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There is one secret ingredient to a perfect pasta salad

Pasta salad: the perfect meal?
Pasta salad: the perfect meal?
Graphic: Karl Gustafson

Remember potlucks? Boy, do I miss potlucks. Specifically, the fierce competition and tense atmosphere that arises from a group of adults offering up their best family recipes to be mercilessly judged by relatives and peers. Backhanded compliments are made. Feelings get hurt. Families dissolve. It’s good fun! Here’s me explaining my intense desire to crush an ex-girlfriend’s mother at a picnic.

That’s right, my debut comedy album is available for pre-order now and streaming everywhere August 25 (sorry)!

At a potluck, if you can create something undeniably tasty, it will render your enemies bloated with resentment. Maybe even offer a faux humble comment to rub it in, something like, “Wow, I can’t believe I don’t have any zucchini fritters left!” But this isn’t about fritters, or what to do with the burdensome amount of zucchini your neighbor Judy keeps bringing you. This is about pasta salad, a dish whose components are interchangeable but whose character is not. I think we can all agree that there are a loose set of rules for pasta salad: No mayo (that’s a macaroni salad), some sort of oil and vinegar, short noodles only (nobody wants to slurp up cold linguine off a paper plate), and some combination of meat, cheese, and vegetables. That sounds about right, doesn’t it? While the seasoning varies from one salad to another, there exists a secret ingredient whose very purpose is to heighten pasta salad. It’s a combination of delicious dry spices simply known as Salad Supreme.

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Salad Supreme has over 20 ingredients, the best of which include Romano cheese, paprika, poppy seed, celery seed, black pepper, red pepper, garlic, and salt. Its paprika-laden dark orange hue coats noodles with tasty morsels of subtle spice. “Why is the pasta salad so orange?” is a thought I had a lot growing up. Tic Toc, a food mart my mom worked at when I was a kid, served pasta salad this way. It also served a meat and cheese “salad” that was salami, capicola, olives, mozzarella, and jarred banana pepper rings mixed with Italian dressing and Salad Supreme. This pasta salad is a combination of both Tic Toc staples, a culinary marriage officiated by my mother, Stephanie Palumbo. I’m not going to say something undaunted like this is the grandmother of all pasta salads, but it is the pasta salad of my youth, the progeny of the local Western Pennsylvania food marts, and the one I bring to the potluck when I want to crush somebody’s mother into in-law oblivion. All hail Salad Supreme.


The perfect pasta salad
The perfect pasta salad
Photo: Danny Palumbo
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Pasta Salad

  • 1 lb. tri-color rotini (fusilli or cavatappi works great, too)
  • 1 entire (2.62-oz.) container of Salad Supreme
  • 1 lb. colby jack cheese, cubed
  • ½ lb. hard salami, cubed
  • ½ lb. pepperoni, cubed
  • 1 (6-oz.) jar of black olives, sliced in half
  • 1 (16-oz.) jar of Italian dressing
  • sliced pepperoncini, optional
  • oil + vinegar, to balance the flavors
  • salt + pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta as instructed by the package, drain, then rinse under cold water. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and stir thoroughly. This salad is best when it marinates, so cover it tightly and let it sit in the fridge overnight. The spices and dressing will permeate every morsel of the pasta salad.

Obviously this dish can be improved by making some of the components from scratch, such as the dressing, but store-bought Italian dressing is certainly quick and easy. It tasted a bit too sweet out of the bottle, though, so I balanced out this pasta salad with two tablespoons of red wine vinegar and another 1/4 cup of oil. Salad Supreme can also be made at home by combining dry spices to your liking. I made one with poppy seed, celery seed, paprika, red pepper flakes, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and Romano cheese. It was delicious. Salad Supreme doesn’t have to be a product, it can be an idea, mannnnn.

Danny is a comedian and writer living in Los Angeles. Instagram @palumbros

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DISCUSSION

Why do you need salt and pepper to taste when the Salad Supreme contains plenty of salt and pepper? In fact, if I use the whole container as instructed, and then figure the amount of sodium in one serving vs. the whole container, I’m looking at a pasta salad that contains 6765 mg of sodium. Oh wait! I forgot about the salad dressing. One 16oz container of Kraft Zesty Italian... carry the one...

11,565 mg of sodium...

Pepperoni and Salami...

20,445 mg of sodium...

Colby Jack cubes...

23,965 mg of sodium

Divided into 8 equal servings, each serving will contain roughly 4000 mg of sodium.

So yeah, maybe skip the salt and pepper to taste.  If this isn’t salty enough for you, you may have a serious problem.