This is the our family’s favorite Pasta Salad because it has it all! It has a perfect balance of sweet, savory, and tart flavors in each and every bite. The pasta salad itself is incredible, but what really makes it stand out from other pasta salad recipes is the mouthwatering homemade dressing. Oh, and there is bacon!
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This isn’t your simple little pasta salad! Truly, this is one of the most flavorful pasta salads I’ve ever had. It’s so good, in fact, that it can be a meal on it’s own – not just a side dish! However, it’s also a great side dish to serve at picnics, barbecues, and everything in between. If you’re looking for a pasta salad that will really garner some attention, this is the recipe for you.
So, what makes this pasta salad so downright delicious? Well, the addition of banana peppers is really perfect because of the tart little flavor they provide. Oh, and hello, there is plenty of crispy bacon! Bacon really makes everything more delicious.
Now, let’s talk about the real star of the show. The dressing for this pasta salad is another take on my classic Italian Dressing. The twist that I make on it is balsamic vinegar and added sweetness from brown sugar. But don’t worry, the dressing as a whole isn’t sweet – not with ingredients like crushed red pepper and lemon juice in there as well! This dressing is bold, complex, and seriously addictive.
Ingredients In This Pasta Salad
For The Pasta Salad:
- Rotini Pasta – Any pasta that is small and has shape will work for this recipe, as it will grip the dressing best. Farfalle and cellentani pasta also work for this reason.
- Cherry Tomatoes – Sliced grape tomatoes will also do the trick.
- Red Bell Pepper – Red bell pepper is my favorite to toss into this salad, mainly for it’s bold pop of color! However, you can use whatever bell pepper you prefer.
- Red Onion – Similarly to the red bell pepper, I love the pop of color that red onions give this dish. However, I also love using red onions here because of the potent and a little sweet onion flavor.
- Parmesan Cheese – Shaved parmesan cheese gives the entire pasta salad an enhanced savory flavor. Feel free to add extra!
- Banana Peppers – These tangy peppers are possibly my favorite addition to this pasta salad! Don’t forget to drain their liquid before tossing them in.
- Bacon – I use regular pork bacon, but turkey or plant based bacon also works if your diet is more restrictive.
Pasta Salad Dressing:
- Olive Oil – I like to use rich extra virgin olive oil for the best flavor. Taste yours first to make sure it’s not bitter and overpowering.
- Balsamic Vinegar – This is perhaps the most noticeable flavor of the dressing and it mixes with the olive oil to create the base of it.
- Lemon Juice – Freshly squeezed lemon juice will give the freshest, most tangy flavor.
- Italian Seasoning – This blend usually includes dried herbs like basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, and/or sage. Check to see if your blends includes salt to know how much salt to add to the dressing.
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes – More or less of this can be added depending on your tastes.
- Brown Sugar – Brown sugar perfectly balances all of the savory, tart ingredients in this dressing.
See the recipe card below for the full list of ingredients and instructions.
How to Make Pasta Salad
Cook pasta according to the box instruction, drain and let it cool to room temperature. Place all of the prepared ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
For the dressing, you can use a dressing shaker or whisk it in a mixing bowl. Pour it on top of the pasta salad ingredients and gently mix with a wooden spoon or a spatula.
Combine all of the ingredients thoroughly until the dressing is covering everything in the bowl. Serve or store, and enjoy!
Tips For The Best Results
- Make sure to salt the water for the pasta while cooking it. It will help with the overall pasta salad.
- Use rotini or fusilli pasta. It catches the dressing better and mixes better with other ingredients.
- Try to keep the veggies and bacon the uniform size. It will help with the better overall bite.
- Dress the salad while it’s still warm. You can serve it warm or cold but it’s better to add the dressing while pasta is at about room temperature. It will soak up the flavors of the dressing better.
- If planning on making pasta salad ahead of time, mix it half the dressing and leave the other half for when you wish to serve it. You can also make a little extra dressing because pasta does soak up the liquids as it sits.
