Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

Lately I’ve been trying to eat a little healthier. While I love salads, I find they can be a little bland. And I grow tired of lettuce. While searching for new or different salad recipes, I came across this one for Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad. I made it. I ate it. I fell in love.

Pasta salad is a dish of pasta, usually chilled and most often tossed in a vinegar, oil or mayonnaise-based dressing. Ingredients for pasta salads vary widely depending on region, restaurant, seasonal availability and/or preference of the preparer. Pasta salad can be as simple as cold macaroni mixed with mayonnaise or as elaborate as several types of pasta tossed together with a vinaigrette and a variety of fresh, preserved or cooked ingredients. There isn’t one recipe for “pasta salad” and there aren’t really any ‘rules’ either. Almost whatever you enjoy can be tossed into a pasta salad, including cheeses, nuts, herbs and spices, meat and poultry as well as any number of vegetables.

Most pasta salads have one of three common dressings and bacon ranch pasta salad uses ranch dressing (which is mayonnaise-based). For the ranch dressing you can either buy a bottle or prepared dressing (such as Kraft) or a packet that you make yourself. The salad dressing is made of a combination of mayonnaise, buttermilk, salt, garlic, onion, herbs (chives, parsley and dill) and spices (black pepper, paprika and ground mustard seed). Sour cream and yogurt are sometimes used as substitutes by home cooks wishing to create a lower fat version (just add in the herbs and spices!) Invented in the early 1950’s and then first served to guests in 1954 by Steve Hanson of Hidden Valley Ranch, ranch dressing has been the best-selling salad dressing in the United States since 1992 (when it overtook Italian dressing).

While not the healthiest salad recipe, it is one of the tastiest with a pound of bacon and a half a pound of sharp, shredded Cheddar cheese. One of the ingredients that makes this pasta salad recipe so tasty is the bacon. While meat from other animals such as beef, lamb, chicken, goat and turkey may be used to create bacon, tradition bacon is the cured meat from a pig (and that’s what this recipe calls for). If I may be so bold, I would also suggest adding pieces of chopped-up grilled chicken and even small pieces of broccoli for color and crunch. When adding bacon (or any other meat or poultry) make sure to cool before adding to the pasta (otherwise there could be a reaction from the dressing to the heat).

This recipe for bacon ranch pasta salad calls for the use of rotini pasta, but you can use almost any short-pasta you like, including cavatappi/cellentani (corkscrew-shaped macaroni), macaroni, penne/mostaccioli (medium length tubes), etc. There are also more “decorative” pastas, such as conchiglie (seashell shaped), farfalle (bow tie shaped), fiori (flower shaped), etc. Whatever you do, make this pasta your own! But don’t forget to leave a little cheese and bacon as garnish so your dinner guests can see what ingredients are in your pasta salad!

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