Pasta salad with the powerful flavors of bacon and blue cheese, all tossed in a creamy dressing. With extra flavor and texture from broccoli and green onion, this bacon blue cheese pasta salad will wow at any backyard barbecue or cookout!
Note: This recipe was originally published in 2019 and updated in 2021 with new photos and improved instructions.
Bacon and blue cheese are a classic combo that can make even the blandest burger taste amazing. So, I started thinking that bacon and blue cheese could do a lot for pasta salad also, since pasta is the perfect blank canvas and really shines when paired with anything salty or cheesy.
And of course this combo is amazing - the blue cheese is creamy and salty and pairs so well with the crispy bacon. And together, they really pack a big punch of flavor to the otherwise neutral flavor of pasta.
The pasta is lightly coated in a simple dressing, which keeps the pasta moist and adds some creaminess, without being too heavy. This also allows the strong flavors of the bacon and blue cheese to really shine. Broccoli florets and green onion round out the flavors with a pop of freshness, and add some additional texture.
If you're looking for something a little extra-special for your backyard barbecue, this boldly flavored pasta salad is just the thing!
- Pasta: you can use any type of medium-length pasta shape you like; something like rotini, fusilli, bowties, or medium shells would work great.
- Blue cheese: you can use either a block of blue cheese and crumble it yourself (which I prefer to do), or you can buy blue cheese crumbles (the kind in the tub). I discuss the pros and cons of each in a little more detail in the Recipe FAQs section below.
- Broccoli: I used fresh broccoli, but if you want to use frozen you can. I give more directions on how to substitute frozen broccoli in the Recipe FAQs section below.
- Ranch or blue cheese dressing: this is just regular store-bought salad dressing. You can choose ranch if you like, or, if you want to double up on the blue cheese flavor, go for blue cheese dressing! I used ranch because I always have it in my fridge.
Step by step photos
1. Before you do anything else, get your pasta water on the stove to start boiling. While you're waiting, go ahead and cook the bacon using your favorite method; I just cooked mine in a skillet on the stovetop. Drain the cooked bacon on paper towels. When it's cool enough to handle, chop it into small pieces.
2. Then, cut your broccoli into small florets and thinly-slice the green onions, set aside.
3. Mix the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl.
4. Whenever the pasta water has started boiling, add a large pinch of salt, then the pasta. Cook according to the directions on the package. During the last minute of cooking, add the broccoli into the pot. Drain the pasta and broccoli well, rinse it under cold water to cool it down, then place it into a large bowl.
Add in the dressing, green onion, and bacon. (But, be sure to reserve some green onion and bacon to garnish the top!)
5. Then, add in the blue cheese crumbles (again, reserving some to garnish the top). Stir in the blue cheese gently so it doesn't break up too much in the salad.
6. When ready to serve, garnish the top with the reserved bacon, blue cheese and green onion!
Tips and tricks
Seasoning the pasta salad
- This pasta salad includes 2 salty ingredients: bacon and blue cheese. (This is in addition to the store-bought salad dressing, which also contains salt.) So, just keep this in mind when deciding on how much to season your pasta salad.
- I ended up using 1 teaspoon of kosher salt to season my dressing. I found this to be the right balance for my taste buds - robustly-seasoned but not over-the-top salty. However, your taste buds may be different, or your bacon and blue cheese may be more or less salty. So, you may want to add less at first, then taste the pasta salad and sprinkle in more salt if needed.
- And if you are using fine-grain salt instead of kosher salt, be even more sparing at first. Fine-grain salt is more compact and therefore "saltier" than an equal measure of coarser-grained kosher salt. If you're interested, here is a cool chart that shows the conversions of various types of salt!
Other tips and tricks
- It will probably take your pasta water at least 10 minutes to come to a boil, and, depending on the pasta you chose, another 10 minutes at least for the pasta to cook. You should be able to get most, if not all, of the other prep steps done during this time. Just be sure to keep one eye on the pot while you do the other prep so you can add the pasta as soon as the water boils.
- If your pasta is finished cooking before you have finished the other steps, don't worry! Just drain it, rinse it well under cold water, and set it aside until you have the other ingredients ready.
As I mentioned in the Recipe ingredients section, you can use either pre-crumbled blue cheese that comes in a tub, or you can buy a wedge of blue cheese and crumble it yourself. I've done both and they both will work just fine in this pasta salad.
