To celebrate my older son’s 14th birthday, we had a group of his friends over for a cookout. He chose hamburgers and hot dogs as the main dish and left the rest up to me. His only request: “Please make it something they will all like!”
That was his nice way of asking that I not use this night to experiment with something like cauliflower crust pizza–though he really does love that one–or pull out the quinoa. Since John’s favorite sandwich is a BLT and he adores ranch dressing, I decided a BLT ranch pasta salad would be just the thing–delicious with both kid and adult appeal.
When asked if there was anything else he wanted to munch on, his one request was a fruit rainbow like I had made for his brother’s last birthday. That should balance out the burgers and bacon, right?
While you can use your favorite ranch dressing in this recipe, I love my light but very flavorful Better-For-You Ranch. It can be made ahead and will keep a week or more in the fridge. I also like to cook the pasta and bacon in advance–even the day before. This makes for quick and easy last-minute assembly. Feel free to use whole wheat pasta; rice noodles are a great gluten-free option. Add grilled or rotisserie chicken to turn this into a satisfying main course. Hmmm, a little chopped avocado would be awfully nice, too!
- 16 ounces gemelli pasta (or your pasta of choice, gluten-free if needed), cooked according to package directions and cooled
- 1 pint tomato grapes, halved
- 1 heart of romaine, sliced horizontally
- 12 pieces bacon, cooked and crumbled
- Better-For-You Ranch Dressing, or your favorite ranch (1/2-1 cup, depending on whether you like your salad lightly or more liberally tossed)
- one small bunch green onions (or 1/4 cup of fresh chives), chopped
- In a large bowl, combine pasta, tomatoes, romaine, and green onions. Pour the ranch dressing over top and toss well.
- Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
- Prior to serving, toss and add another drizzle of dressing, if desired. Add crumbled bacon and serve immediately.
- In season, fresh basil is a wonderful addition, either as a garnish or mixed throughout the salad.
- I like to cook the pasta ahead of time and, after draining, toss with a tablespoon or two of olive oil and a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper and kosher salt. Cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to finish prepping the salad. This makes the preparation very easy and ensures that the pasta does not absorb too much of the dressing before you are ready to eat.
- In season, add a little chopped basil as a garnish or mix more liberally throughout the salad for a burst of fresh flavor.
- This recipe makes enough for a good-sized crowd and can be cut in half easily.