This creamy bacon ranch pasta salad recipe is made with rotini pasta, packed with lots of fresh vegetables, and tossed in a creamy homemade ranch dressing. This family friendly recipe is always a popular side dish at summer BBQs, potlucks, or picnics!
Ranch Pasta Salad
I’m so excited to share this bacon ranch pasta salad with all of you. Not only is this recipe easy to make, but it’s also incredibly delicious. This isn’t just any ordinary pasta salad. It’s a versatile, crowd-pleasing dish that’s packed with flavor. It’s perfect to serve at BBQs, picnics, or even just a simple family dinner.
I love using rotini pasta as the base. Rotini, with its spirals and twists, is perfect for holding onto the rich, creamy homemade ranch dressing we’ll be making. But don’t worry, if you don’t have rotini on hand, this recipe is just as wonderful with macaroni, bow tie pasta, or any other pasta of your choice.
This pasta salad is loaded with fresh and colorful veggies like crisp cucumber, juicy cherry tomatoes, sweet bell pepper, and sharp red onion. But the beauty of this salad is its versatility. Feel free to add in extras like crunchy broccoli, sweet peas, or even spicy jalapenos if you like a bit of heat. The possibilities are endless!
Now let’s talk about the star of the show – our homemade ranch dressing. Made with mayonnaise, sour cream, and a blend of herbs and spices, this dressing is creamy, tangy, and packed full of flavor. It’s the perfect complement to the crisp veggies and tender pasta.
And for all the cheese lovers out there, we’ve got you covered. We’ll be adding a generous amount of cheddar cheese to our salad. The creaminess and mild flavor of the cheddar pairs beautifully with the other ingredients. And for an added bonus, we’re topping everything off with crispy, savory bacon. If you prefer, you can also use ham or even chicken for extra protein.
Rotini Pasta: We’re using rotini because its twists and turns hold onto the creamy dressing, ensuring every bite is flavorful. You can substitute it with other pasta types like fusilli, farfalle or elbow macaroni.
Cherry Tomatoes: These add a burst of freshness and a touch of sweetness to the salad. You can use grape tomatoes if you can’t find cherry tomatoes.
Cucumber: Cucumbers add a nice fresh crunch and help to balance the rich flavors of the dressing and bacon. If you’re not a fan, you can leave it out or substitute it with celery for a similar texture.
Bell Pepper: Any color of bell pepper works in this salad, though I prefer yellow, orange, or red over green. They add color, crunch and a sweet, fresh flavor.
Red Onion: A little red onion goes a long way in adding a sharp, tangy flavor. If it’s too strong for your liking, you can use green onions or shallots instead.
Frozen Corn: This adds a sweet, slightly nutty flavor to the salad. Fresh corn works well too when it’s in season, just be sure to boil it first because it’s not already blanched like frozen corn is.
Cheddar Cheese: The mild, creamy flavor of cheddar cheese pairs well with the bold flavors of the dressing and bacon. Feel free to substitute it with your favorite kind of cheese.
Bacon (Optional): Bacon adds a smoky, savory flavor that takes this salad to the next level. If you’re a vegetarian, you can leave it out or use a vegetarian bacon substitute.
Mayonnaise, Sour Cream, Milk, Parsley, Dill, Garlic, Onion, Salt, and Pepper: The pasta salad dressing is made of a simple combination of mayonnaise, sour cream, and milk. It’s then flavored with dried herbs and spices. The result is a tangy, creamy, and flavorful dressing that coats every bite of the salad.
This salad is highly customizable. You can switch out the veggies based on what you have on hand or your preferences. For example, you can use peas, broccoli, or olives instead. You can also add proteins like chicken, tuna or shrimp, and use different types of cheese like Parmesan or mozzarella. If you’re not a fan of rotini, you can use fusilli, penne, or even macaroni.
How To Make Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad
Cook the Pasta and Chop the Vegetables: Start by cooking your rotini pasta until it’s just right, remembering to rinse it under cold water once it’s done to stop the cooking process and cool it down. While the pasta is cooking, get your cherry tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, and red onion ready by washing and chopping them. (See the recipe card below for the full printable instructions.)
Combine Ingredients: In a large mixing bowl, combine your cooked and cooled pasta, your freshly chopped veggies, the thawed corn, shredded cheddar cheese, and the optional bacon if you’re using it.
Make the Dressing: For the homemade ranch dressing, in a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, milk, dried parsley, dried dill, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and black pepper until you have a smooth and well-mixed consistency.
Mix Together: Pour your homemade dressing over the pasta salad, gently tossing until all the ingredients are evenly coated.
Chill and Serve: Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to meld together. Before serving, give your salad a quick stir to redistribute the dressing. It’s best enjoyed chilled. See the recipe card below for the full written instructions, including ingredient amounts, and helpful tips, etc.
