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Macaroni Salad

Years ago I was walking through the living room and saw a big guy making macaroni salad on a Food Network show. He had quite the expansive personality, so I stopped to watch and then searched for the recipe. The original (I’ve modified it quite a bit), which rates 5 out of 5 stars from dozens of users, is here.

This is a sturdy, utilitarian macaroni salad so there’s no point in trying to fancy it up by using different pasta shapes. Ditalini is the perfect combination of size and thickness. Best if started the day ahead, or even two days ahead: Day one, make the salad and dressing. Let each sit in the refrigerator, separately, overnight. Day two, combine the salad with the dressing and let sit in the refrigerator overnight so the flavors meld. Day three: serve. There is no more popular salad at a high school graduation party. I’ve had the same kids ask me to bring it to their college graduation parties.

For the cheese and salami (I rarely add the salami), have the deli slice it about 1/4″ thick, which will make dicing a breeze. I asked a woman (about 60 years old) behind the deli counter if she could slice the cheese 1/4″ thick. She cut a slice about the thickness of a Kraft American Cheese single and asked if that was okay. I said how about a little thicker, about a quarter-inch thick, please? She changed the dial on the slicer and produced another slice half again as thick. How about this? Well, not quite; how about closer to a quarter-inch thick? Please? She had apparently had had enough of the likes of me: “I don’t know what that is.”

This makes a little over 5 pounds. That’s a lot.

Go to the recipe.
Boil the pasta until al dente, about 9 minutes.

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Drain the pasta, then rinse in cold water, drain again.

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While the pasta is cooking, start chopping and dicing the rest of the salad ingredients.

Have the deli slice the cheese and salami about 1/4″ thick, which will make your dicing easier and more uniform.

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Combine the vegetables and cheese .

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Add the macaroni and mix together.

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Make the salad dressing. If you have time, do this the day before to allow the flavors to combine.

Dump all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together.

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Pour dressing over salad ingredients and mix together.

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There’s a lot going on in this salad, so it’s best to let the salad sit for at least a few hours (overnight is best) in the refrigerator so the many flavors meld. You can make this a few days ahead.

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Macaroni Salad
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: about 5 pounds (13 cups)
Sturdy macaroni salad bursting with flavor. Great for picnics and potlucks.
  • 16 oz uncooked ditalini pasta, about 4 cups (sometimes difficult to find; if so, use elbow macaroni or something similarily small and sturdy)
  • 1 cup celery (diced)
  • 1/2 cup red onion (diced)
  • 1/2 cup yellow sweet onion (diced)
  • 1 cup medium cheddar cheese, about 6 oz. (diced)
  • 1 cup Swiss cheese, about 6 oz. (diced)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (grated)
  • 1 cup pickles – dill or sweet, you decide (diced)
  • 1 cup salami, about 5 oz. (diced)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • a few small squirts cheap yellow mustard
  • splash hot pepper sauce
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tblsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed
  • 1 tsp salt (to taste)
  • 2 tsp horseradish
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • dash cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp dried mustard
  1. Boil macaroni until al dente, about 9 minutes (don't overcook or you'll have Macaroni Mush).
  2. Rinse macaroni until cool and drain well. *
  3. To pasta, gently fold in rest of salad ingredients (not salad dressing).
  4. Refrigerate uncovered mixture overnight (not critical, but you want the mixture to be dry).
  1. Combine dressing ingredients.
  2. Pour dressing over salad ingredients and mix well.
  3. Chill for at least an hour, preferably longer, to allow flavors to mingle. Better if chilled overnight.
* I read a tip somewhere to, after draining and cooling the pasta, add some milk to it and let it sit for a bit. The pasta will absorb the milk (I've always just dumped and never measured, and am surprised at how much soaks in). With the pasta somewhat saturated, the dressing is more likely to coat the pasta instead of being absorbed into it as much. It seems to make the salad taste more well-rounded, with no slightly metallic taste that is sometimes present in pasta salad as a result of the acidic ingredients being sucked into the cooked pasta in disproportionate amounts.

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