I have traveled many places, been to many parties, enjoyed a lot of barbecues, but I have never, ever - that's right not even once - tasted a better macaroni salad than my Grandma Elsie's. Pasta salads overall tend to be rather bland affairs coated in mediocre vinaigrettes or doused in mayonnaise. Heaven forbid if there is Miracle Whip involved. The very thought sends a chill down my spine - and not in a good way. I steer clear from any dish that features too much mayonnaise. Yes, even with my general aversion, I do spread a little mayo on my sandwiches, but the excess is always cleared off leaving a smooth base for smearing my beloved mustard.
Grandma Elsie's macaroni salad had a secret ingredient that set it apart from other salads in its category: French dressing. The only clue to the secret is that the French dressing turns the pasta a lovely coral color. A little mayo is added at the end to act as a binder and to unify the flavors. Our family's salad has a clean taste without coating the tongue in a gooey mayonaissy residue.
For many years Grandma Elsie and my mother relied on a commercial French Dressing made by Seven Seas to marinate the noodles while still hot. At some point in time, the company changed the recipe and the dressing lost its tartness and unique character. What's the saying, necessity breeds creativity? Linda and I tackled the problem by devising our own version of the dressing. We've made it this way ever since.
And make it we do, especially when summer rolls around. For larger gatherings, we'll go all out and make both Macaroni Salad and Our Family's Potato Salad. We might also add a large bowl of marinated cucumbers. Throw in baked beans and garlic bread and then all you need to decide is what kind of meat will be 'cued up to complete the meal. Happily, just about anything works. You can also forgo the garlic bread and go the hamburger and hot dog route. Finish the meal with homemade Wilkins Family Lemon Ice Cream and life will be complete - well, at least for one evening.
Grandma's Best Macaroni Salad
Although the salad will keep well in the refrigerator for a few days, it is best to make the salad the night before or the morning of the party. I love this salad so much, I've been known to eat it for breakfast.
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 Tbsps granulated sugar
3 Tbsps olive oil
1/4 cup filtered water
1 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/4 cup yellow onion, peeled and diced finely
1 large garlic clove, crushed, husk removed
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1//2 tsp sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound Barilla elbow or salad macaroni noodles
1/3 cup sweet pickle relish, Del Monte® preferred
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced finely
3 stalks celery, chopped finely or more to taste
6 ounces black olives or seedless kalamata olives, drained and sliced into rounds
5 large eggs, hard boiled, peeled and diced
about 1/2 cup good quality mayonnaise, homemade or Best Foods®, to taste
1. For the dressing: In a blender, add all the ingredients, and mix on high speed until emulsified. Dressing can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator.
2. For the salad: Cook the elbow noodles according to the package directions in salted water. Drain pasta well and transfer to a large bowl. Immediately toss the hot noodles with about two-thirds of the dressing. The pasta will continue to absorb the dressing as the noodles cool. If the noodles become dry, I add more dressing and stir well. Repeat again, if necessary.
3. After the noodles have cooled for about 15 minutes, add the pickle relish and stir. Add the rest of the ingredients, except mayo and stir well. Add the mayo at the last and incorporate well. Add enough mayo to suit your taste. As you can see from the photos, the salad is dressed, but not goopy. Refrigerate for a few hours for the flavors to meld. Servings: about 12.