I wrote this recipe as a defense of curly parsley, because I am sick and tired of people not showing it the respect it deserves. Do you think curly parsley wanted to be relegated to garnish for most of the 20th century? Do you think it asked for chefs and food media to revolt against it at the dawn of the 21st? That it enjoyed being cast aside as culinary kitsch in favor of its flat-leafed cousin? It is not curly parsley’s fault we don’t take it seriously. It’s our fault. We need to open our eyes and see if for what it really is: an herb with punchy flavor, incredible texture, and, most of all, dignity.
Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of macaroni salad, because as an Italian-American I would be disowned for putting mayonnaise on pasta. But, much as I am viewing curly parsley from a new angle these days, I can see how macaroni salad as a concept has its merits, too. Instead of mayo or Miracle Whip, we could start with a rich, garlicky aioli, which is essentially mayonnaise that grew up in a rich neighborhood. Hawaiians give their iconic macaroni salad its signature tang by tossing the pasta with vinegar as soon as it’s out of the pot; what if we did the same, but with fresh lemon juice? And instead of the carrots, celery, and whatever the hell else people throw in for texture, we could go all-in with curly parsley, which is sturdy enough to stay crunchy amidst it all?
That’s the fun thing about salads: there are no rules. If you want your version of this macaroni salad to be less lemony, more garlicky, or extra parsley-y, go right ahead. Can’t find tarragon or chives at the store? Use whatever herbs you like. If you’d rather make a traditional egg-yolk-based aioli instead of using my trick of emulsifying more oil into pre-made mayonnaise, knock yourself out. Just do yourself the favor of trying out this recipe, regardless of your current feelings about curly parsley and/or macaroni salad. Delicious things happen when you look at things just a little bit differently.
- 1 lb. elbow macaroni
- 3 large lemons (or 4 medium ones)
- 1 2/3 cups olive oil
- 4 or more fat cloves of garlic (follow your heart)
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 head curly parsley, roughly chopped, stems discarded
- 2 Tbsp. minced fresh tarragon
- 2 Tbsp. minced chives
- Salt & pepper, to taste
Cook the macaroni in a large pot of generously salted water until it’s just past al dente—about 10 minutes. While it’s cooking, zest the lemons into a large bowl, then set the zest aside. Cut them in half and squeeze the juice into a small bowl, discarding any seeds. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, add the lemon juice, stir well, and set aside to cool.
Mince the garlic and add it to a microwave-safe measuring cup with 2/3 cup of olive oil. Microwave for one minute, then continue microwaving in 10-second increments until the garlic just begins to turn golden. While stirring gently, slowly add the remaining cup of olive oil to the cup, then allow to cool for 10 minutes.
Add the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, and a hefty pinch of kosher salt to the large bowl with the lemon zest. While whisking vigorously, slooooooowly stream in the garlic oil, then whisk in the milk. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as desired. (If you’re not confident in your whisking skills, you can do this in a blender.)
When the pasta is cool to the touch, toss it with the lemon-garlic sauce until it’s fully coated, then add the chopped parsley, tarragon, and chives. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours for the flavors to meld. Taste for seasoning, again adjusting with salt/pepper/herbs/lemon as desired, and serve garnished with more freshly chopped herbs.