Creamy ranch pasta salad loaded with savory ingredients that’s sure to be the belle of your next barbecue. Quick, easy, and delicious featuring crisp red onion, fresh ham, and veggies, and colorful tri color pasta. Not your average pasta salad!
Summer barbecues and cold salads go together like peas & carrots. Every home cook has their go-to summer barbecue recipes. My sister-in-law is famous for her corn and black bean salad and my own go-tos include Asian coleslaw and broccoli apple salad.
But what sets a pasta salad apart? How do you create a dish that’s so savory and delicious that it’s more like an exalted guest of the party rather than some boring side? The secret is in the ingredients.
This tri-color pasta salad is everything a summer salad should be- easy, enticing, and crowd pleasing. Rich in texture and flavor, it combines creamy ranch with the unmistakable bite of red onion and black olives. Rotini noodles provide brilliant texture and color but also supply the perfect nooks and crannies for the homemade ranch dressing to cling to. So let’s get to the recipe!
What goes in this Pasta Salad?
I’m combining carefully selected ingredients to create a tangy pasta salad with easy ingredients. Here are a few that make a big difference and why I use them in this recipe:
Ham. I actually pulled pre-diced ham from the salad bar at my grocery store. You can also purchase a very small ham and dice it. It’s about 8 ounces.
Vegetables. I understand that not everyone is so keen on olives or peas. When developing this recipe, my sister and I even had very different views of what to include! If you want to sub or add other veggies, here are some ideas
- Diced Green Peppers
- Diced Red Peppers
- Green Onions
- Halved Grape Tomatoes
Parmesan. A little extra creamy zing that pairs well with the rest of the flavors. You can use shredded, grated, or thin slices.
Mayo/Greek Yogurt/Sour Cream. This is the base of our dressing so choose a quality mayo that you enjoy the taste of. I mix in light sour cream for tangy, tart taste backed by a rich, thick creaminess. Greek yogurt can also be used to cut the fat and calories.
Ranch seasoning. I wanted this recipe to be as easy as it gets with full flavor and creaminess. The amount in this recipe isn’t quite a full packet, so do make sure to measure.
Pasta. I use tri color pasta because it adds a colorful spin on the salad, although it doesn’t taste any different. You want to use a pasta shape that has lots of nooks and crannies to hold the creamy dressing and herbs. Pasta like rotini, penne, fusilli, and farfalle are perfect for pasta salad.
How to Make Creamy Tri Color Pasta Salad
The full instructions and measurements are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post, but I include this area as a step-by-step with notes and visual guide for questions.
- Cook the rotini until al dente (cooked, but still firm when you bite into it). Don’t over-cook or the pasta will be mushy! I find it important to immediately drain and rinse the pasta under cool water to stop the cooking process and cool the noodles faster for putting in the salad.
- Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a separate bowl. Taste test but remember that the flavors won’t fully develop until the salad has sat in the fridge for a little bit.
- I add all of the ingredients except the olives. Olives can be easier to break apart, so often I mix the dressing and other ingredients first and then gently stir in the olives.
- There is plenty of dressing and flavor, although the photos didn’t pick up on it. I think it’s hiding in all those noodle crannies!
- Combine the dressing and all other ingredients, stirring until everything is evenly coated. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours before serving. Make sure to give it a stir before serving!
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Frequently Asked Questions
This pasta salad can easily be made the day before and even better tasting since the ranch flavors have had time to develop and blend. If the pasta is cooked correctly, the dressing won’t soak in and make the dish dry.
Pasta salad is perfect for all your summer BBQs and picnics. Paninis, soups, and grilled chicken are some of my favorites as well.
Yes. Draining and rinsing the pasta immediately under cool water not only stops the cooking process but helps to cool down the pasta for making the salad. It also helps to keep the pasta from soaking in sauces, which can make the pasta dry.
Leftover pasta salad should be stored in a covered container in the fridge. Leftovers will last about 4 days. Always stir before serving. I do not recommend freezing, as it can separate once thawed, and become oily.
Tri-color pasta does not taste differently from other rotini pastas but has more visual appeal in some recipes.
This pasta tastes better when it is cool rather than room temperature. Because of the dairy and mayo, I don’t recommend letting sitting out at room temperature for more than 30 minutes or so. If you intend to serve this recipe outdoors or in a warm environment, keep it in a cooler or nestled in an ice bin to keep it chilled.
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PS. If you make this recipe, leave a COMMENT AND A STAR RATING in the comments section at the bottom and be sure to take a photo and tag it #cravingcreative on Instagram! I appreciate you for taking the time to read about me and my family recipes.
Tri Color Pasta Salad
- ½ cup Mayo
- ½ cup Sour Cream Light or Regular, or Plain Greek Yogurt
- 1.5 tablespoon Dry Ranch Dressing
- 4 cups Tri Color Rotini Pasta
- 1.5 cup Diced Ham about 8 ounces
- 1 cup Frozen Peas Thawed
- ½ cup Red Onion Diced
- ½ cup Black Olives Sliced
- ½ cup Shredded Parmesan
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add rotini pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain water. Rinse pasta with cold water to cool. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, dry ranch mix.
- Add pasta, ham, peas, and red onion to the dressing bowl. Stir until well combined. Add olives and gently toss to combine.
- Cover and chill in refrigerator at least 2 hours before serving. Sprinkle with parmesan before or after chilling.
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