Karin Calloway

Food columnist for The Augusta Chronicle.

Simple recipe produces flavorful pasta salad

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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 salad, based on one found at Ruby Tuesday's, is simple and straightforward: Rotini pasta, diced ham, peas and a little green bell pepper tossed in a mayonnaise-based dressing.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
The salad, based on one found at Ruby Tuesday's, is simple and straightforward: Rotini pasta, diced ham, peas and a little green bell pepper tossed in a mayonnaise-based dressing.

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.

Question and answer

Q. What is the difference between olive oil, virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil?

A. The terms for olive oil have to do with the pressings of the olives. The first pressing creates the extra virgin olive oil and it is the darkest in color with the most pronounced flavor. Virgin is the second pressing, and its flavor is not as strong, and then olive oil or light olive oil are later pressings and they can be quite mild. Light olive oil is extremely mild, with very little olive oil flavor, and the term light refers to its color and mild flavor and not its fat or calorie content.

WHAT'S COOKING?

We're looking for your best kitchen creation, whether it's a simple chili or an elaborate continental concoction. Our food writer, Karin Calloway, will re-create your dish, and we'll feature it on the Wednesday Food page of The Chronicle. Send your recipe and contact information to karin.calloway@comcast.net, or write to Recipe Favorites, Newsroom, The Augusta Chronicle, P.O. Box 1928, Augusta, GA 30903-1928.

Q. In so many recipes with fresh tomatoes and/or fresh cucumbers, it says to remove the seeds. Why? In my opinion, that is the best part of both.

A. I think it is a matter of personal preference except when it comes to some tomato dishes. In some recipes for tomato sauces, particularly those that will be pureed (often called a concasse) the seeds are removed so that the texture of the puree or sauce is smooth, with just the pulp of the tomato and not the seeds and the liquid surrounding the seeds. As far as cucumbers go, unless the seeds are very large and tough, they don't need to be removed for most recipes.

Q. I have a recipe I want to try that calls for celery root. Do you know where in the CSRA I can find this ingredient?

A. Celery root is available in most local supermarkets. It is in season from now until early spring. If you don't see it, ask the produce manager. Sometimes things are in the last place you'd think to look. I definitely have seen it at the Publix on Washington Road in Evans as well as at the Kroger in Evans.


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