I could eat a BLT every day from June 1st through September. The mix of crunchy and salty bacon, tangy tomatoes, and fresh lettuce is about as perfect of a food combination as you can get.
There’s just one problem: making individual sandwiches can be a hassle when you’re cooking for a big family or a gathering of friends. By the time you’ve handed out the last sandwich, the first ones will be soggy with tomato juice.
I found a solution to my problem—marry pasta with all the components in a BLT! This hearty, summery meal has all the flavors of a classic BLT: The pasta is mixed with crunchy bacon and flavorful tomatoes (plus some fresh mozzarella for a touch of creamy goodness), and a tangle of arugula on the top adds the lettuce component while also giving the whole dish a bright, peppery lift.
I also add some chunks of tender, milky mozzarella to the mix, because pasta calls out for cheese (and it’s an ingredient that I like to add to my BLTs).
This dish takes all the same flavors of a BLT and turns it into a meal that can be used to feed a crowd; perfect for a backyard hang with friends on the weekend or a family-friendly dinner.
How to Improve Flavorless Tomatoes
Like a BLT sandwich, this dish is best in the summer, when the tomatoes you find in grocery stores and farmers markets are sweet, tart, and flavorful.
I use grape tomatoes for this recipe (or cherry tomatoes, which are very similar but are round). For this dish, I prefer these little flavor bombs to larger varieties, like beefsteak tomatoes or heirloom varieties, because they are dense and hold up well when mixed into the pasta. (They’re also more likely to have a sweet-tart flavor and less likely to be mealy.)
Depending on where you live, you might get great tomatoes all the way from June through September, but peak ripeness depends on having lots of hot days, and a cold snap or too much rain can hurt the crop.
Even in the Summer, you can’t really guarantee that every pint of cherry tomatoes you buy is going to be packed full of flavor. So, before I make this pasta, I make sure to flavor my tomatoes with salt and pepper and, if they’re still pretty bland, I cheat a little: I add a pinch of sugar.
Making the tomatoes a bit sweeter by adding just a pinch of sugar (just 1/4 teaspoon or less) brings out their flavors by creating a contrast with the fruit’s natural acids. The result tastes like tomatoes right off the vine and improves the quality of the entire dish.
Sundried Tomatoes as a Secret Ingredient
While most cooks might think of sundried tomatoes as a relic of ’90s-era cooking, they can be a powerful tool to add flavor to all kinds of dishes.
Here, I cut them into tiny pieces that end up almost disappearing into the mix of bacon and grape tomatoes. While you might not even realize you’re eating them their flavor adds contrast that makes the cherry tomatoes taste riper and the bacon seem richer.
You can use sundried tomatoes in a classic BLT sandwich too! Just mash a few and spread them on your bread for an instant flavor boost.
Picking the Right Type of Pasta
While this dish can really be made with any type of pasta you like, it’s easiest to eat when it’s made with a shorter style of pasta, especially one with deep curves designed into the shape, like small shells or chiocciole (little curved tubes named for their similarity to snail shells).
Unlike thick pestos or tomato sauces, the ingredients that flavor this pasta— the chunks of tomatoes, crumbles of bacon, and piece of cheese—won’t cling to the pasta itself. Instead, these little chunks will hide inside the curves of the pasta, making it easier to get lots of flavor in each bite.
Swaps and Subs for BLT Pasta
This recipe is really versatile and you can use a variety of different kinds of vegetables, pasta, and cheeses. Here are a few swap and sub ideas:
- Play with your pasta: Any short or medium pasta will work well here, including penne, rigatoni, or even the new frilly varieties, like radiatore, that have started showing up in markets recently.
- Swap your tomatoes: If you have really good tomatoes of any kind, you can use them in this dish by dicing them into small pieces. Just know that they’ll fall apart as you toss them with the other ingredients and the juices will seep into the pasta.
- Opt for fancy meats: If you want to make this dish for a special occasion, you could fry up thin slices of pancetta or prosciutto instead of the bacon and crumble them on top of the dish, along with the arugula. (Just make sure the meat has enough fat to render off for the dressing!)
- Upgrade your cheese: While I wouldn’t use burrata in a BLT (imagine the mess!) a ball of that rich, cream-filled cheese is great in this pasta dish. It will break apart and seep into the rest of the ingredients, instead of staying in clumps, the way the mozzarella will.
- Pick your greens: Can’t find arugula? Try using some very tender pea greens instead, for a sweet, summery flavor, or grab some watercress for a peppery kick (leave out the thicker stems). You could even use some baby spinach. For larger greens like spinach, make sure to cut it into very thin strips, and for all really strong greens (not only the spinach but also the cress), start with about half the amount called for, then add a little bit at a time, as the flavor might overwhelm the dish. (You may also need to adjust the amount of dressing you use.)
- Add some herbs: If you want to bump up the flavor of the arugula salad, add 3–4 leaves of fresh basil or a small handful of Italian parsley. Cut them into very thin strips, and toss them with the dressing, along with your greens.
Once you’ve mixed the pasta and the arugula together, you’ll want to eat this dish right away, before the greens wilt. But if you have too much of each part of the dish, and you haven’t mixed everything together, you can store it in its parts.
Keep the pasta, the arugula, and the dressing for the arugula in their own containers, and store everything in the refrigerator for up to four days.
To serve, let the pasta mix come up to room temperature, so the fat on the noodles can soften and the tomatoes aren’t cold. (You could also heat the pasta in the microwave, but the texture of the tomatoes will change significantly.)
Check the arugula for freshness, discarding any yellowed or slimy leaves. Dress the leftover arugula, and add it to the pasta just before serving.
More Fresh Pasta Recipes
- Greek Pasta Salad
- Caprese Pasta Salad
- Eggplant Caponata Pasta
- Pressure Cooker Pasta Primavera
- Pasta Salad with Bacon, Corn and Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
- 1 pint grape tomatoes, cut into quarters
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided, plus more to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon granulated sugar, optional
- 3/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, finely chopped
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 pound bacon
- 1 pound chiocciole or small shells pasta
- 4 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 4 1/2 cups baby arugula
Boil water for pasta and line a plate with paper towel:
Bring a large pot of salty water to a boil. Line a plate with paper towels and set it aside for later use.
Season the tomatoes:
Place the tomatoes in a medium bowl and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss to combine. Taste the tomatoes and if they need additional sweetness, add a pinch of sugar and toss again.
Combine sundried tomatoes and cheese:
Into the bowl with the quartered tomatoes, add the sundried tomatoes and mozzarella.
Cook the bacon in batches:
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the bacon in a single layer, being sure not to crowd the pan.
Work in batches to cook all of the bacon. Cook, flipping once or twice, until crispy, 5–8 minutes total. Remove the cooked bacon to the plate lined with paper towels.
Reserve 3 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Pour it into a small heat-proof bowl. You will use it later to flavor the pasta and salad dressing.
Crumble the bacon:
Using your hands, crumble or tear the bacon into bite-sized pieces over the bowl of tomatoes and cheese.
Cook the pasta:
Cook the pasta until al dente, according to the package instructions.
When the pasta is done, drain it in a colander. Transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Drizzle in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon fat.
Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Toss well. Add the tomato-bacon mix and stir to combine, then taste the pasta and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
Make the salad dressing and dress arugula:
In a small jar with a lid, combine the lemon juice, remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and remaining 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat. Season with salt and pepper to taste and shake well. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
Put the arugula into a medium bowl and toss it with the dressing.
Divide the pasta between six plates and pile a handful of dressed greens on top of each serving.