So about mayonnaise. There are two camps, in my estimation.
First are people like my mom, who love the stuff. Mom, bless her heart, will make a big bowl of potato salad in the morning and stick it in the fridge. She will peel off the cling-film before serving to stir in even more mayonnaise. (Rationale: the original jar she added was “absorbed” by all the potato starch as the dish sat in the fridge, making it much too dry to consume.) And she’ll save the little frilly bits of celery tops to decorate the bowl.
I’ve never figured out mayonnaise’s appeal. I don’t despise it, but really I find the whole affair kind of gloppy and unappetizing. Aioli on toasts? Sweet potato fries dunked in curried-mayo? Hellmann’s slathered on drippy tomato sandwiches? I feel an oil slick on my tongue thinking about it.
Nostalgically, though – there’s something really enticing about mayonnaise. It screams of picnic blankets and gingham dresses (like this one, yes?), the kind I might wear with a wide-brim straw hat, barefoot in the grass and my toes sinking just-barely into the cold soil. Salads piled on paper plates, and higher piles of fried chicken drumsticks on those same paper plates, followed by sweet watermelon wedges. Summer.
Is it obvious that I’ve been cheating on winter with a fairer season? I found myself, mid-February, dreaming for summer salads – mayonnaise and all. Sturdy pasta studded with crunchy nibs of vegetable and a bit of kick from the mustard jar. I thought of using tahini to approximate mayonnaise’s texture, but it seemed awfully hefty for the task. And lo – I found something even better. It’s a pasta salad almost like the kind on your paper plate, sitting in the grass, with a tall lemonade. Just without the mayo.
Almost pasta salad
makes one nice-size bowl for lunch
I like to use a large-ish pasta, with ridges and nooks and crannies, so the vegetables get caught in each bite. This version offers just some finely diced carrot and celery, but I imagine it might be nice with radishes, or a fine sprinkle of onion, and dill if you have it. If you don’t own a food processor, the avocado purees just as nicely with a good whip of the fork.
100g uncooked pasta (I like a sturdy penne, rigatoni or fusilli for this task)
1/2 very ripe avocado, pureed
1-2Tbsp spicy mustard (my go-tos are Kozlik’s and Organic Gold Orange-Ginger, both based in Toronto)
1 rib celery, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
pinch of salt, crack of pepper, dash of sweet paprika – to taste
Bring well-salted water to a boil. Prepare pasta to your preferences, and cool in a colander.
While pasta cooks, combine in a medium bowl the pureed avocado, mustard, spices and diced vegetables. Add the cooled pasta and stir well to combine, adding more salt if needed. Eat straight away, or cool and serve. Pretend it’s summer.
[top photo, with thanks, via]