Tess's TableJul 28, 2022 09:00AM ● By Teresa Banik Capuzzo
Every time I take to the kitchen I plan on turning out something delicious, a confidence that comes partly from being a good recipe collector and recognizing a good cooking brain when I see one. Ecclesiastes said it best: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” But sometimes even Ecclesiastes would have said, “This needs a pinch more salt.”
Which brings us to high summer, pasta salad, and the shady world of recipe authorship. As picnic season kicks into high gear, I want to share with you a great cook, a saucy tale, and the best pasta salad I’ve ever tasted.
It was served to husband Mike and me one sunny summer Saturday at the picnic table of Ginger Howell. Ginger is a remarkable cook who has run the Seasonal Kitchen Cooking School out of her home in Pittsford for half a century, most of it with her late husband Dick, where they came to know Julia Child, James Beard, Martha Stewart, and other culinary luminaries. At ninety-bleeping-three years old (Ginger’s expletive-deleted description of her age) Ginger hasn’t lost a step in the kitchen.
A side table glistening with a frosty glass drink dispenser full of muddled-mint mojitos awaited her guests that afternoon. Lined up beside it were tubs of wines on ice, pairings selected for the al fresco feast by Ginger’s well-known Finger Lakes sommelier daughter Holly, a Mountain Home wine writer (pictured above with her mom). It was masterful entertaining. And Ginger, a generous teacher, didn’t hesitate to share her ziti salad recipe that night.
If you’re a longtime reader, you know Holly’s celebratory and effervescent voice. But when I called to catch up and tell her I was thinking about asking her mom if I could publish her wonderful ziti salad recipe, she was strangely hesitant.
“I don’t know,” Holly replied. “I guess you’d have to ask her if you could print it...I’m not sure.”
I had to get to the bottom of the mystery.
“That’s Bert Greene’s recipe!” Ginger chirped when I called her. “That’s who I stole it from!” Ginger had just finished addressing the ethics of “stealing” recipes in a humorous piece entitled “Original Sin” for her seasonal recipe newsletter:
“This pasta salad could very well be the best pasta salad on the planet earth,” Ginger wrote. “But it’s not my recipe. And stealing a recipe is a definite no-no in the world of food writers. Everyone knows the omnipotent [name redacted to protect Ginger and us from lawsuits] got a free pass. Even though her first cookbook...was studded with other celebrity recipes, her career took off like gangbusters making her an instant culinary icon.”
Other cooking gurus didn’t fare so well. “Poor Richard Nelson’s reputation went into the sewer after blatantly ‘borrowing’ from Richard Olney and then denying it,” Ginger added. “And Melanie Barnard apologized profusely after Food and Wine printed (word for word) Bert Greene’s Dirty Red Slaw which she sneakily renamed All American Slaw and claimed it for her very own by cutting all the ingredients in half. ‘Cookbookgate,’ as it came to be called, prompted William Rice, then the editor of Food and Wine, to lay down guidelines: add a new ingredient, alter an old one, rewrite the text and, if all else fails, give credit where credit is due.”
Ginger ends by fessing up in full: “This wonderful pasta salad is not my own—I stole it from Bert Greene, who stole it from Craig Claiborne, who stole it from—well, you know. It is just so good I wouldn’t change a grain of salt to make it legal!”
So I am sharing Ginger-Bert-Craig’s recipe with you with full attribution—and one small change of my own.
G-B-C’s recipe is straightforward and fresh with vegetables, but I got stuck on beef bouillon powder. I don’t cook with anything containing additives and preservatives except in the rarest of circumstances. So I searched everywhere, both virtually and actually—and fruitlessly—for a pure bouillon powder to buy. Then I started hunting instead for a beef bouillon recipe. What I found was a vegan/vegetarian (in case that matters to anyone you feed) treasure, which we now refer to in our house as “beef” dust. We also call it magic, and we dump it into anything and everything. It has the added property of adding zing to dishes that already seem perfectly zingy.
When I mentioned the bouillon to Ginger, she said, “Bert used George Washington’s bouillon powder. He said it was his secret weapon!” She added, “It’s a delicious salad. I could eat it every day.”
That weapon is available online if you want to make G-B-C’s recipe in its virgin formulation. If you’re going to make your own beef dust, do it ahead of time so you don’t slow yourself down on picnic day. This bouillon recipe is by Cordon Bleu- and CIA-trained chef Andy Anderson, published on the justapinch.com recipe website. I am going to give the whole achingly long address for the recipe itself because it was tough stalking it back down for you, and because Chef Andy says a lot of interesting things about his ingredients, which we don’t have room for here: justapinch.com/recipes/sauce-spread/seasoning-mix/diy-essentials-beef-bouillon-powder.html.
“Beef ” Bouillon Powder
I have used several different brands of powdered shitake mushrooms in this, and they are the key to that rich beefy flavor. You may want to throw a dish towel over the blender when you mix it, because it makes a fine powder that seems to escape the blender cap.
- 1⁄2 c. nutritional yeast flakes
- 2 Tbsp. powdered mushrooms
- 1 Tbsp. dehydrated onions
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 tsp. celery seed
- 1⁄2 tsp. salt
Throw all the ingredients into a blender and whir it into a powder.
Ginger calls this dish a “garden in a bowl—a perfect pairing with fried chicken and a nice rosé,” which is how she served it to us. (Her fried chicken recipe is also a borrow from Bert, another thing of gustatory beauty.) Be careful about the size of that red onion. I find that the colossal ones overpower the salad, so I suggest adding the chopped onion in to taste.
- 11⁄2 Tbsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. oil
- 1 lb. ziti
- 1⁄4 c. milk
- 1 red onion
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 c. chopped sweet pickles
- 1 large green pepper
- 1 large shallot
- 1 Tbsp. pickle juice
- 1⁄2 c. sour cream
- 11⁄2 c. mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp. beef bouillon powder
- Freshly ground pepper
- Dash wine vinegar
- Roughly chopped fresh dill
Bring a 4-quart pan of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and 2 tablespoons oil, then ziti. Boil 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain, rinse in cold water, and drain again. Place in bowl. Add milk to moisten and toss.
Chop onion, tomatoes, pickles, and peppers into 1⁄4-inch cubes. Reserve a large tablespoon of each for garnish. Mince shallot.
Beat together sour cream and mayonnaise, using whisk, until creamy. Add bouillon powder, salt, and pepper. Pour over ziti. Add shallots, tomatoes, pickles, green peppers, vinegar, and pickle juice. Mix well.
Garland with reserved vegetables. Cut fresh dill over all. Chill.
Serves 10 to 12.
At the end of Ginger’s picnic someone told me the mojito recipe, and I jotted it down. I have no idea whose recipe it is, and Ginger isn’t claiming it. I have just named it:
- 1 can each:
- Bacardi mojito mix or limeade
- White rum
- 1 c. fresh mint leaves, muddled (which means mashed gently with a pestle or wooden spoon to release the flavor)
Dump the limeade into a pitcher and use the can to measure all the other ingredients. Stir well, add mint leaves, and drink to the summer and to everyone who cooks!