Featuring a creamy ranch dressing made with avocado rather than mayonnaise, this pasta salad is fully loaded, keeps for days – and stays green! An excellent recipe to make use of ripe avocados (plentiful and cheap in Australia right now!)
Make this for work lunches, hot summer days and taking to gatherings. Or strip back the add-ins and make this as a side dish!
That Creamy Avocado Ranch Dressing…..
This recipe is all about the creamy avocado ranch dressing. It is Great – with a capital “G”. Regular readers know when I capitalise, I mean it!
It’s not just about making a dressing that’s traditionally made with loads of mayonnaise healthier. This is about making an avocado-forward salad into a big, juicy pasta salad.
Sure, we could just throw chunks of avocado in and call it a day.
But if we make a dressing instead, we can get avocado into every single bite, smothering everything, making this pasta salad creamy and gorgeous… with the added bonus that it’s HEALTHIER.
Win, win, win!
Oh wait. A caveat. I do use a bit of mayonnaise. But just 1/3 cup compared to 2 1/2 cups of other “stuff” in the dressing. It gives the dressing a smidge of luxuriousness in the mouthfeel, but can easily be substituted with yogurt or sour cream!
This avocado pasta salad is fully loaded…. but doesn’t have to be
This recipe I’m sharing today comes fully loaded with seasoned chicken, egg, tomato, crispy bacon and cherry tomatoes, which makes it a big satisfying meal.
However, you could strip back on all of these, or dial it down to just vegetables to make it either a vegetarian main or a side dish for dinners on hot summer days. Customise it as you wish!!
Ingredients for Avocado Pasta Salad
Here’s what goes in this avocado pasta salad. Firstly – the creamy avocado dressing!
1. Avocado Ranch Dressing
Here’s what you need for the avocado ranch dressing.
For those unfamiliar with Ranch Dressing, it’s a creamy buttermilk and mayonnaise based dressing flavoured with onion, garlic and herbs that is wildly popular in the US. Sometimes it’s made with dried herbs but fresh is so much better. You see versions made with different types of herbs – dill, coriander/cilantro, mint, chives and parsley. For me, there’s no question – dill is the best with avocado. So that’s what I’ve gone for!
Avocados – You will need 2 ripe ones though you may not quite use both of them as for this recipe, I specifically ask you to measure out 1 1/3 cups of avocado flesh. Why? Because, irritatingly, avocados don’t all grow exactly the same size. Ridiculous, right??
Buttermilk – An ingredient traditionally used to make Ranch Dressing, it has a consistency like pouring cream but is slightly tangy. Substitute: yogurt and milk (equal parts). It’s a near perfect substitute, I tested it especially because buttermilk is not a common ingredient used here in Australia. So there’s no need to get it especially for this recipe!
Mayonnaise (just a bit!) – Another ingredient traditionally used in ranch though usually it’s a primary ingredient whereas it’s a minor ingredient in this avocado ranch dressing. Why bother? Because it adds a more luxurious mouthfeel to the dressing which really makes it so, so good! Feel free to skip it – just substitute with sour cream or yogurt.
Fresh dill – While I can offer substitutions for the buttermilk and mayonnaise, I really urge you to use fresh dill! The bright freshness really adds a special touch to this dressing. However, if you don’t have (or don’t like??) dill, coriander/cilantro or chives make excellent alternatives. It’s a different flavour of course, but these herbs are also used in various version of ranch dressing so they are on point. Dill is just my personal preference.
Lemon juice – For a much needed balance of tang plus also it keeps the avocado dressing green!
Garlic – Traditional ranch dressing typically uses dried garlic powder which adds a sort of earthy garlic flavour. For this avocado version, I preferred fresh garlic.
Onion powder – While I opted for fresh garlic, I stuck with the traditional onion powder as I really love the smooth onion flavour it adds into the dressing and very much makes this taste like ranch dressing. Try not to skip it!
2. The add-ins
Remember what I mentioned above: you can dial it back or substitute. This recipe is all about the dressing!
Seasoned chicken – I wanted to go all-out with this pasta salad so I cook a chicken breast seasoned with paprika, salt and pepper. Substitute with plain poached chicken breast, any other cooked chicken or proteins (tuna, shrimp/prawns!), or chop/shred leftovers from a store bought or homemade roast chicken.
