Beef Taco Pasta Salad

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… and it’s quickly become a family favorite.

Why I love this recipe:

Simply put, this Taco Pasta Salad recipe is a mash up of classic Southern pasta salad and Taco Salad. It’s one of my favorite recipes to bring to a share with a large crowd.

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    This new recipe brings some of our favorite ingredients to the table with taco meat (and other Mexican-inspired flavors) to make the most delicious pasta salad, which can be served either warm or cold. (And y’all know we love a cold salad to serve in the South.)

    It can be served as a side dish or a main course.

    We finish the taco pasta salad with a creamy adaptation of a French dressing.  

    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 the beef adds!

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

    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 to highlight their products.

    Some 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.

    You can find a list of stores these products are sold in here.

    Other recipes I’ve created using Panorama products: French Onion Steak Pasta | Ground Beef Meat Pies | Texas Chili | Homemade Loaded Queso | Grilled Steak Flatbread Pizza Recipe

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

    What you need to make this recipe:

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

    Let’s talk ingredients!

    In addition to the tools above, you’re going to need some ingredients to make this recipe, too! Chances are, you might already have some of them in your fridge or pantry. Scroll down to the recipe card for the full measurements and instructions.

    Here is what you need to grab at the grocery store:

    • Farfalle pasta — also known as bowtie pasta. You can also use another bite-sized pasta shape that you enjoy, like rotini pasta.
    • Red onion — a super small one works here, and even that will be too big. You can pickle the remaining red onion for future taco nights.
    • Green bell pepper — or your favorite color of bell pepper.
    • Cherry tomatoes — I used heirloom tomatoes because I could find them at my local grocery. You can use other bite-sized tomatoes, like grape tomatoes.
    • Avocado — you want them to be perfectly ripe. If they’re too ripe, they’ll melt into the taco pasta salad, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We want them to keep their shape.
    • Corn — I cooked an ear of fresh sweet corn for this recipe, but you can easily canned corn.
    • Green onions — also known as scallions, we add these at the end for some light oniony flavor.
    • Panorama Organic Ground Beef — this 100% grass-fed and grass-finished ground beef brings major beefy flavor to our taco pasta salad recipe.
    • Extra virgin olive oil — or another neural oil to serve as the base of the dressing. Avocado oil works nicely here, too.
    • Taco seasoning — we make our own taco spice blend, but the store-bought spice packets also work.
    • Colby jack cheese — or your favorite cheese. Shred it yourself. Pepperjack is excellent if you want some heat in your pasta salad. Cheddar cheese and Monterey jack cheese are also tasty.
    • Fresh parsley — flat leaf or Italian parsley work. We use this for garnish. You may also use cilantro if you like the taste of it.
    • For the dressing — you need a combination of honey, red wine vinegar, sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt), additional pasta water, salt, pepper, sweet paprika and onion powder to make this.

    Consider adding a little crunch to this by crumbling up tortilla chips or corn chips on top just before serving. 

    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 using fresh corn, bring a large pot of cold water to a boil. Salt it liberally.

    We will use this water 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 is tender, 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 pasta

    Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt. (If you’re not using the same water as the corn.)

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

    Cook to the package directions. I cooked mine for 9 minutes, and removed it when it was al dente. 

    DID YOU KNOW?

    What does al dente mean? When the pasta has a bit of texture to it, but it’s not crunchy or soggy, either. 

    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 set the alarm for 8-9 minutes.

    Before you drain the pasta, reserve about ¼ cup of the salted, gluten-y water. It dunk a measuring cup into the water and place it on the countertop. This pasta water will help the dressing stick to the taco pasta salad, so it’s important!

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

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

    Chop the veggies

    It’s kind of silly to add this as a bullet point on what you need to be doing, but the fact of the matter is this recipe calls for a lot chopping. I know that can be overwhelming.

    While the pasta cooks, chop as many of your veggies as possible. (And if you haven’t set a timer for the pasta, do that so that you don’t forget about the pasta. Been there, done that.)

    Dice the green bell pepper and red onion. You’ll have leftovers of these, so pop them in your favorite airtight storage containers, and transfer the extras to the fridge for later. (Need some things to make with green bell peppers and red onions?)

    Slice the cherry tomatoes down the middle to half them.

    Half the avocado. Remove the pit and skin, then chop into bite-sized pieces.

    Remove the corn from the cob.

    Chop the green onion parsley.

    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 shorter.

    Ground beef is seasoned in a skillet

    Brown the meat

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

    When the oil begins to shimmer, measure in the ground beef. Season with the taco seasoning. 