The pre-crumbled cheese obviously has a convenience factor going on, but, ultimately I think buying the wedge of cheese and crumbling it yourself results in a more tasty salad. First of all, you can break the cheese up into larger chunks, which packs more of a flavorful punch in my opinion than the smaller crumbles.
And, you can also choose the exact type of blue cheese you prefer when buying a wedge. If you're going this route, I would suggest one that leans towards crumbly, versus soft and creamy, so you can get individual chunks of cheese that will hold their shape better. So, the triple cream blue cheese I recommend in my Red Wine Poached Pears recipe may not work so well here! Roquefort or Stilton would be good options, or maybe even an aged Gorgonzola!
Yes, you can definitely use frozen broccoli florets instead of the fresh broccoli. If you want to use frozen broccoli however, I would just steam it in the microwave rather than adding it to the pasta at the end as instructed in the recipe. Or, you can prepare it how you usually like to - pan-fried, baked, etc. Cooking it separately will allow the pasta to finish cooking without bringing the temperature of the water down too much. However you choose to cook it, try not to overcook it so it will hold its shape in the salad.
After cooking the broccoli, let it cool down for a few minutes, then add it with the rest of the ingredients when ready to mix the pasta salad.
Unfortunately I don't recommend making this ahead of time, it really tastes the best when eaten the same day it's made. The bacon is at its most crispy, and the pasta is tender and moist. I've found when it sits in the fridge for a day or two, the dressing starts to absorb into the pasta, so you lose a little bit of that creamy texture.
That being said, you can totally chow down on some leftovers - stored tightly covered in the fridge, this salad will stay good for 3 - 4 days. I'm just saying this salad is at its most divine on day 1!
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This pasta salad packs big punches of flavor: creamy, savory blue cheese, salty bacon, plus broccoli florets and green onion.
- 1 pound dried pasta (any medium-sized shape, such as rotini, fusilli or bow ties)
- 2 cups small broccoli florets
- 4 green onions
- 12 ounces bacon
- 10 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- ¾ cup ranch or blue cheese salad dressing
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste (see note 1)
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
Prep the ingredients:
- Set a large pot of water to boil on the stove. While the pasta water is coming to a boil (and while the pasta is cooking), continue with the remaining steps:
- Cook the bacon using your favorite method (pan-frying, baking, etc.). Drain the bacon on paper towels, then remove the bacon to a cutting board. When the bacon is cool enough to handle, chop it into small pieces. Set aside.
- Chop the broccoli into small florets, set aside.
- Chop the green onion into thin slices, set aside.
- In a small bowl, mix the dressing ingredients with a fork until smooth, set aside.
Cook the pasta and broccoli:
- Whenever the pasta water begins to boil, add a large pinch of salt. Then, add the pasta and stir. Cook according to the package directions. During the last 1 minute of the cook time, add in the broccoli florets.
- Drain the pasta and broccoli into a colander and rinse it well under cold water. Shake off any excess moisture from the pasta and broccoli.
Mix the pasta salad:
- Add the drained, rinsed pasta and broccoli to a large bowl.
- Add the bacon, green onion, and dressing to the bowl, reserving a small amount of the bacon and green onion to garnish the top. Stir to combine.
- Add in the blue cheese crumbles, reserving about ¼ cup to garnish the top. Stir gently to combine. Taste the salad and sprinkle in more kosher salt and/or black pepper if needed.
- Garnish the top with the reserved bacon, green onion and blue cheese. Serve immediately, or cover and store in the fridge until fully chilled (about 1 - 2 hours), then serve.
To my tastes, 1 teaspoon kosher salt in the dressing was the perfect amount for a well-seasoned, but not overly salty pasta salad. However, because seasoning is subjective, and because the pasta salad includes blue cheese and bacon which are also salty, you may wish to start with less salt in the dressing than called for. Then, taste the salad after mixing and sprinkle more in if needed.
If the pasta is ready before all of the remaining steps are finished, drain the pasta, rinse it well under cold water, and set it aside until ready to use.
This salad tastes the best when eaten the day it is made. However, any leftovers can be stored in the fridge, tightly covered, and will last for 3 - 4 days.
Keywords: blue cheese pasta salad, pasta salad, bacon pasta salad