Eggs – Hard-boiled (9 minutes). Extra protein as well as lovely pops of colour!
Celery – For a touch of fresh crunch, reminiscent of classic creamy Macaroni Salad. Highly recommended for a touch of texture.
Bacon – Do I need to do any convincing here to include this in your pasta salad??
Dill – Yes! More fresh dill! It really does give this pasta salad that special touch that makes it memorable.
Cherry tomatoes – Lovely pops of juiciness and colour.
Red onion – Just 1/4 of a red onion, finely sliced, for a touch of much-needed freshness in this big jumble of goodness.
Pasta – Oh yes! Don’t forget pasta, like I almost did!! I’ve gone for spirals here but feel free to use your shape of choice. Penne, ziti, macaroni/elbow pasta, bow ties, rigatoni. Just avoid the smaller pastas like risoni/orzo, orecchiette (make this instead), alphabet, dinosaur, and other novelty shape pastas (in case you’re channelling the child within ).
How to make Creamy Ranch Avocado Pasta Salad
Fundamentally, you just blitz up the avocado dressing ingredients, cook the pasta, then toss everything together. Easy!
1. Avocado Ranch Dressing
Scoop out flesh – Scoop out the flesh of the avocado using a spoon.
Measure – Then smush it into cups to measure out 1 1/3 cups. Because you got lovely ripe avocados, this should be effortless! We’re measuring the avocado flesh to ensure we use the right amount. Because avocados are not all the same size – sooo annoying!
Blitz – Place the avocado flesh and all the other dressing ingredients in a tall container that fits the head of your stick blender (ironically, I use my Nutribullet jug!) then blitz until smooth. It’s quick – maybe 10 seconds? Feel free to use a food processor instead, just scrape down the sides as needed.
Creamy dressing – Stick your finger in and have a taste of your lovely creamy Avocado Ranch Dressing! Also use this as a chance to tweak the flavour if you want. Add a bit more lemon if you want more tang, more salt if your palette errs on the salty side. Etc!
2. Baked seasoned chicken
As I mention above, you can keep it simple and use store-bought roast chicken or just poach a chicken breast. But if you want to go all-in for a really great pasta salad, here’s how to make the seasoned chicken breast I use!
I opted to cook the chicken in the oven because I can cook the bacon at the same time. And – no stove splatter!
Pound the chicken using a meat mallet or rolling pin to 1.5cm / 2 cm even thickness.
Season – Drizzle with oil then sprinkle with paprika, salt and pepper on both sides.
Bake for 12 minutes at 220°C/430°F (200°C fan-forced) or until the internal temperature reaches 67°C / 153°F.
Cut – Rest for 5 minutes then slice.
3. Crispy baked bacon
For convenience, I baked the bacon because I can cook the chicken and bacon at the same time. Bonus: no stove splatter to deal with. Handy!
Rack on tray – Lay the bacon on a rack set over a tray. The rack prevents the bacon from swimming in its own fat on the tray, and makes the bacon crisper.
Bake for 20 minutes until golden and pretty crispy. The bacon will get crispier as it cools.
4. Boiled eggs
For pasta salads, I like to use eggs which have yolks that are soft set ie. Cooked enough so you can cut through the yolk cleanly but it’s not “powdery” like it is when it’s fully hard boiled.
Here’s how I do it:
Fridge-cold eggs in boiling water – Bring the water to a full boil. Then carefully lower fridge-cold eggs into the water using a slotted spoon. Lower the stove slightly so the water is still rippling and the eggs are just moving around gently in the water. If you rapid boil, the shells will crack!
9 minutes – Start the timer and cook for 9 minutes.
Peel in cold water – Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon into a large bowl or sink full of cold water (ice water is best, but I never waste ice on eggs!). Leave for 5 minutes or so until cool enough to handle then peel IN the water. It’s easier.
OK! Everything prepared, now the best part: tossing it all together. (Wait – that’s totally wrong, the best part is EATING it!).
BIG bowl – Put all the pasta salad ingredients except the eggs in a very big bowl then toss until it’s all coated in that gorgeous avocado ranch dressing. (PS. I emphasise BIG bowl for good reason).
Add eggs at the end then gently toss just to disperse.
