My mother loved macaroni salad. Her friends did too. I think that they got a lot of ideas from the Woman’s Day magazines they picked up at the A & P. In any case, macaroni salad gave them an outlet for their creativity. New varieties appeared like mushrooms after a warm rain at every church potluck, school picnic or family get together that I can remember from my childhood.
There was plain macaroni salad (just macaroni with mayonnaise or salad dressing, salt and pepper); Mom added celery and onions to hers and spiced up the dressing with some mustard; some of her friends added cheddar cheese cubes, red or green peppers, and carrots; and the more adventurous stirred in chunks of canned tuna or cubes of Spam or summer sausage.
Mom liked macaroni salads, her friends liked them, even my father liked them, except for the ones with cheese in them. I don’t remember if my sisters liked them, but even if they didn’t they probably ate them just to make me look bad because they knew I hated macaroni salad, even the one with apples and grapes that a white-haired lady once assured me tasted just like dessert as she ignored my request for only a small spoonful.
But as the Apostle Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” When I was in high school, my friend Eddie’s Italian grandfather showed me how he made his own macaroni and introduced me to the wonderful world of pasta. I was hooked.
Today I really like pasta salads, even the ones with macaroni, mayonnaise, apples and grapes, so maybe I should thank my parents for making sure that I ate at least a small serving of whatever was put before me.
Here is a simple pasta salad that encourages creativity. If you follow the quantities suggested, you will have a good pasta salad: if you adjust ingredients to your taste you may end up with a great salad. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Most of the vegetables should be sliced into thin small pieces. Quarter the carrot and slice the celery stick in half lengthwise before slicing them crosswise. I like to cut the green pepper and red onion into slightly larger pieces (about 1/4” to 1/2” square) because this provides a little more contrast for color and texture.
12 ounces rotini
1 tsp. salt
1 rib of celery
3 or 4 green onions
3 T red onion
1/4 sweet green pepper
1 hot red or yellow pepper (or one of each) minced
12 to 15 pimiento-stuffed green olives
3 to 4 T olive oil
1 to 2 T fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 T wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. celery salt
1/2 to 1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. basil
1/4 tsp. thyme
Salt to taste
Heat three to four quarts water in a large pot. While the water is heating, chop the vegetables. When the water begins boiling, add one teaspoon salt and the rotini. Add the rotini gradually so as not to cool the water too much. Stir the rotini two or three times while it cooks to keep it from sticking to the pot or clumping together. You can finish chopping vegetables while the rotini cooks. After eight or nine minutes, use a fork to remove a rotini and test for doneness. It will be done when the starch taste of uncooked flour is gone, but when it offers a slight resistance when you bite through it. The Italians call this “al dente.”
When the pasta is done, drain it thoroughly and put it in a mixing bowl. Add about four tablespoons of olive oil and the vegetables to the hot pasta. Toss to mix thoroughly. Add the lemon juice, vinegar and spices. Toss again. Let sit for three or four minutes, taste and adjust flavor. You can serve this salad warm, but it improves if allowed to sit for an hour or two while the flavors blend and is delicious chilled and served the next day.
Use reconstituted lemon juice for fresh.
Use several dashes of Tabasco sauce if you don’t have hot peppers. Omit either the green or red onion, but adjust the total quantity to taste.
When the pasta salad is cool, you can add about a quarter cup of diced sharp cheddar cheese or hard sausage like pepperoni or salami. This salad is a lot like a soup: Use what you have and adjust the ingredients to create a salad that pleases you and your guests.