I love pasta salad at a BBQ or picnic (maybe a little too much) and this is the one that I get the most requests for. Nothing complicated and simple ingredients but the combination is a winner. I especially like the bacon in this because everything is better with bacon, but you could easily omit it and make this vegetarian.
I find that making the pasta the day before and tossing it with a little mayo and ranch is the best approach. If you toss the pasta with the dressing right after you cook the pasta, the dressing will be absorbed and the pasta will need more than I’ve listed. Tossing the pasta and putting it in the fridge overnight is best but a few hours in the fridge is fine too. I’m a fan of saving steps where it makes sense and since you need to blanch the broccoli for a few minutes, I use the same pot and water I cooked the pasta in and instead of pouring the pasta and water into a colander, I use a spider (hand held strainer) or a small strainer to remove the pasta. I highly recommend using fresh broccoli. Frozen broccoli will be soggy and turn to mush in your salad. By blanching the fresh broccoli and then shocking it in a bowl of ice water, it will stay bright green and firm.
Personally, I don’t love tons of dressing on my salads or on pasta. I found the perfect balance of flavor and dressing by adding some ranch seasoning to the pasta salad rather than more ranch dressing or mayo. I always have ranch powder (specifically Hidden Valley Ranch) on hand for salads, dressings, rubs, etc. But you can add a little more mayo or ranch if you like – there are no rules!
1 lb. Short pasta (I like fusilli, gemelli, bow ties or large elbows)
3 c Broccoli florets, blanched
½ lb. Thick cut bacon, thinly sliced
1 ¼ c Mayonnaise (I love Hellman’s)
¼ c Ranch dressing (homemade or your favorite brand, mine is Hidden Valley Ranch)
3 tbs Ranch powder (Hidden Valley Ranch is my favorite)
1/3 c Milk (low fat or whole)
Cook the pasta until it is al dente (you don’t want mushy pasta or it will break when you mix it). Remove the pasta (reserve the water in the pot if you are blanching the broccoli) and rinse under cold water. Toss with ¼ cup each of mayo and ranch dressing and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight.
Blanch the broccoli florets for about 2 minutes in boiling water. Remove the broccoli and place in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process (aka shocking). Drain well and pat dry. I make the broccoli when I make the pasta so if you make the pasta the day before you are going to serve it, just put the blanched broccoli in the refrigerator till you are ready to assemble the pasta salad.
To make the bacon, cut ½ pound of bacon into ¼ inch wide strips and cook till just done. Drain the pasta and cool till you are ready to assemble the whole dish.
To pull the pasta salad together, place the pasta in a large bowl. In a measuring cup, combine 1 cup mayo, 3 tablespoons ranch powder and 1/3 cup of milk and mix well. Pour over the pasta and combine. Add the broccoli and bacon and season with salt and pepper to taste (I find the ranch powder has more than enough salt but feel free to customize according to your own taste).
You can serve immediately or place in the refrigerator until you’re ready but I recommend assembling this the day you plan to serve it.