We love a creamy pasta salad—and this one is made with ranch! Pasta salad is such a wonderful side dish. It can also make a simple, tasty lunch.
When I was younger I discovered those pasta salad kits and fell in love. I think that I tried every variety that I could get my hands on.
Eventually, though, I started trying my own variations. This is my variation of a creamy pasta salad with some of my favorite ingredients.
Suit the mix-ins and toppings to your own taste, just remember ranch is a pretty dominant flavor here.
What goes good with ranch? Hmm…
Pasta salad variations
Spiral pasta – You could use any short pasta that you want. I think that the pasta spirals are fun but I will also make pasta salad out of bowtie or anything that I have on hand.
Peas and carrots – If you aren’t a big fan of black olives then omit them and add in some sliced carrots and/or frozen peas.
Wash and peel carrots, or use frozen from a bag, and slice thin.
Use frozen peas, not canned, because canned are too salty and overcooked.
Frozen peas can be added to the hot pasta right away and will become soft in time for lunch!
Chopped tomatoes – Chopped tomatoes atop a dish just make it beautiful and also add a lovely tangy sweetness.
I recommend that you seed the tomato and then dice it. Then just sprinkle that diced tomato atop the salad right before serving it.
Bacon – Bacon makes everything better. Cook up some crispy bacon in the oven. Allow it to cool and then crumble it up.
You can either sprinkle the bacon atop the pasta salad or mix it in. If you are feeling extravagant, do both.
Cheese – Cube up some fresh mozzarella (as shown in the pic) or if you are dairy-free, a bit of firm tofu. It adds protein so your lunch keeps you full a bit longer, and really complements the olive and tomato.
A mild, fresh cheese is better than a strong-flavored one like cheddar for this recipe.
Tomato can cause cheese to break down over time, so either toss individually right before serving, or keep cubes in a separate serving dish for your guests to top on their own.
Tips for this recipe
- Use a small shaped pasta such as penne, elbow, bowtie or spiral pasta. Long pasta such as spaghetti or a fresh fettuccine wouldn’t mix well or fork up as nicely. Improv: Break dry spaghetti into thirds, then cook as normal.
- Do not overcook your pasta. Pasta for salad should be al dente. Our best tip is to pull the pasta off of the heat and strain it a minute or two before you think it is quite ready. Pasta with a little chew will be better than a mushy pasta salad.
- Pasta salad actually gets better with a little bit of time. If you can make this dish the night before. Place it in the fridge and stir it a few times the next day before serving it. Allowing all of the flavors to marinate will make a richer tasting salad.
- Serve it cold. This pasta salad is best served cold. Leave it in the refrigerator until the very last moment.
Do you rinse pasta for cold pasta salad?
Rinsing pasta after you strain it is highly recommended. Rinsing pasta that is being used for a cold pasta salad will help keep it from sticking together.
While the pasta is still in the strainer, go ahead and rinse it will cold water.
Not only will this help keep the pasta from sticking together it will also stop the cooking process.
How long does pasta salad last in the refrigerator?
If you return the pasta salad in the fridge right after serving it will last about 4 days in the fridge. The key factor is to not allow the pasta salad to come to room temperature.
Keep your pasta salad cold and it will last longer.
What is the best kind of pasta for pasta salad?
The best kind of pasta for pasta salad is a shorter pasta that is easy to get on a fork. The kind of pasta that you use in pasta salad is completely up to you.
One of the more popular kinds of pasta to be used is a spiral pasta. Farfalle, rotini, and penne are also great choices for pasta salad.
We also sometimes use bowtie pasta for the salads as well.