A pasta salad was the perfect candidate for our first picnic recipe—partly because it’s an
All-American picnic staple, and partly because it’s kinda hard to mess up. This one spins a
BLT variation—a path that’s been traveled before, but we add touches like avocado and white
cheddar to take it someplace new. …………. ……………….. ……………—Rachel
Cook about 7 ounces of whatever your favorite salad pasta is in a pot of salted water, drain it,
and set it aside. I went with rotini out of some vague notion of maximum surface area, but pretty
much any bite-size pasta will do fine.
Cook 7 to 9 strips of bacon (the thicker the better) until they’re crisp. Cooking at anything higher
than medium can cause the pieces to burn. I tend to go with a setting halfway between medium
and medium low. Drain the strips on a paper towel, pat away the grease, and break them up into
Seed and dice 2 large or 3 medium tomatoes. Tomatoes don’t tend to have much flavor this
time of year, but the salad wouldn’t be a BLT without them, and some seasoning can help kick
them up a notch. But this recipe would be worth revisiting toward the end of summer, when
the tomatoes really begin to sing.
Practically every BLT pasta salad recipe uses the following technique for the tomatoes—which,
as far as I can tell, started with the Food Network:
Keep about 3 tablespoons of drippings in the pan where you cooked the bacon, add the tomato
pieces, a minced garlic clove, and a tbsp of thyme, and toss until warm. Then toss this mixture with
the crumbled bacon pieces and the pasta, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
I consider that step optional. It creates an interesting flavor but might be a little too Italian for
people who want their BLT to have more of a lunch-counter feel. If you’re from that camp, just
mixing the tomatoes with the pasta and bacon without the garlic and thyme thing will work fine.
If you have the time to make your own mayonnaise, go for it. Otherwise, take 3/4 cup of store-bought
mayo and stir in 2 teaspoons of olive oil and about 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice, just to freshen things up.
But that combo can taste kind of one-note, so I added 2 teaspoons of chicken bullion and 3 tablespoons
of chives (scallion greens will do fine) to give it a little more depth.
Stir the dressing until it’s smooth, then mix with the pasta, tomatoes, and bacon, then salt and pepper
to taste. You’ll get the best results if you then refrigerate the mixture overnight, to let the flavors blend.
The day of your picnic, peel a large avocado, cut it into chunks, then toss the pieces with some fresh
lemon juice, to prevent browning. Then mix the avocado into the salad, along with about 2 tablespoons
of scallions (save a few for garnish) and 4 ounces of shredded white cheddar.
The white cheddar is the thing that can take this dish over the top, so don’t use a common store brand
if you can avoid it. Mine was from First Light Creamery in East Bethany, NY. Their cheeses can be found
throughout the Northeast, and are definitely worth the effort. But a similar white cheddar from another
artisanal cheesemaker will probably do just as well.
Either mix in relatively small pieces of romaine when you add the avocado and the cheese, or, if your
picnicking situation allows, tear larger pieces of romaine and set them on a plate, to form a bed for the salad.
Toss a few scallions on top just before you serve, for a little color and crunch.
Recipe courtesy of Chef Jean-Luc Bataille