This easy pasta salad with corn and tomatoes is perfect for summer! Fresh cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, and cilantro are mixed with cavatappi and a fresh lemon dressing. Vegan, Vegetarian.
This easy pasta salad recipe lends the perfect pop of summertime to any potluck or picnic. Serve it immediately while it's still slightly warm, or make it ahead of time and serve it as a cold side dish. Pair it with grilled salmon, a cheesy smoked gouda burger, or roasted veggies for a full meal!
Scroll to the recipe card below for a full ingredients list with exact quantities.
Before you jump in, there are a few things we want to highlight:
- Grilled corn is the MVP of this summer pasta salad. We love to grill a few ears of fresh corn on the cob as we meal prep earlier in the week: Use a sharp knife to remove the kernels from the cob, then store in an airtight container in the fridge.
- Cherry tomatoes lend a pop of color and sweetness. If you don't have cherry tomatoes handy, dice a large heirloom tomato.
- Use good olive oil. With so few ingredients, you'll definitely taste the oil here, so be sure to use one you like! We love EXAU olive oils.
- Fresh cilantro brightens up this pasta salad. Swap it for fresh basil or oregano if you prefer, or stir a scoop of basil pesto (or cilantro pesto!) into the sauce for extra flavor!
- The juice and zest of a whole lemon forms the base of our dressing (along with some good olive oil!), and a bit of starchy pasta water helps the sauce cling to our noodles.
Variations and Substitutions
This recipe is quite forgiving: It's easy to customize with whatever you have on hand! A few of our favorite riffs:
- Use lime juice or red wine vinegar instead of lemon juice.
- Mix up the veggies. Add greens (fresh arugula, spinach, or kale), grilled veggies (mushrooms, zucchini, red onions), diced cucumber, celery, bell peppers, peas, or fresh diced avocado to make this salad a bit heartier.
- Swap the pasta for cooked quinoa or couscous (regular or Israeli couscous both work), or use farro for an easy farro salad!
- For a creamy pasta salad, whisk a few spoonfuls of mayonnaise into the dressing before adding the cooled pasta.
- Add protein. Grilled chicken or meal prep shredded chicken, canned tuna, grilled shrimp or prawns, bacon, pepperoni, and crispy prosciutto (à la our kale pesto pasta salad) are all great here!
- Add some cheese. Add grated parmesan, cubed cheddar cheese, mozzarella pearls, or crumbled feta cheese to this pasta salad.
Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water until the noodles are just shy of al dente, then use a glass measuring cup to save about 2 Tablespoons of the starchy pasta water (Images 1 and 2, above) - this will help bring the dressing together later!
Drain the pasta, rinse it with a bit of cold water to cool off the noodles, and set it aside while you make the sauce.
In a large bowl, whisk the zest and juice of one lemon (Image 3) together with a bit of olive oil (Image 4).
Add the cooked, cooled pasta to the sauce (Image 5), along with your reserved pasta water (Image 6). Stir everything together. The sauce may pool a bit at the bottom of the bowl, as seen below:
That sauce will all get soaked up as the pasta sits and continues to cool!
Add the tomatoes, cilantro, and grilled corn kernels to the pasta along with a pinch of salt and pepper (Image 7, below). Toss it all together (Image 8), then serve immediately or store in the fridge until you're ready to eat.
This pasta salad is best eaten the day it's assembled, although it will keep pretty well in an airtight container in the fridge for a day or two. (After a few days in the fridge, the tomatoes will dry out and the cilantro will start to wilt.)
How to Make This Pasta Salad Ahead of Time
If you'd like to prep this recipe more than a day in advance, we recommend cooking the pasta and tossing it with the dressing as directed, then storing the dressed pasta on its own in an airtight container in the fridge. When you're ready to serve, toss in the tomatoes, corn, and cilantro!
Adding those more delicate ingredients at the last minute will ensure your pasta salad tastes ultra fresh and has the best texture.
Love this recipe? Try our Greek Yogurt Potato Salad next →
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! You can prep the pasta and dressing up to 3 days in advance: Cook the pasta and toss it with the dressing as directed, then let it cool completely and store in an airtight container in the fridge. When you're ready to serve, toss in the tomatoes, corn, and cilantro. Adding those more delicate ingredients at the last minute will ensure your pasta salad tastes as fresh as possible and has the best texture.
