Return of the pasta salad

Not only did I witness the demise of pasta salad, I played a role in its death.

Sometime in the 1970's or 80's, pasta salad rose from underappreciated church basement gatherings to glorious food heights. By the early 90's pasta salad wiggled itself onto every potluck table and into every picnic spread. It was invited to family parties and work lunches. So fashionable, such variety, and simple to make.

We mixed fusilli with Italian dressing, black olives, and chicken. We whipped up elbows with Miracle Whip and raw vegetables, and stirred mayo, peas, and tuna into wagonwheels or rings. I spent the better part of my young adult life experimenting with rotini, pesto, and sun-dried tomatoes.

Yet as if boiling some macaroni and adding dressing and other tasty stuff was too difficult for homecooks, boxed pasta salad kits began appearing on grocery store shelves. I've always believed that once a trend hits the Targets and Walmarts of suburbia, the buzz is over. And who buys boxed pasta salad kits anyway? Isn't macaroni already a convenience food?

As pasta salad died on the shelf, the wildly popular carb-free Atkins Diet trudged into my kitchen. I bid a weepy farewell to pasta, bread, and all things white and gorged my way through the late 90's on almonds, cheese, and steak. I lost a lot of weight, but without The Bread (and pasta and rice and potatoes and sugar) of Life my soul felt empty.

Always a deli darling, perhaps pasta salad didn't die a total death; although many of the tasteless prefab processed versions resemble glue, likely another reason for the collapse. Lately I've been seeing my familiar old friend in some unusual places. Delis and cafeterias are upping the pasta salad game, while many hipster joints across the Twin Cities are featuring some sort of pasta salad on their menus. Risen from the grave like zombie Twinkies in the Apocalypse, pasta salad is again hitting the pavement and making friends.

I've written before about my mom's peas and cheese salad, served every Easter and fought over by hungry family members without regard for the ham and scalloped potatoes. I've always wondered how peas and cheese salad could possibly be better. This weekend I played with the recipe and added pasta, and together these ingredients are ushering the return of pasta salad to my kitchen.

Recipe note: I was tempted to add a number of servings suggestion. Perhaps 5? Maybe 10? But T and I managed to devour the entire bowl in two and a half meals so I'll leave counting the servings to you.

Peas and Cheese Pasta Salad

1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons each apple cider vinegar and sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons celery salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons garlic scapes, diced (optional substitute; 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 1/2 cups raw fresh or frozen (thawed) peas
7 - 9 ounces ready-cut spaghetti, cooked and drained
8 ounces sharp cheddar cut into small cubes (1/4 to 1/2 inches)
1 large spring onion including greens, diced
5 large radishes, chopped

In large mixing bowl combine sour cream, mayo, vinegar, sugar, mustard, and seasonings until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients. Serve immediately or chill.

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    Patrice's picture
    Patrice Johnson