Back in my college days, I could barely boil water. My senior-year off-campus roommates, on the other hand, turned out to be quite competent in the kitchen. Two were vegetarians and introduced me to the Moosewood Cookbook, cous cous, potatoes mashed with broccoli and melty globs of cheese, and the amazing concept of a rice cooker. I still have that rice cooker, in fact—a hand-me-down I use on a regular basis even though I may have finally mastered the art of boiling water (depending on the day).
My other roommate/BFF was my partner in meat-loving crime. It was she who first united my love of beef with my love of sour cream, producing for me her mother's beef stroganoff recipe to my ultimate delight. Ah, those were the days…when I could eat ungodly amounts of beef and sour cream and not even feel the tiniest bit guilty about it.
But perhaps the best recipe acquisition from that time period is a well-worn index card titled Tuna Macaroni Salad. It's filled with mostly pantry items: pasta, tuna fish, black olives, and pickles—with some cubes of cheddar cheese and sliced scallions mixed in—all bound together with mustardy mayo spiked with pickle juice. We liked it back then because it was easy, cheap, and filling. We like it now for the same reasons. (I also have happy associations of our house cats weaving between our calves in an always-successful bid to lap up the drained tuna water.)
This "salad" makes great picnic food. These days, I'm especially grateful to have it on hand when my kids have their sports ever-so-conveniently scheduled during dinnertime. When you finally get back, just open the fridge and dinner is served. You've got your starch, your dairy, your "meat" (tuna), quasi-vegetables (pickles, scallions), quasi-fruit (olives), and the ever-important mayo group represented. Quasi-complete nutrition in one lop-sided hexagon! Take that, Nutrition Pyramid!
Thanks to my liberal arts education, I can justify pretty much anything.
This serves 4 to 6, but, by all means, double the recipe for a crowd.
2-1/2 cups dried elbow macaroni (about 2/3 of a 1-pound box)
2 5-oz. cans solid tuna, broken up with a fork
1 cup cubed sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup sliced black olives
1/2 cup chopped dill pickle
4 scallions, sliced
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon dill pickle juice
Salt and black pepper to taste
Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water until done, about 7 to 8 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water until the macaroni is room temperature. You should have about 5 cups of cooked macaroni. Toss the fully drained pasta in a large bowl with the tuna, cheddar, olives, pickles, and scallions.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayo, mustard, and pickle juice until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Gently stir about 3/4 of the dressing into the salad until well mixed. Cover the salad and refrigerate it for several hours until cold. Reserve the remaining dressing covered in the refrigerator to remoisten the salad just before serving, as it tends to dry out over time.