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BLT flavors make this salad ready for barbecues and picnics

"Home with the Lost Italian" food writer Sarah Nasello says this pasta salad is loaded with bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado.

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Sarah's BLT Pasta Salad mirrors the flavors of the classic summer sandwich, complete with buttery-crisp breadcrumbs and a creamy Avocado-Blue Cheese Dressing.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum
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FARGO — If you are looking for a crowd-pleasing dish that is perfect for barbecues, picnics and potlucks, my BLT Pasta Salad is a guaranteed winner. Inspired by the classic summer sandwich, this pasta salad features loads of bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado tossed with rotini pasta and a lush and creamy Avocado-Blue Cheese Dressing.

For this recipe, choose a bite-size noodle with curves and/or tubes so that the dressing can cling to and help bind the other ingredients together, like rotini twists, penne or bow tie pasta. Cook the noodles just until they become al dente, according to the directions on the package, which will ensure that they are firm enough to support the salad ingredients.

Once the pasta is ready, I drain it into a colander and immediately rinse it with cold water until it is no longer hot. I only do this when making a cold pasta dish, as the cool water stops the cooking process and keeps the noodles from becoming mushy. The pasta can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance, lightly tossed with some olive oil and refrigerated until ready to assemble the salad.

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For pasta salads, it is important to drain and rinse the noodles under cold water immediately to stop the cooking process and keep the noodles al dente. Short, bite-sized noodles with tubes or curves, like rotini, are ideal for pasta salads.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

In fact, nearly all the components for this salad can be prepped in advance, except the avocados, and I have included those steps within the recipe. Avocados brown quickly once cut, and I wait to add them until just before serving to preserve their color and freshness. The salad should be assembled within two hours of serving for the best result.

This recipe calls for one 12-ounce package of bacon and I like to bake it until crispy and then chop it into large pieces about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch in size. The bacon gives the salad a wonderful touch of smoky flavor, and you can also add diced chicken or turkey to further enhance the dish.

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Find more recipes each week from "Home with the Lost Italian" columnist Sarah Nasello.

I chop the lettuce into thin strips or shreds, so that they can be easily incorporated into the salad. For this recipe, I prefer crisp greens that will not wilt or become soggy, like green leaf, romaine, butter and iceberg lettuce. For the tomatoes, choose a variety of smaller tomatoes that will hold up well after slicing, like cherry or grape.

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To replicate the griddled bread of a BLT sandwich, Sarah toasts panko breadcrumbs with melted butter until golden brown and crispy.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

One of my favorite elements of a BLT sandwich is the buttery, griddled bread, and to replicate that experience in this recipe I add a generous sprinkling of toasted panko breadcrumbs for enhanced texture and flavor. The breadcrumbs are toasted in melted butter until golden brown and crispy, and their marvelous crunch adds depth of flavor and texture to this salad.

Ranch dressing would work just fine with this recipe, but if you want to take this pasta salad to the next level, my Avocado-Blue Cheese Dressing is easy to make and addictively delicious. Fresh avocado is blitzed with garlic, shallots, red wine vinegar, buttermilk, oil and blue cheese to create an out-of-this-world dressing that can be enjoyed with almost any salad, and it is also great with grilled chicken.

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Sarah's salad features large pieces of cooked bacon, shreds of crispy green leaf lettuce, cherry tomatoes, cooked rotini pasta and diced avocado.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

It is the season for big-batch cold salads, and I hope my BLT Pasta Salad with Avocado-Blue Cheese Dressing will become your next go-to favorite.

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BLT Pasta Salad

Ingredients:
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound rotini pasta, cooked according to al dente according to directions on package
1 12-ounce package of bacon, cooked and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cups green leaf, romaine or butter lettuce, shredded
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and diced
¼ cup blue cheese crumbles, optional
1 ½ to 2 cups (one batch) Avocado-Blue Cheese Dressing (ranch would also work well)

Directions:
Line a large plate with paper towel and set aside. In a medium pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add the breadcrumbs and toast over medium-low heat, stirring often, until evenly golden, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Transfer breadcrumbs to the paper-towel-lined plate to drain; set aside to cool. Use immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 to 3 days.

Cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions. Drain into a colander and immediately rinse with cold water to stop the pasta from cooking. Transfer pasta to a large bowl and toss with the remaining tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. Toss the pasta with ½ cup of the dressing to coat the noodles.

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Add the chopped bacon, halved tomatoes, shredded lettuce and diced avocados; toss gently to combine. Add the blue cheese crumbles and 1 more cup of the Avocado-Blue Cheese Dressing; gently toss until evenly coated, adding more dressing as desired.

Sprinkle 1/2 of the toasted breadcrumbs generously over the top of the salad and serve the remaining crumbs on the side. This salad is at is best when served within 2 hours of assembling. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Leftovers may be stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.

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Sarah's BLT Pasta Salad boasts big flavor in every serving, and is the perfect big-batch salad for summer picnics, barbecues and potlucks.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

If making ahead: All the components for this salad can be prepared in advance and assembled within an hour or 2 of serving, except for the avocado, which should be sliced just before serving for the freshest result.

  • The pasta can be cooked and stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days before assembling the salad. Add an additional tablespoon of olive oil when tossing the pasta before storing.
  • The breadcrumbs can be toasted and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
  • The dressing can be made up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated until ready to use. Shake vigorously before serving and add a little water if it has thickened up too much.
  • The bacon can be cooked and chopped 2 days in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.
  • The tomatoes and lettuce can be chopped 1 day in advance and stored in separate containers in the fridge.
  • The avocados should be sliced and added to the salad no more than 2 hours before serving.

Avocado-Blue Cheese Dressing

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Rich, tangy and addictively delicious, Sarah's creamy Avocado-Blue Cheese Dressing takes this pasta salad to the next level.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Makes: 2 cups
Ingredients:
1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup buttermilk
¼ to 1/3 cup water
¼ cup blue cheese crumbles
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup vegetable oil

Directions:
Use a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the avocado, garlic, shallot, vinegar, salt and pepper; blend until well-combined, about a minute. Add the buttermilk, water and blue cheese crumbles and blitz for another minute to combine. Turn the processor off and scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Combine the 2 oils in a measuring cup or small bowl. Turn the processor on and pour the oil through the feed in a slow and steady stream, until fully emulsified and the dressing appears smooth and creamy.

If the dressing is too thick, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time and process until combined. If the dressing is too thin, add more olive oil starting with 1 tablespoon. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Transfer dressing to a medium jar and refrigerate until ready to serve. Shake well before serving.

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To store: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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Related Topics: FOODRECIPESFARGO
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.
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