    Use a wooden spoon to break up the beef into smaller chunks, and move it around the pan as it begins to cook.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    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.

    You may toss the beef into the pasta salad warm, but you can also cook this in advance, store it in the fridge and use it cold. 

    Honey is poured into a mason jar to make dressing

    Make the dressing

    This is a riff on my Homemade Catalina Dressing.

    Combine the oil, ketchup, honey, red wine vinegar, sour cream and pasta water in a mason jar. Put the lid on, and shake!

    Add the seasonings, and shake some more.

    The mixture should be relatively smooth, but 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.

    Refrigerate 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

    Measure all the ingredients into a large bowl, and toss together with salad tongs.

    Drizzle on the dressing, and toss until everything is coated. This might take a little effort since this recipe makes a lot, but it’s all good!

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

    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

    How to store:

    This recipe is best enjoyed immediately because the avocado can get a little weird.

    If you have leftovers, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1-2 days max. You might need to pick out the pieces of avocado if they oxidize.

    A woman sprinkles green onions on top of a salad

    Erin’s Easy Entertaining Tips

    If you want to share this taco pasta salad recipe, that’s a GREAT idea! This is a fun way of introducing some different flavors to any type of gathering and is great, too, because it’s a tasty side, but it can be served as the main course, too.

    If I was making this to share, here’s what I would do:

    • Make elements ahead of time. Cook the corn, boil the pasta, chop the veggies (except the avocado), brown the meat, mix the dressing and store them all in separate containers until it’s time to mix them.
    • Bring it on the go. Taco Pasta Salad would be a wonderful addition to potlucks, picnics, family reunions and barbecues because it can be transported easily. Make sure your bowl is large enough.

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

    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.

    ​How do you brown 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.

    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. 

    If you want to add romaine lettuce or iceberg lettuce, feel free! We haven’t tried it, though.

    Overhead image of tossed together Beef Taco Pasta Salad

    Quick tips for making this easy Taco Pasta Salad recipe

    • Grocery store time-savers to utilize: 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!
    Dressing is poured on top of the salad

    ​More taco-flavored recipes:

    Here’s how you can make one of our summer favorites!

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

    Beef Taco Pasta Salad

    Erin Parker, The Speckled Palate
    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.
    4.80 from 5 votes
    Servings 8 servings
    Calories 398 kcal
    Prep Time 30 minutes
    Cook Time 30 minutes
    Total Time 1 hour

    Ingredients
      

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

    As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

    Instructions
     

    Cook the Fresh Corn

    • Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
    • Add a tablespoon of sea salt.
    • Add the corn, and boil for 9-10 minutes, or until bright yellow.
    • 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.
    • Let cool, then slice off the cob.

    Cook the Pasta

    • If you're using canned or frozen corn, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season it with sea salt.
    • When the water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta, and stir with a wooden spoon.
    • Cook for 9-10 minutes, or until al dente.
    • Reserve about 1/3 cup salted pasta water, then drain the pasta into a colander.
    • 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

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

    Brown the Beef

    • Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
    • Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
    • When the oil is shimmering, add the ground beef and the taco seasoning.
    • Break up the ground beef with the back of a wooden spoon, and move it around the pan as it browns.
    • 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.
    • Once the meat is crumbly and browned and delicious, remove from the pan, and set aside.

    Make the Dressing

    • In a mason jar, combine the olive oil, ketchup, honey, red wine vinegar, sour cream and pasta water.
    • Add all of the seasonings to the mixture.
    • 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!
    • Refrigerate until time to dress the salad.

    Put together the Taco Pasta Salad

    • 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.
    • Pour the entire mason jar of the dressing on top of the ingredients.
    • Use tongs to gently toss the ingredients together.
    • Once mixed, sprinkle with the rest of the cheese on top, as well as parsley.
    • 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

    Serving: 1 servingCalories: 398kcalCarbohydrates: 34gProtein: 14gFat: 24gSaturated Fat: 6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 30mgSodium: 241mgFiber: 5gSugar: 8g
    Keyword beef pasta salad, best pasta salad, easy potluck dish, entrees, meaty pasta salad, pasta recipe, pasta salad recipe, potluck recipe, side dishes, taco pasta salad, unique pasta salad recipe
    Course Entrees
    Cuisine American
    Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
    A woman with dark curly hair wearing a black tank top in front of a white wall

    About the Author:

    Erin Parker is a Southern gal living in Texas with her husband and two daughters. She started The Speckled Palate to share what she was cooking as a newlywed… and over the years, it’s evolved to capture her love for hosting. Specifically, the EASIEST, lowest key entertaining because everyone deserves to see their people and connect over good food. Learn more about her

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