Classic flavors come together with ease in this BLT pasta salad that’s equally perfect for family meals, packed lunches, and casual entertaining. Add grilled or rotisserie chicken for a well-rounded meal.
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 recipe.
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. The familiar flavors offer kid and adult appeal.
When asked if there was anything else he wanted to munch on, he requested a fruit rainbow like I made for his brother’s last birthday. That’s a fun addition to any buffet and would complement the burgers and pasta salad beautifully.
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.
(Update: Since this recipe was originally posted in 2012, I’ve added a Small Batch Ranch Dressing or Dip recipe, which is another great option and can be scaled up easily.)
I also like to cook the pasta and bacon in advance – even the day before. This makes for quick and easy last-minute assembly, but read the recipe notes for my tips if doing this.
Adding grilled or rotisserie chicken will turn this into a satisfying main course. A little chopped avocado is quite 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, Small Batch Ranch Dressing*, or your favorite ranch (½-1 cup, depending on whether you like your salad lightly or more liberally tossed)
- 1 small bunch green onions (or ¼ 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.
* If using Small Batch Ranch Dressing, you will need to scale the recipe up.
• For prep-ahead convenience, I sometimes 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. Then I cover and store it 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.
• When in season, add a little chopped basil as a garnish or mix more liberally throughout the salad for a burst of fresh flavor.
• Cooking for a small number? This recipe makes enough for a good-sized crowd and can be cut in half easily.