Why this recipe works:
Macaroni salad seems simple enough—toss elbow macaroni and a few seasonings with a mayo-based dressing. So why does this picnic salad often fall short, with mushy pasta and a bland, ho-hum dressing? We set out to make a picnic-worthy macaroni salad with tender pasta and a creamy, well-seasoned dressing. First we had to get the pasta texture just right. To do this, we didn’t drain the macaroni as thoroughly as we could have; the excess water is absorbed by the pasta as it sits and this prevents the finished salad from drying out. Also, cooking the macaroni to a point where it still has some bite left means the pasta won’t get too soft when mixed with the mayonnaise. For the most flavor, we seasoned the pasta first—before adding the mayonnaise—so that the seasonings could penetrate and flavor the macaroni. Garlic powder added flavor to the salad (fresh garlic was too harsh), and lemon juice and Dijon mustard enlivened the creamy dressing.
NOTE: Don’t drain the macaroni too well before adding the other ingredients--a little extra moisture will keep the salad from drying out. If you’ve made the salad ahead of time, simply stir in a little warm water to loosen the texture.
1 pound elbow macaroni
1/2 small red onion, minced
1 rib celery, minced
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
pinch cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
Ground black pepper
1. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and macaroni and cook until nearly tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water until cool, then drain briefly so that macaroni remains moist. Transfer to large bowl.
2. Stir in onion, celery, parsley, lemon juice, mustard, garlic powder, and cayenne, and let sit until flavors are absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add mayonnaise and let sit until salad texture is no longer watery, 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve. (The salad can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Check consistency and seasonings before serving.)