This creamy chicken pasta salad is absolutely loaded with goodies: bacon, peppers, broccoli, corn, feta cheese, chicken, and tomatoes… all tossed together with a tangy, herby buttermilk Greek yogurt dressing. This large pasta salad can feed a crowd, and it also makes for great leftovers.
What began a few years ago as a “throw a bunch of leftovers together with some cold pasta” dinner has become a summertime staple in my house. Pasta + chicken + veggies + bacon + cheese + easy. This chicken pasta salad is a winning combination for sure. And it all comes together with a tangy homemade dressing that’s nearly impossible to pass up.
It’s the pasta salad for those of us who like a lot of STUFF in our salads. 😉
Here’s Why You’ll Love This Chicken Pasta Salad:
- Endlessly customizable—add your favorite vegetables, try a different cheese, or make it vegetarian
- Creamy, tangy dressing made with low-fat buttermilk and Greek yogurt
- Convenient make-ahead recipe, just like my creamy strawberry feta pasta salad
- Makes a big batch, perfect to take to a BBQ or other gathering
- Delicious leftovers make for a quick and easy lunch or dinner
If it’s a vegetable and you have it on hand, you should throw it into this pasta salad. Like artichokes, olives, shredded carrots, diced cucumbers, chickpeas, you get the idea! With that in mind, here’s my starting lineup of ingredients:
Base Ingredients in Creamy Chicken Pasta Salad
- Pasta: I like fusilloni or rotini best here because the corkscrew shape captures so much of the creamy dressing. Use any short pasta that’s easy to eat (let’s avoid fettuccini here!), and has lots of nooks and crannies to hold onto dressing.
- Chopped Cooked Chicken: This can be grilled, poached, rotisserie roasted—whatever you happen to have on hand. I prefer grilled or rotisserie.
- Cherry Tomatoes: You’ll love the little juicy pops of flavor these give the pasta salad. They’re one of the best parts of this kale pesto mozzarella pasta salad, too!
- Broccoli: Chop fresh broccoli florets into small pieces—no need to cook it. When I don’t have broccoli on hand, I usually sub in cucumbers.
- Cooked Corn: Sweet, crisp corn scraped off the cob is the tastiest in this pasta salad, but frozen and thawed or canned corn work too.
- Bell Pepper: Red, orange, yellow—take your pick from the pack of peppers. (Say that 5 times fast!)
- Feta Cheese: Salty, creamy feta cheese crumbles taste so good in this salad, but feel free to swap in a different cheese.
- Cooked Bacon: Crisp and crumbled bacon bits add incredible flavor to each and every bite.
While the pasta cooks, prep the other ingredients and make the salad dressing.
Buttermilk Herb Greek Yogurt Dressing
Now let’s talk about the dressing! Even though there’s already so much to love in this pasta salad, the dressing truly makes the whole dish come together. The base is low-fat/nonfat Greek yogurt and low-fat buttermilk. If you can’t find buttermilk, you can use whole milk and add an extra teaspoon of lemon juice, but you will lose some flavor and creaminess. Add a little mayonnaise, a drizzle of olive oil, some fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon, a splash of vinegar, and a sprinkle of seasonings. It tastes tangy, creamy, and oh-so-much-better than store-bought dressing. It reminds me a little of the Greek yogurt sauce that pairs so well with these zucchini fritters.
This recipe makes about 2 cups of dressing. It may seem like a lot, but the pasta soaks up a lot as it sits, and there are also so many add-ins—this recipe feeds a crowd!
Place the warm pasta, chopped veggies, and chicken in a big bowl, and pour most of the dressing on top. Stir to combine and coat everything with dressing, then add the crumbled feta and bacon and stir again. That’s it! There’s more work in chopping all the vegetables than actually making this dish.
You can enjoy it right away, but I like it best after it sits for a couple hours in the refrigerator. The flavors develop a little more, turning this into pasta perfection.
Success Tip: Save a Little Dressing for Serving
Save the last little bit (a few Tablespoons) of dressing to stir into the pasta salad right before serving, so it tastes extra creamy and flavorful. I’ve been making this recipe for years, and I just discovered this little trick. What a difference it makes! You see, as the pasta salad sits, it absorbs more and more of that delicious dressing and can begin to clump together. Give it a little refresher to loosen it up, and to add another dash of flavor.
Success Tip: Keep the Pasta Warm
Don’t let the cooked and drained pasta cool for too long. Warm pasta mixes easier, and helps the flavors in the dish *pop.* As a bonus, the warm pasta begins to soften the feta cheese, so the dish is even creamier. So good.
