I love it when I can decode a restaurant recipe and re-create it at home. Recently, Augusta Chronicle reader Kathy Woodrum wrote me requesting that I decode the pasta salad served on the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday for her son, who is in law school at the University of Georgia.
The recipe wasn't hard to crack with a trip to Ruby Tuesday's and a search on the Internet.
The salad is simple and straightforward: Rotini pasta, diced ham, peas and a little green bell pepper tossed in a mayonnaise-based dressing.
The recipe that comes up most frequently in searches on the Internet includes two types of cheese (Parmesan and cheddar), lemon juice and some tarragon. While the recipe sounds delicious, the salad I sampled at the restaurant didn't hint of a bit of cheese, lemon or tarragon, so I skipped that version in pursuit of something closer to the version I tasted.
I finally landed on a recipe forum that had a request for the recipe. The responder said she worked as the salad bar attendant at the restaurant and prepared the salad on a regular basis. Her version started with five pounds of pasta, but it wasn't difficult to pare it down to a family-size recipe. The dressing and other ingredients listed were much closer to what I tasted in the restaurant's salad. The secret to the dressing, she posted, was a combination of half mayonnaise and half ranch dressing.
If you like the idea of a little cheese in the salad, I've included it in the recipe as an optional ingredient.
The dish is perfect for a pack-and-go lunch or supper side dish. The flavors of this simple pasta salad improve as it rests in the refrigerator.
PASTA, HAM AND PEA SALAD
(LIKE RUBY TUESDAY'S)
1 pound rotini pasta
3/4 cup reduced-fat ranch dressing
3/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt
8 ounces diced ham
1 cup frozen green peas, defrosted
4 ounces (1 cup) shredded cheddar cheese, optional and not in the original recipe
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain well and place in a large mixing bowl.
Whisk the ranch dressing, mayonnaise and seasoning salt. Toss the dressing with the pasta and then gently stir in the ham, peas, cheese and bell pepper. Taste and add more seasoning salt, if needed. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
Makes 8-10 side dish servings.