Sunday, May 13, 2012

Creamy Ranch Pasta Salad

Pasta salad deserves better.  Sure, it's a delicious side, but why leave it there?  Every grocery store deli will happily sell you some gloppy macaroni salad, but come on, we can do better than that.  Why not make pasta salad a main course?  Why not add enough great ingredients that it can stand on its own?  Most importantly -- why not bacon?

As you can see, my board is fuller than usual.  A lot of stuff goes into this pasta salad, but there's not a lot of prep for most of it.  You'll need some pasta, of course.  Go for an interesting shape - I used Cavatappi to great success this time around.

We'll feature a pair of proteins, both chicken and bacon.  For the veggies, I use broccoli, cucumber, carrots, and bell pepper - but you can add or change as you see fit.  A lot of people are into tomatoes - raw ones make me sad, but you can go crazy with them if that's your thing.  I also love some cheese in my pasta salad, so I added a block of extra-sharp cheddar.

Finally, the supporting cast is made up of Greek yogurt, a bit of mayonnaise and sour cream, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a packet of ranch dressing mix.

We'll start with the chicken.  If it's warm enough outside and you have easy access, you can always just grill it.  Since we don't own a grill, though (alas!), I like to use this method to simulate grilling in the oven while adding a ton of flavor.

First, rinse the chicken and pat it dry.  Season it well with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then give dip it in the Greek yogurt to coat.  The yogurt dip will keep the chicken super moist while it cooks, even while you get a nice, slightly-blackened exterior.

Lay the yogurt-dipped chicken out on a wire rack atop a baking sheet -- this should let hot air circulate around the whole chicken breast at once and keep the bottom from getting soggy.  You may even want to line the baking sheet with foil to catch the drips and make clean-up simpler.

Broil the chicken 6 inches away from the broiler about 5 minutes per side until it's nicely blackened on the outside and the inside is up to temperature.  Set it aside for later.

While the chicken is cooking, fry up the bacon.  Try not to eat too much of it before it ever gets into the pasta salad.  Dry the finished product on papers towels and set aside for later.

Don't forget that we need some pasta, too!  Cook it up according to the package directions, leaving it on the al-dente side.  Drain well and set it aside to cool once it's done.

Now for all of that other stuff.  Chop the broccoli, cucumber, bell pepper, carrots, and cheese into bite-sized pieces.  I like to quickly blanch the broccoli for 30 seconds or so in boiling water to soften it just a touch before I chop it, but that's up to you.

The chicken and bacon should be cool enough to handle by now, so give those a good chopping, too.

Finally, it's time to put it all together.  You'll probably need a couple of large bowls for this - this recipe filled up the two largest bowls in my kitchen handily.  Combine everything, preferably leaving a little extra room at the top of the bowl so that you can stir the dressing in easily.

Speaking of dressing, we'd better make some.  Combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, and ranch dressing mix and stir well.  Give it a taste and adjust as you see fit - I added a little more garlic and some dried herbs.

Add your preferred amount of dressing to the salad and stir well to mix.  I like it fairly lightly dressed - there's enough good stuff in these bowls to be tasty all by itself.

Throw it in the fridge to fully chill and let the flavors marry a bit, and you're ready to serve.  This is a fantastic, summery main course, and so easy to prepare well in advance.  Enjoy!

Recipe: Creamy Ranch Pasta Salad
Prep Time: 10 Minutes | Cook Time: 20 Minutes | Chill Time: 1-2 Hours | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 12-15
  • 16 oz Cavatappi Pasta
  • 1-2 pounds Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
  • 1 pound Bacon
  • 3 heads Broccoli
  • 1 large Cucumber
  • 2 large Green Bell Peppers
  • 8 ounces Baby Carrots
  • 8 ounces Extra-Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup Sour Cream
  • 16 ounces Greek Yogurt
  • 1 packet Ranch Dressing Mix
  • 2 teaspoons Garlic Powder
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Cook pasta according to directions on package.  Drain well and set aside to cool.
  2. Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Season well with salt, pepper, and garlic powder then coat completely with Greek yogurt.
  3. Place yogurt-covered chicken on a wire rack atop a baking pan and broil approx. 5 minutes per side until blackened on the outside and done in the middle.  Set aside to cool.
  4. Fry bacon in a heavy skillet.  Dry well with papers towels and set aside.
  5. (Optional): Blanch broccoli 30 seconds in boiling water.
  6. Chop all vegetables and cheese into small, bite-sized pieces.
  7. Once chicken and bacon have cooled, chop into small, bite-sized pieces.
  8. Combine pasta, chicken, bacon, cheese, and vegetables in large bowl(s).
  9. In a small mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, and ranch dressing mix.  Adjust seasoning to taste and stir to mix.
  10. Add dressing to pasta mixture to taste and stir well to combine.
  11. Chill at least 1-2 hours before serving.  Serve cold.

1 comment:

  1. I stumbled upon your site remembering the famous line – “I think, therefore I am.” And I must agree that it would be wonderful to have the same philosophy as yours – “I think, therefore I eat.” Your recipe looks so mouthwatering that it makes me crave to try it. ;) It’s a complete balanced meal and it looks oh-so-yummy. Thanks for sharing! =)

    Joseph Carr