- When cooking the pasta, be sure to salt the water. This will season the pasta and elevate the overall flavor of the salad.
- Make sure not to overcook the pasta. It should be al dente, or firm to the bite. Overcooked pasta can become mushy and will not hold up well in the salad.
- Try adding a bit of the pasta cooking water to your dressing. The starch in the water will help the dressing cling to the pasta, enhancing the flavor.
- If you’re making this salad for a party, consider doubling the recipe. It’s a crowd-pleaser and goes quickly!
- If you have a little more time and want to add a twist to this recipe, try roasting the corn and bell peppers before adding them to the salad. This will add a smoky flavor that pairs wonderfully with the creamy ranch dressing.
What Are The Mistakes To Avoid With Pasta Salad?
One common mistake is not letting the pasta cool before adding the dressing. If the pasta is still hot, it can cause the dressing to become thin and watery. Be sure to rinse the pasta under cold water after draining to cool it down and stop the cooking process. Overcooking the pasta is another one of them; it should be cooked al dente, or firm to the bite.
Should I Rinse Pasta When Making Pasta Salad?
Yes, rinsing the pasta under cold water after cooking will stop the cooking process and cool down the pasta. This is especially important when making pasta salad, as you want the pasta to be cool before adding the other ingredients.
Is It Better To Make Pasta Salad The Night Before?
Making the pasta salad the night before allows the flavors to meld together, resulting in a more flavorful salad. However, the salad can become a bit dry as the pasta absorbs the dressing. To prevent this, you can reserve some dressing to stir into the salad just before serving. I normally dress it with 2/3 of the dressing, and reserve 1/3 of the dressing to mix in just before serving.
How Do You Keep Pasta Salad From Absorbing Too Much Dressing?
To ensure your pasta salad doesn’t absorb too much dressing, reserve some of the dressing to mix in just before serving.
What Other Dressings Can I Use?
While this recipe calls for a homemade ranch dressing, you can definitely use your favorite bottled dressing. Italian, Caesar, or even a tangy vinaigrette would all work well.
Can I Add Other Proteins To This Salad?
Absolutely! This salad is versatile. Feel free to add grilled chicken, canned tuna, or even boiled eggs for extra protein.
How Can I Make This Salad More Kid-Friendly?
For a kid-friendly version, consider using a milder cheese like mozzarella and omitting the red onion. You could also add some fun mix-ins like mini pepperonis.
How Long Is Ranch Pasta Salad Good For?
This salad will keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days. Store it in an airtight container and give it a good stir before serving. If it’s a little dry, you can add a bit of milk or mayonnaise to loosen it up.
Can This Salad Be Made Ahead And Frozen?
Pasta salads are best enjoyed fresh and are not ideal for freezing as the pasta can become mushy and the dressing may separate. However, you can prepare the ingredients ahead of time and assemble just before serving.
Keep In Touch
I’d love to hear what you thought of this recipe in the comments or on Instagram! @KeyToMyLime #KeyToMyLime
If you like this recipe, be sure to check out all of our other side dishes. Some reader favorites are:
- Rotini Pasta Salad
- Bow Tie Pasta Salad
- Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- Pasta Salad with Italian Dressing
- Chicken Macaroni Salad
- Caprese Pasta Salad
- 12 ounces rotini pasta
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup cucumber, diced
- 1 cup bell pepper (any color), diced
- 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup cooked and crumbled bacon (optional)
Homemade Ranch Dressing:
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 Tablespoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried dill
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- Cook the rotini pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process and cool the pasta.
- While the pasta is cooking, prepare the vegetables by washing and chopping the cherry tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, and red onion.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked pasta, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, thawed corn, shredded cheddar cheese, and crumbled bacon.
- To make the homemade ranch dressing, in a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, milk, dried parsley, dried dill, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and black pepper until smooth and well combined.
- Pour the ranch dressing over the pasta salad and gently toss until all the ingredients are evenly coated.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let the flavors mingle.
- Before serving, give the salad a quick stir. Serve chilled.
- Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- For a lighter version, substitute Greek yogurt for the mayonnaise and/or sour cream.
- To save time, you can use store-bought ranch dressing instead of making it from scratch. However, the homemade dressing adds a special touch and is worth the extra effort. If you prefer to use store-bought ranch dressing instead of making it from scratch, you can substitute approximately 1 and 1/2 cups of your favorite ranch dressing for the homemade version.
- Feel free to customize the salad with your family's favorite veggies or add-ins.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 461Total Fat: 28.1gCarbohydrates: 41.8gFiber: 3.1gSugar: 5.2gProtein: 11.1g
Nutrition information isn’t always accurate.
Try making this delicious ranch pasta salad! It’s the perfect crowd-pleasing side dish.