Any short pasta that’s easy to eat, and has lots of nooks and crannies for holding onto the dressing, is ideal. I love using fusilloni or rotini in pasta salad because the corkscrew shape holds onto a lot of dressing. You could also use farfalle (bow-tie), tortellini, penne, or macaroni (elbow).
When I’m making pasta salad, I like to cook the pasta a little past al dente. When pasta cools, it becomes a bit chewy and firm, so you want that extra softness in the pasta. Otherwise the entire dish becomes a little stiff!
Straight from the refrigerator, the pasta salad is a bit firm and heavy. I recommend taking it out and letting it sit for 20–30 minutes before serving. And if you have the leftover dressing, stir it in right before you whip out that serving spoon!
This simple pasta salad has the works! Bacon, crisp peppers, broccoli, feta cheese, chicken, and tomatoes covered in a creamy, tangy buttermilk Greek yogurt dressing. It’s for those of you who like the “stuff” in pasta salads, more than the pasta itself! Simple, quick, and makes great leftovers.
Buttermilk Herb Greek Yogurt Dressing
- 3/4 cup (180g) plain nonfat or low-fat Greek yogurt
- 1/4 cup (60g) mayonnaise
- 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk (I usually use low-fat)
- 2 Tablespoons (30ml) olive oil
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound (454g) dry pasta (such as rotini or fusilloni)
- 2 cups (about 300g) chopped or shredded cooked chicken
- 2 cups (330g) halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup (65g) small broccoli florets (or chopped cucumber)
- 1 cup (150g) cooked corn
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped (about 160g)
- 3/4 cup (100g) crumbled feta cheese
- 6 strips cooked bacon, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- Make the dressing first, so it’s ready to go. Whisk all of the dressing ingredients together, and keep at room temperature or cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Can be made and refrigerated for up to 2 days before using.
- Have the chicken and all of your vegetables chopped, measured, and ready for step 4, because you don’t want the pasta to cool for too long.
- Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. (I usually use 1 teaspoon salt.) Add the pasta and cook until just past al dente. See pasta package for specific instructions. Drain the pasta, and let it cool for just 3–5 minutes.
- Pour pasta into a large bowl. Add the chicken, tomatoes, broccoli, corn, and pepper. Pour most of the dressing over the pasta salad (reserve about 1/3 cup (80ml) to use in step 7) and gently toss to combine.
- Stir in the feta cheese and bacon. Taste. Season with additional salt, pepper, and herbs if desired.
- You can serve the pasta salad right away, but it tastes even better if you cover and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. If refrigerating for longer than a few hours, let it sit on the counter for 20–30 minutes before serving, to help loosen up the cold, firm pasta.
- Whenever you’re ready to serve it, stir in the reserved dressing.
- Cover leftovers tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- Make Ahead Instructions: Make the dressing up to 2 days in advance. See step 1. You can make the entire pasta salad up to 1 day in advance. See steps 6 and 7.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Glass Mixing Bowls | Whisk
- Buttermilk: Buttermilk is key for flavor. If you don’t have any, use whole or low-fat milk and add 1 extra teaspoon of lemon juice to the dressing. Nondairy milk works in a pinch, but the flavor is lacking. Add the extra teaspoon of lemon juice if using nondairy, and add more herbs to taste.
- Mayonnaise: Don’t leave out the mayonnaise! You can’t taste it that much, but it does add a little flavor. If you decide to replace it with more yogurt, the dressing tastes extra tangy.
- Different add-ins: Feel free to swap out any of the vegetables for other favorites such as cucumber, artichokes, green beans, olives, shredded carrots, or chickpeas.
- Can I leave out the chicken? Yes, you can skip the chicken and add more vegetables, or replace with cooked chopped ham or sausage.
- Updated version: I originally published this recipe in 2014! It needed a little makeover, as the dressing lacked flavor. To fix it, I doubled the mayonnaise, lemon juice, and vinegar, added some sugar to balance out the flavor, and added dill. It’s extraordinary now, and yields a bit more so the pasta salad is even more flavorful.
- Serving Size: 1 serving
- Calories: 330
- Sugar: 5.3 g
- Sodium: 411.2 mg
- Fat: 14.8 g
- Carbohydrates: 35.3 g
- Protein: 14 g
- Cholesterol: 31.2 mg
Keywords: chicken pasta salad