And we are DONE! Time to eat! And just think – it keeps so well, you get to enjoy this for days and days!!
I’ve eaten so much of this in the past couple of weeks. It makes so much! And it’s so good!!
I really hope you try it. In the vast world of pasta salads, this is definitely a stand out! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Creamy Ranch Avocado Pasta Salad
It makes a BIG BATCH, keeps for days, and stays green. Excellent for work lunches, or standby meal!
- 500 g / 1 lb spiral pasta (or other of choice)
- 1 tbsp cooking / kosher salt (for cooking water)
Creamy Avocado Ranch Dressing:
- 1 1/3 cups avocado (smush in cup measures, ~ 1 1/2 avocados, Note 1)
- 1/2 cup buttermilk (sub yogurt + milk, Note 2)
- 1/3 cup whole egg mayonnaise (Note 3)
- 3 tbsp lemon juice (sub cider vinegar)
- 1 1/2 garlic cloves , finely grated or minced
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1 1/4 tsp cooking salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 cup dill , finely chopped (Note 4)
Seasoned Chicken (or use any cooked chicken):
- 2 x 250g/8oz chicken breasts , skinless boneless
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (sub ordinary)
- 1/2 tsp cooking salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Add-ins (or use your own!):
- 250 g / 8 oz streaky bacon
- 6 eggs
- 250 g / 8 oz cherry tomato , halved
- 1/4 red onion , very finely sliced
- 1 celery stem , finely sliced 0.5 cm / 1/5″
- 1/4 cup dill , finely chopped (Note 4)
Chicken & crispy bacon:
Pre-heat the oven to 220°C/430°F (200°C fan-forced).
Bacon: Place bacon slices on a rack set on an oven tray. Bake 20 minutes or until deep golden and crispy, then remove from the oven and let it cool – it will get crispier. Then chop into 1 cm / 1/3" pieces.
Pound chicken: Cover chicken with baking paper then pound to 1.5 cm / 3/5" even thickness using a meat mallet, rolling pin or cast iron pan.
Season: Mix the paprika, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Place chicken on a baking tray, drizzle then rub with half the oil. Sprinkle with seasoning, then repeat on the other side.
Bake the chicken for 12 minutes or until the internal temperature is 67°C/153°F. Remove from the tray and rest for 5 minutes then cut into 4 x 1cm / 2.5 x 1/2" pieces.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil then add the 1 tablespoon of salt. Cook the pasta per the packet time plus 2 minutes (Note 5).
Drain, rinse under water then leave to drain well and cool.
9 minutes: Bring a large saucepan of water to boil. Lower eggs in using a slotted spoon then start the timer for 9 minutes. Reduce stove heat so eggs are not bouncing around so much that the shells crack.
Peel in cold water: Remove eggs using a slotted spoon into a large bowl or sink of cold water (iced water is best, but I never waste ice on eggs!). Leave for 5 minutes then peel while submerged under water, it's easier.
Pat dry then cut eggs into quarters.
Place all ingredients except the dill into a container just large enough to fit the head of a stick blender. Blitz until the avocado is smooth.
Add dill and blitz until finely chopped. Taste and adjust salt, if needed.
Place the pasta and dressing in a very large bowl along with everything else EXCEPT the eggs. Toss gently to combine.
Add eggs, then toss gently to disperse. Serve!
2. Buttermilk – A near-perfect sub in this recipe is to use half yogurt + half milk. I doubt anyone could tell the difference – I can’t!
3. Mayonnaise – I like whole egg mayonnaise, it’s got a smoother flavour than normal mayo. Kewpie mayonnaise is almost as great here! Substitute with sour cream or yogurt for a lighter version.
4. Fresh dill – Coriander/cilantro and chives are also herbs use in ranch, but I like dill the best. Use the same quantity.
5. Cooking pasta – For pasta salads, I like to overcook the pasta until it’s extra-soft because pasta goes firm once cool. So if it’s overly soft when hot, it will be the perfect texture when cool!
6. Storing – Keeps for 4 days in the fridge, and stays green thanks to the lemon in the dressing!
7. Nutrition per serving.
Life of Dozer
Director Dozer, waiting for his assistant (me) to show up to work (ie feed / pat / play with him).