Swap the noodles for a stuffed pasta (like ravioli or tortellini, à la our arugula tortellini salad) or cooked grains (we like quinoa, regular or Israeli couscous, barley, or farro here). You can also stretch this salad a bit by tossing in some extra veggies or fresh greens (like arugula, mixed greens, kale, or romaine lettuce).
You certainly can! We like rinsing the noodles in this recipe: it helps halt the cooking process and cool the noodles down quickly so you can save a bit of time. While you generally shouldn't rinse noodles that you're using in a hot pasta dish, in cold dishes (like this pasta salad!) you're fine to rinse the pasta. That said, if you'd prefer not to rinse your noodles, no worries! Just let the cooked, unrinsed pasta cool for half an hour or so before you toss everything together. Learn more: Should you rinse pasta?
We used cavatappi pasta in this corn pasta salad recipe, but this pasta salad is also good with macaroni noodles, rigatoni, orzo, tortellini, rotini, bowtie pasta, or shell pasta.
The charred, blackened corn kernels add a ton of flavor to this pasta salad, but you can skip the grilling step if you're in a rush! If you're short on time, you can use raw sweet corn kernels cut right off the cob, frozen corn kernels (defrost them in a bit of warm water and then drain), or drained canned corn in place of the grilled corn if you need to.
More Summer Pasta Salads
Video: How to make corn and tomato pasta salad
A simple corn and tomato pasta salad perfect for summer! Vegan, vegetarian.
- ½ pound pasta (we used cavatappi)
- 1 large lemon
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ cups grilled corn kernels (about 2-3 large ears of grilled corn)
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
Cook the pasta:
- Cook the pasta in salty, boiling water until it's just shy of al dente (the pasta will continue to soften as it cools: undercooking it just a bit helps it stay al dente once the salad is done!)
- Reserve 2 Tablespoons of starchy pasta water, then drain the pasta.
- Rinse the pasta with a bit of cold water to halt the cooking process. Set it aside to cool while you prep the sauce.
Make the dressing:
- Zest and juice your lemon, then add zest and juice to a large bowl. (You should have about ¼ cup of lemon juice).
- Add olive oil to lemon juice and whisk to combine.
- Add cooked, cooled pasta directly to the lemon juice mixture, then add the reserved pasta water. Stir to evenly coat the pasta with the sauce. Don't worry if there's some liquid left at the bottom of the bowl - the pasta will soak this up as it sits!
- Add grilled corn kernels, tomatoes, chopped cilantro, salt, and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
- Cover pasta salad and store in the fridge until you're ready to serve.
Don't forget to salt your pasta water! Because there are so few ingredients, seasoning is especially important with this recipe.
Additions and Substitutions. Add extra veggies (bell peppers, peas, grilled zucchini, arugula), protein (rotisserie chicken, grilled shrimp, diced pepperoni), or cheese (feta, parmesan, white cheddar). Use basil instead of cilantro if you like. Dice a large heirloom tomato instead of using cherry tomatoes. Use grains (farro, quinoa), couscous, or stuffed pasta in place of the dried pasta noodles if you prefer. Whisk a spoonful of mayonnaise into the dressing for a creamy pasta salad if you prefer.
Make sure to taste the pasta salad before you add seasoning at the end - remember, the pasta water will add a nice salty flavor to the pasta, so you may not need as much salt as you would otherwise!
Make-Ahead Tips. Toss the cooked pasta with the lemon dressing as directed, then let cool completely and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Toss the tomatoes, corn, and cilantro into the pasta salad just before serving for the best texture and optimal freshness. Pasta salad is best eaten the day it's assembled, though it will keep in the fridge for a day or two if you have leftovers. If pasta salad is dry after being in the fridge for awhile, add a splash of olive oil or lemon juice to bring it back to life. We do not recommend freezing cooked pasta salad.
- Serving Size: 1 serving
- Calories: 262
- Sugar: 4.8 g
- Sodium: 11.7 mg
- Fat: 10.2 g
- Carbohydrates: 37.6 g
- Protein: 6.6 g
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
Keywords: Summer, bbq, vegetarian