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Time For Bert Greene's Famous Ziti Salad

Here's a confession. I love macaroni salad. I can't resist macaroni salad. Particularly macaroni salad with lots of mayonnaise.

It's true that most (but not all) Italians disdain cold pasta salad. It's foreign to them and they think it's an American abuse of their favorite food. (The real abuse is tortellini salad. Please don't make tortellini salad. Most American tortellini are too stodgy to start. Let them sit in acidic mayonnaise or a vinaigrette and the egg pasta deteriorates). But as Italian as I sometimes like to think my sensibilities are, I can't help but love one of the big-time foods of my youth. As the weather has heated up and we are now headlong in barbecue and picnic season, I can't help but think about all the macaroni salads to come.

I'll take any mac salad, although I do vastly prefer one made with real mayonnaise and not with one of those sweetened mayonnaise or salad dressing products (like Miracle Whip or Kraft mayonnaise). It has to be Hellmann's or homemade mayo for me. And if you really want to see me over-eat, put some of the late, great Bert Greene's famous ziti salad in front of me.

Bert had several professions in his life, but he is probably most remembered for his take-out shop, The Store in Amagansett, Long Island, which, when it opened in the early 1970s, was the first of its kind (in the U.S. anyway), and where he catered to many of the celebrities and rich people who summer in the Hamptons. Of course, he will also be remembered for his warm and witty food writing. For years he wrote a popular column in the New York Daily News (I was his editor) and he wrote several cookbooks.

He was a good friend and so I know he was proud of this recipe for macaroni salad (a favorite of Lauren Bacall, he always liked to say) and wonder how he would feel if he knew it is the main way he is memorialized by many of his fans. Listen, they certainly sold tons of it every summer at The Store.

Looking at this recipe today, I must remark on a technique that Bert used. Before adding the dressing, he tosses the macaroni (ziti) in milk. This is a technique I now know is used by Neapolitans when they make the baked pastas they love so much. Tossing the pasta with milk (or another liquid) before adding a sauce prevents the macaroni from absorbing too much of the sauce. However, in the Neapolitan case, the sauce is sometimes just the thing that it is tossed with, so it will absorb the sauce.

Also, if you are preparing this salad a day ahead or the morning ahead, do not use all the dressing at once. Use about two thirds to initially dress the macaroni and reserve the remaining to toss in at the last moment. That's another technique to prevent too much of the dressing from being absorbed. Enjoy!

Bert Greene's Famous Ziti Salad
Serves 6 (at least)

2 tablespoons salt
1 pound ziti
1/4 cup milk
1 medium red onion, finely diced
2 medium tomatoes, finely diced
2 small green peppers, finely diced
6 sweet gherkin pickles, finely diced
1 large shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
2 packages powdered beef bouillon (Bert always specified George Washington brand)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sweet pickle juice
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste

Add salt to a large pot of rapidly boiling water, then cook ziti until just tender. Drain, then pour into a large bowl.

Sprinkle ziti with 1/4 cup milk to moisten. Stir well.

Add vegetables and toss.

In a separate bowl, mix sour cream, mayonnaise, bouillon, vinegar, pickle juice and dill.

Add dressing to ziti and vegetables. Mix well. Add salt and pepper.

A note on fat: When Bert created this, only those on weight-loss diets cared about fat. These days, a cup and a half of mayonnaise and a half-cup of sour cream seems a scary amount to many. If desired, replace the full-fat mayo and sour cream with reduced fat versions, but add a teaspoon or two more red wine vinegar to the dressing.

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