Summer is here and that means it’s potluck season. Bring on the backyard barbecues, the rooftop soirees and the outdoor dinners. Whenever I’m invited to these events I always want to bring that one dish that wows the other guests. You want to hear people whispering, “What’s in this? Who made it? How do I get the recipe?” while they shove another forkful in their mouths.
Pasta salad is always a good choice to bring to these types of parties: It can be made ahead of time and tastes better the longer it sits. But there’s one problem ― it can be boring and flavorless.
But good news: Making a stellar pasta salad only takes one simple ingredient you probably already have in the back of your fridge … pickle juice!
Using the leftover brine from a jar of pickles isn’t a new phenomenon: It’s been used to marinate chicken, cure hangovers, add a zing to bloody marys and even relieve cramps in athletes. The juice and spices at the bottom of the jar are a delicious combination of vinegar, garlic, dill, mustard seeds, peppercorns and coriander seeds. It adds a brightness to dishes with a pop of acidity, sourness and tang. Think of it as a one-stop shop for flavor.
In this recipe, the pickle juice cuts the richness of the mayo in a dill-heavy ranch dressing while adding a briny punch of flavor. The pasta salad also includes perfectly al dente noodles, a good measure of diced pickles, hunks of sharp cheddar cheese, fresh summer tomatoes and of course extra crispy thick-cut bacon. It’s basically all of your favorite foods combined into one dish and conveniently called a “salad.”
The next time you’re looking to be the culinary superstar of the summer, look no further than a jar of pickles. The results will surprise you and your friends.
Dill Pickle Ranch Pasta Salad
12 ounces gemelli pasta
1 pound thick-cut bacon, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, diced in 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup kosher dill pickles, chopped (preferred brand is Claussen)
Dill Pickle Ranch Dressing
1 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup pickle juice from jar of kosher dill pickles
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
Kosher salt and pepper
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Add pasta and cook according to package until al dente. Rinse under cold water and drain.
2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crispy. Drain on paper towels to remove excess grease.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together mayo, sour cream, dill, pickle juice, milk, garlic powder and onion powder. Season with salt and pepper.
4. In a large bowl, combine cooked pasta, cooked bacon, tomatoes, cheddar cheese and pickles. Add dressing and toss until combined.
5. Season with salt and pepper and serve.