Although it’s pasta-based, old-fashioned Easy Macaroni Salad is pretty far away from anything that might remotely be considered Italian. Only in Middle America would something made of pasta and mayonnaise be considered a salad. Believe me, Rome, Georgia, and Rome, Italy, are more than just a few miles apart. Instead, consider the deli cases all across the U.S. that have mini-tubs and buckets of this lined up like soldiers and at the ready for afternoon picnics and summer suppers on the deck. Macaroni salad is all-American Down-Home Comfort. Moms and dads are also quick to go to this to recipe to accompany BBQ chicken or burgers on the grill. And we all know that store-bought is fine, but homemade is nearly always better.
True to Down-Home Comfort criteria, old-fashioned Easy Macaroni Salad is simple, trouble-free and inexpensive. When it comes to Italian or Mediterranean pasta salad, other pasta types with the necessary nooks and crannies to catch the saucy bits and pieces, —including penne, ziti and even orecchiette — might be used, but not here. When it comes to this easy side, macaroni salad is made with old-school elbow macaroni.
Things are kept pretty simple across the board with old-fashioned Easy Macaroni Salad; a few chops of the knife and enough mayonnaise to coat and you’re done. Some recipes call for chopped hard-boiled egg, and you could also add steamed broccoli florets or halved grape tomatoes – as long as you know you are venturing into “gourmet” territory. If you absolutely feel the need to dress things up, additions to consider would be peeled, chopped cooked shrimp or grilled strips of chicken breast. Of course, you could add drained canned tuna or salmon, and my mother has been known to add a couple of cups of lump crabmeat for “extra-fancy” macaroni salad. However, I strongly suggest you resist doctoring things up too much. Just because you’re making a dump-and-stir Easy Macaroni Salad, don’t succumb to the urge to empty the contents of your refrigerator into the bowl. Too many “improvements” will change the DNA of the dish.
Even as simple as it is, there are a couple of hard rules to adhere to when making macaroni salad. Never rinse hot pasta — except when making macaroni salad. Rinsing freshly cooked macaroni washes away the excess starch, stops the cooking to ensure that the macaroni will stay firm, and helps saturate the noodle to retard the need for lots and lots of dressing. Secondly, if you make it a day or so ahead, just know that you might need to add another dollop or so of mayonnaise, as macaroni salad seems to have a tendency to dry out overnight, even when tightly covered. Otherwise, you’re good to go with this super-simple summer salad, mayonnaise and all.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Get the Recipe: Easy Macaroni Salad
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.