I made some pasta yesterday, did you see?
Yesterday we celebrated all the mamas AND my sister Olivia who graduated from college this weekend! It was a great celebration with tons of family and way too much champagne and great food. The moms deferred food selection to Olivia, who said “steak and pasta salad, does that go together?”
And oh YES, it does, chicken. You’ve had this macaroni salad, right? It’s found at diners a lot, sometimes at picnics, and at family gatherings all over the south. It’s really basic, really creamy, and can go all wrong, in my opinion, with the wrong ratio of mayo to other stuff in the dressing. I’ve had versions of this salad before that were just GOOEY with too much mayo, and that simply will not do. Instead, we go really light on the mayo and add some vinegar, sour cream, and a sprinkle of SUGAR to the dressing. Then we pour it over al dente pasta, no mushy junk, and throw in some high-ish quality ingredients.
Then we celebrate!
You need pasta, of course. Use any kind you like, but I like macaroni or something else bendy and curly that really grabs onto all the dressing and other ingredients in the salad. Then for the dressing you need sour cream, mayonnaise, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. Then for the salad itself you need some fresh herbs (dill and parsley kind of give that ranch flavor we all know and love), spring onions (or just one, this guy was enormous!), ham, and cheddar. If you don’t have a crazy spring onion like this you can use 4-6 scallions depending on your desire for onion flavor, and you can of course add other veggies to this – cherry tomatoes are great, celery is lovely, cucumber is nice and fresh…you get the picture.
So, start some water for the pasta with SALT so the pasta tastes good. Cook the pasta to al dente, drain it, rinse it so it isn’t all sticky. While that’s happening, we make the dressing and prep the rest of the ingredients. For the dressing, just dump everything in the bottom of a bowl.
Then, stir it together! Now, here’s where you taste. I like a tangier dressing, so I added a little more vinegar to the dressing. I also added LOTS of salt and pepper to make everything taste a little stronger since the sour cream and mayo are kind of blah flavors until you add to them.
Now, this is right after I made the salad, and it’s ever so slightly goopy. But, just one hour after I made it nearly half of the dressing had absorbed into the pasta, which makes for huge flavor but not a ton of the goop that you get sometimes in grocery store versions of this salad.
The point to the story is this. If you make this a whole day ahead, you might need to mix up a 1/3 batch or so of the dressing right before you serve, and add it to the salad to be sure there is SOME dressing on the pasta. Because otherwise there is no point to living at all.
The (other) point to the story is this. This is delicious, very simple, and tastes kind of like church and summer and neighborhood parties all rolled into one, you know? But, like, a good version that doesn’t come in a tub from Walmart. Not that there is ANYTHING wrong with that, but this is easy and delicious and also HAM.
Add it to your summer potluck rotation. The end.
- 24 ounces cavatappi or other short pasta, cooked to al dente and rinsed under water
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- salt and pepper
- 1 spring onion or 4 scallions, chopped
- 1/2 pound thick cut sweet ham, diced
- 6 ounces sharp cheddar, diced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- In the bottom of a large bowl, combine the sour cream, mayo, vinegar, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Whisk to combine, and taste: adjust to make the dressing creamier, tangier, or saltier, to your preference.
- To the dressing, add the cooked pasta, ham, cheese, onions, and fresh herbs. Stir to coat, and taste again, add salt and pepper to your preference.
- The salad may seem a bit goopy at the beginning, but it will absorb the dressing as it sits and become slightly less creamy. If you make this the day before, you may need to make a bit more dressing and pour it over the salad right before serving.