I’m thrilled to have Cabot Cooperative as the sponsor for this delicious, summery Spicy Bacon Cheddar Pasta Salad recipe. All recipes, photos, and opinions remain -as always- my own.
There are few foods that scream summer to me more than pasta salad. I’m pretty sure I’d eat any pasta salad that someone puts in front of me, but when it comes to making my own, I’m a little high maintenance.
My list of rules for pasta salad recipes is pretty extensive:
The Rules for a Great Pasta Salad Recipe
- Cook the pasta to al dente or slightly under. It’s going to soak up whatever delicious sauce you use, and soften in the refrigerator.
- Don’t just drain the pasta, rinse it liberally with cold water, too. This not only washes off the excess starches, keeping it from sticking together, it also cools the pasta and stops the cooking. See the previous point.
- Have lots of texture and flavour! Pasta -even when it’s done perfectly- is not exactly texture central. Part of the joy of a great pasta salad recipe for me is little bites of crunch from a variety of vegetables, a flavourful creamy dressing, little nuggets of Cheddar cheese or pepper jack, and abundant flecks of fresh herbs.
- Speaking of dressings, pretty please don’t overdress your pasta salad on the first go round. Since we know it’s going to absorb dressing, just make sure you have a little extra of whatever you put on it in the refrigerator to stir in before serving. Otherwise, you basically have bloated sauced pasta with bits. We do want some of the dressing to soak in though…
- DO let your pasta salad rest at least an hour in the refrigerator before serving. This gives the dressing a chance to soak into the pasta and flavour it all the way through. That’s why you’re hanging onto some of that dressing. You’ll have it soaked into the pasta and over it as well. It’s happy time.
- Now about those vegetables. I like to try to keep the pieces about the same size as the type of pasta I’m cooking. That way, you can get a little bit of everything in each bite.
- Because an ideal pasta salad strikes the balance and allows me to taste every ingredient that goes into it individually, I love to use super fresh vegetables, my favourite brand of pasta, favourite dressing, and favourite cheese.
Like I said, I’m high maintenance. I promise, though, that my high maintenance tendencies end up making a great recipe! Such is the case with today’s Spicy Bacon Cheddar Pasta Salad.
Tender, little ditalini, crunchy yellow and orange bell pepper, cucumber, crispy bacon crumbles, tiny cubes of Cheddar and pepper jack cheese, and minced fresh jalapeño pepper and chives in a creamy ranch dressing make this Spicy Bacon Cheddar Pasta Salad recipe scream summer!
Because of all the great vegetable crunch, crisp bacon, and carb-lover’s pasta, this is pretty much a meal-in-one for summer days. If you’re inclined to round things out a bit, though, Spicy Bacon Cheddar Pasta Salad makes an excellent accompaniment to any number of grilled goodies; chicken, pork, beef, hot dogs, sausage, and more. I’m not judging if you choose to eat it for breakfast either. I cannot confirm nor deny that I’ve done that. I mean, if I had, it would be for research purposes.
A word about cheese choices for this Spicy Bacon Cheddar Pasta Salad; Cabot Cheese is always my preferred brand of Cheddar. Even before collaborating with them, Cabot was the brand I bought to put on my family’s table. I was hooked by the plaid label on their Seriously Sharp Cheddar, because I am definitely a plaid girl, but I stayed with them because it’s the best everyday Cheddar I’ve ever had… and I am most definitely a Cheddar every day girl. In other words, if you can buy Cabot Cheddar and Cabot Pepper Jack to put in your Spicy Bacon Cheddar Ranch Pasta Salad, you’ll be so glad you did.
Because Cabot offers cheese in bricks, cracker slices, and shredded form, you can choose how much help you’d like getting on your Spicy Bacon Cheddar Ranch Pasta Salad. I opted to use cracker slices as a shortcut to finely dicing the cheese. I stacked the slices, made matchsticks, then sliced across the matchsticks for the most perfect little cubes ever.
- I’ll keep this mercifully brief since I went on and on about my pasta salad rules. The only thing I have to add to the list above is that homemade buttermilk ranch dressing really does shine in our Spicy Bacon Cheddar Pasta Salad. If you can’t/won’t make it yourself, splurge on buying one good enough to lick off of your fingers.
Use these to make Spicy Bacon Cheddar Pasta Salad
Spicy Bacon Cheddar Pasta Salad
- 1 pound ditalini pasta
- 8 slices bacon fried 'til crisp and crumbled or chopped
- 1 seedless cucumber diced
- 1/2 red or orange bell pepper finely diced
- 1/2 yellow bell pepper finely diced
- 1/2 red onion finely diced
- 4 ounces Sharp Cheddar finely diced
- 4 ounces pepper jack finely diced
- 1 jalapeno pepper stem and seeds removed, finely diced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes quartered
- 2 tablespoons chopped chives
- 2/3 cup ranch dressing separated
Cook the ditalini pasta according to package instructions for al dente. Drain and rinse generously with cold water. Add all of the ingredients but 1/3 cup of the ranch dressing to a large bowl and toss together. Refrigerate for an hour before serving. If desired, stir in the additional Ranch dressing before serving.