad that’s not bogged down by lettuce.

Dressing is poured on top of the salad

Quick tips for making Taco Pasta Salad

  • Grocery store time-savers: Frozen or canned corn, pre-shredded cheese and pre-chopped onions, bell pepper and green onions.
  • Prep it in advance, so chop all the veggies (other than the avocado), cook the pasta and beef, and mix the dressing. Store them all separately, and then toss together when it’s time to eat.
  • Don’t like parsley? Use cilantro instead!
  • Dairy free? Skip the cheese, and leave out the sour cream in the dressing. It won’t be creamy, but it works just as well and is still super tasty!

Pinterest image for Beef Taco Pasta Salad, featuring a close up of the tossed salad

Beef Taco Pasta Salad
Yield: 8 servings

Beef Taco Pasta Salad

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

Serve Taco Pasta Salad to guests at summertime gatherings like barbecues or potlucks! Panorama Organic Ground Beef shines in this recipe. Add in bowtie pasta, red onion, green bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, corn, avocados, green onions, Colby Jack cheese and a homemade creamy dressing to complete this non-salad salad. A mash-up of classic pasta salad and taco salad, this entree packs in flavor to make a dish that's great to share.

Ingredients

  • 16 oz. (1 lb.) farfalle pasta, cooked
  • ½ small red onion, diced (about ½ cup)
  • ½ green bell pepper, diced (about ¾ cup)
  • 1 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 small avocados, diced
  • 1 ear of corn, cooked and sliced (1 cup)
  • ½ cup green onions, chopped
  • 1 lb. (16 oz.) 85/15 Panorama Organic Ground Beef
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon taco seasoning
  • ¾ cup Colby jack cheese, shredded
  • Parsley, chopped, for garnish

Creamy Taco Salad Dressing

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons reserved pasta water
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder

Instructions

Cook the Fresh Corn

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Add a tablespoon of sea salt.
  3. Add the corn, and boil for 9-10 minutes, or until bright yellow.
  4. Remove the corn from the pot (don't dump out the water--you need this for the pasta!), and let cool… or char it on the stovetop, 4-5 minutes.
  5. Let cool, then slice off the cob.

Cook the Pasta

  1. If you're using canned or frozen corn, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season it with sea salt.
  2. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta, and stir with a wooden spoon.
  3. Cook for 9-10 minutes, or until al dente.
  4. Reserve about 1/3 cup salted pasta water, then drain the pasta into a colander.
  5. Once the pasta has drained, transfer it back to the pot and add TWO teaspoons of olive oil on top of the pasta so it doesn’t stick together before putting together the pasta salad.

Chop the Veggies

  1. While the pasta cooks, work on chopping the rest of the raw veggies.
  2. Dice the green bell pepper and red onion.
  3. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half.
  4. Open the avocado, remove the pit and the skin, and then chop it into bite-sized pieces.
  5. Remove the kernels from the cooked corn. (Or open the can of corn or heat the frozen corn in the microwave. No judgment here.)
  6. Chop the green onion.
  7. Set everything aside for when you’re going to put together the salad.

Brown the Beef

  1. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
  3. When the oil is shimmering, add the ground beef and the taco seasoning.
  4. Break up the ground beef with the back of a wooden spoon, and move it around the pan as it browns.
  5. Since grass-fed beef is lower in fat and requires less cooking time, this will take anywhere between 7-9 minutes to be cooked through.
  6. Once the meat is crumbly and browned and delicious, remove from the pan, and set aside.

Make the Dressing

  1. In a mason jar, combine the olive oil, ketchup, honey, red wine vinegar, sour cream and pasta water.
  2. Add all of the seasonings to the mixture.
  3. Put the lid on, and shake vigorously. I found that the sour cream sometimes can be a problem because it can add a few lumps to the dressing—but if that happens, do not fret!
  4. Refrigerate until time to dress the salad.

Put together the Taco Pasta Salad

  1. In a large bowl, combine the cooked pasta and beef along with the red onion, green bell pepper, tomatoes, avocados, corn, green onions and most of the cheese.
  2. Pour the entire mason jar of the dressing on top of the ingredients.
  3. Use tongs to gently toss the ingredients together.
  4. Once mixed, sprinkle with the rest of the cheese on top, as well as parsley.
  5. Serve immediately, and enjoy!

Notes

This pasta salad can be enjoyed warm or cold. My family prefers it when the beef and pasta are warm, but if you make yours in advance and don't want to heat the elements separately (or it's already thrown together, and you don't want to heat the whole thing), it's still delicious when cold!

Time saving tips:

  • Purchase canned or frozen corn instead of fresh to have one less cooking element.
  • You can chop all the ingredients except the avocados in advance.
  • You can cook the beef and pasta early, too.
  • Keep the prepped ingredients separate until it’s almost time to serve, then reheat the beef before tossing the salad together.

If you forget to reserve the pasta water, don't fret! You can use 3 tablespoons of water with a pinch of salt.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 398 Total Fat: 24g Saturated Fat: 6g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 16g Cholesterol: 30mg Sodium: 241mg Carbohydrates: 34g Fiber: 5g Sugar: 8g Protein: 14g
Nutrition facts are an estimate and not guaranteed to be accurate.

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