Ranch Pasta Salad

published Jul 4, 2022
Ranch Pasta Salad Recipe

This ranch pasta salad is packed with veggies and texture, but still delivers classic creamy macaroni salad vibes.

Serves8 to 10

Prep25 minutes

Cook23 minutes to 25 minutes

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Credit: Meleyna Nomura

Ranch dressing holds a specific place in my heart, and that place is a pizza parlor salad bar. I took all of my favorite salad bar toppings, swapped noodles for the iceberg, and tossed it all with creamy ranch. It’s a pasta salad that’s packed with veggies and texture, but still delivers classic macaroni salad vibes.

What Goes into Ranch Pasta Salad?

  • Ranch dressing: A completely from-scratch ranch dressing is tasty, but the classic packet of powder stirred into a combination of mayo and sour cream delivers that nostalgic flavor you can’t quite replicate on your own. Keeping the dressing thicker like a dip prevents things from getting too soggy, while a good dose of fresh herbs and freshly cracked black pepper punches things up a bit.
  • Pasta: Any short, chunky shape works here. You want to be able to spear it with the veggies and other mix-ins. 
  • Broccoli: Quickly blanch florets with the pasta the last minute of cooking to take the raw taste out while still retaining their crunch.
  • Bacon: What’s a salad bar salad without bacon bits?
  • Tomatoes: Salting the diced tomatoes before adding them to the salad pulls out lots of liquid, which gives you extra tomato-y flavors, plus season tomato juices that thin the dressing just enough without making it watery.
  • Grated carrots: Pre-bought grated carrots are thicker and have more crunch than hand-grated, but grating carrots on the large holes of a box grater works well, too.
  • Radishes: When thinly sliced, they provide great texture and bite.
  • Black olives: Briny, salty black olives are a classic pizza-parlor flavor to me.
  • Cheddar cheese: Sharp cheddar provides the best flavor.
  • Sunflower seeds: They lend salty crunch and are one of my favorite salad toppings.
Credit: Meleyna Nomura

Should You Rinse Pasta When Making Pasta Salad?

Yes. Rinsing the pasta with cold water stops the cooking to prevent soggy noodles, and it also rids the pasta of extra starch. You want that starch with hot pasta, but rinsing it off for a cold salad prevents the noodles from sticking together.

After draining and rinsing, it’s important to get the noodles as dry as possible. You can do this by letting the pasta drain in the colander for a full five minutes, tossing every minute or so. If you have a large salad spinner, this is a great time to use it to get rid of the extra water. You might not be eating a green salad, but the same concept applies: The less water clinging to your lettuce or pasta, the less your dressing gets diluted, both in texture and flavor.

Can I Make Ranch Pasta Salad Ahead?

Ranch pasta salad can be made ahead, but it will thicken up as it sits. (Although it never gets too gloppy!) You can definitely stir it together a few hours ahead of time and refrigerate it until ready to eat. You can also break the prep into steps. Make the dressing a couple of days ahead, boil the pasta and cut up the vegetables up to a day before, and mix everything together before serving. 

Ranch Pasta Salad Recipe

This ranch pasta salad is packed with veggies and texture, but still delivers classic creamy macaroni salad vibes.

Prep time 25 minutes

Cook time 23 minutes to 25 minutes

Serves 8 to 10

Nutritional Info


  • 1 cup


  • 1 cup

    sour cream

  • 1 (1-ounce) packet

    ranch dressing mix, or scant 1/4 cup homemade

  • 1/4 cup

    chopped fresh soft herbs, such as chives, parsley leaves, dill, or a combination, plus more for garnish if desired

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 6 ounces

    bacon (about 6 slices)

  • 2

    medium tomatoes

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 12 ounces

    dry short pasta, such as fusilli

  • 1 medium head

    broccoli (about 12 ounces)

  • 2

    medium radishes

  • 2

    medium scallions

  • 1 (4-ounce) can

    sliced black olives

  • 3

    medium carrots

  • 4 ounces

    sharp cheddar cheese

  • 1/4 cup

    sunflower seeds


  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, place 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 cup sour cream, 1 (1-ounce) packet ranch dressing mix, 1/4 cup chopped fresh soft herbs, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Cover and refrigerate.

  2. Cut 6 ounces bacon crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces. Place in a medium skillet and cook over medium heat until crisp, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and let cool. Meanwhile, core and dice 2 medium tomatoes (about 2 cups). Place in a large bowl, season with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and toss to combine.

  3. Add 12 ounces dried pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions for al dente, about 7 minutes. Meanwhile, cut 1 medium head broccoli into small bite-sized florets, about 3 cups (reserve the stalks for another use). In the final minute of cooking time, add the broccoli to the pasta water.

  4. Drain the pasta and broccoli. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking, stirring until cool to the touch. Drain well, or spin in a salad spinner to remove as much water as possible.

  5. Prepare the following, adding each the bowl of tomatoes as it is completed: Thinly slice 2 medium radishes. Finely chop 2 medium scallions. Drain 1 (4-ounce) can sliced black olives. Peel and grate 3 medium carrots on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 cup). Grate 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese on the large holes of the grater (about 1 1/2 cups), or measure out 4 ounces store-bought shredded (about 1 cup).

  6. Add the pasta and broccoli, and 1/4 cup sunflower seeds. Toss to combine. Pour the dressing over a salad and toss until combined. Garnish with more herbs if desired. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for a few hours.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The salad can be made up to a few hours ahead and refrigerated. Alternatively, the dressing can be made 3 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.