You can serve pasta salad at room temperature or cold, it’s a personal preference.
Cold – If you will be serving it cold, combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and only mix in about half the dressing, cover the bowl, and let it chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Mix pasta salad with the other half of the dressing right before serving.
Warm – if you want to serve the salad at room temperature, simply make it right before you need it and serve right away. (I like to serve it at room temperature because the bacon stays crispy longer.)
If you don’t have Italian seasoning on hand, don’t worry, because you can easily substitute it by mixing individual herbs together. Even if you don’t have all of them, it’s okay.
Most Italian seasonings on the market have the same general mix dried herbs like of basil, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, and sage. I also like to add dried parsley and thyme. So, grab as many of these herbs as you have in your pantry and mix them about 1/2 tsp each (depending on how much seasoning you need). Although, I find rosemary a bit overwhelming so I add less rosemary than others.
Simple answer: mayonnaise or no mayonnaise.
Traditionally, the difference between the two was in the way you dressed the salad. Macaroni salad featured small pasta like ditalini or small elbow macaroni and creamy, mayonnaise based dressing. Pasta salad, on the other hand, would have larger pasta like rotini or fusilli and dressed with an oil and vinegar based dressing.
Make Ahead and Storing Suggestions
You can definitely prepare the pasta salad ahead of time but no more than 1 day ahead. If made too far in advance, the vegetables will wilt.
To make pasta salad ahead of time, prepare everything according to the recipe but only mix in half of the dressing. Make sure to cover the pasta salad air-tight and refrigerate it until you’re ready to serve. Refrigerate the remaining dressing as well. Mix in other half of the pasta salad dressing right before serving.
To store leftovers, transfer it into an air-tight food storage container with a lid and keep it refrigerated. Pasta salad will last for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. You may need to add a little more dressing after it’s been in the fridge for a while because pasta tends to soak up all the dressing liquids.
More Pasta Salad Recipes To Try
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Pasta Salad Recipe
- 1 lb rotini pasta
- 8-10 oz cherry tomatoes
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1/2 red onion
- 4 oz shaved Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup banana peppers liquid drained
- 1 lb bacon
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp Italian seasoning
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes more or less to taste
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp coarse sea salt more or less to taste
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- Preheat oven to 400°, line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, and place a wire rack inside the baking sheet. You may need to lightly grease the wire rack to prevent bacon from sticking.
- Lay raw bacon strips on the wire rack and bake for 13-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of bacon. (Thick cut bacon may take up to 25 minutes.)
- Take bacon out of the oven and set aside to cool enough to crumble.
- Cook pasta in salted water according to the package instructions, drain, and cool completely before mixing in the other ingredients.
- While pasta is cooking and cooling, slice onion and bell pepper and cut cherry tomatoes in half.
- For the dressing: combine all the dressing ingredients in a salad dressing shaker or a mason jar with a lid and shake well.
- Combine cooled pasta, onions, bell pepper, tomatoes, crumbled bacon, banana peppers, and shaved Parmesan cheese in a large mixing bowl and mix to combine.
- Note: if you want to serve pasta salad at room temperature, you can definitely do that. Simply combine everything with the dressing, mix well and serve.
- If you want to serve the salad cold, mix in half the dressing with pasta salad mixture and the refrigerate if for about 2 hours. When ready to serve, mix pasta salad with remaining dressing and serve.
- Make Ahead: You can definitely prepare the pasta salad ahead of time but no more than 1 day ahead. If made too far in advance, the vegetables will wilt. To make pasta salad ahead of time, prepare everything according to the recipe but only mix in half of the dressing. Make sure to cover the pasta salad air-tight and refrigerate it until you’re ready to serve. Refrigerate the remaining dressing as well. Mix in other half of the pasta salad dressing right before serving.
- Storing Tips: To store leftovers, transfer it into an air-tight food storage container with a lid and keep it refrigerated. Pasta salad will last for 3-4 days in the refrigerator. You may need to add a little more dressing after it’s been in the fridge for a while because pasta tends to soak up all the dressing liquids.