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~Lighten Up w/a Refreshing Tuna-Mac Garden Salad~

IMG_3277Occasionally, on a day off or a Saturday, my dad would fix his version of tuna salad for us.  On mom's medium-sized meat platter, he'd make a bed of soft garden lettuce leaves, then add a layer of tomato slices followed by a sliced cucumber.  He'd scatter a lightly-drained can of chilled tuna-packed-in-oil over the veggies, followed by a few dollops of cottage cheese.  His creation ended with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper.  Mom would make some rye toast, put a pitcher of iced tea on the table and lunch was served.  It wasn't fancy, but our family of four loved it.

It's a charming story about an easy Summertime recipe. 

We'd each put a slice of toast on our plate, then, with a large scooper-type spatula, top it with a generous portion of dad's salad.  Considering it didn't contain any fresh or dried herbs, special seasonings or flavor-enhancing ingredients, it was amazingly tasty and refreshing.  Nowadays, a proper term for it might be "deconstructed tuna salad".  That said, over the years, I added some onion (dad refused to eat raw onion), sneak in a bit of lemony mayonnaise (dad detested mayonnaise), and, a tad of tangy whole-grain mustard (dad only ate ballpark mustard, and, in all seriousness, only on a fried bologna sandwich or a hot dog).  There's more.  Instead of the unruly layering, I now dice and stir my ingredients together and add some cooked elbow macaroni too -- it's so light and refreshing I don't feel the least bit guilty about taking a second helping.

IMG_3254My mixed-up version of dad's deconstructed tuna salad:

IMG_3184For the tuna salad:

1  5-ounce can high-quality tuna-packed-in-oil, drained

6  tablespoons cottage cheese

2  tablespoons mayonnaise

1  tblsp. whole-grain mustard

1/2  cup  small-diced celery

1/2  cup peeled, seeded & small-diced cucumber

1/4  cup seeded & small-diced tomato

1  teaspoon dried onion flakes

IMG_3225For the macaroni and (optional) shredded lettuce:

1  cup medium shell pasta or elbow macaroni, cooked al dente and drained as directed below

6  cups water + 1  teaspoon sea salt, for cooking macaroni

1  cup shredded crunchy lettuce, iceberg or romaine lettuce work best (optional)

IMG_3187 IMG_3187~ Step 1.  Prep the tuna, celery, cucumber and tomato as directed, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Using a large rubber spatula, toss the tuna and vegetables together.  Set to the side while preparing the dressing as follows:

IMG_3190 IMG_3190 IMG_3190 IMG_3190~Step 2.  In a small bowl, place and stir together the cottage cheese, mayonnaise, mustard and dehydrated onion.  Add the dressing to the vegetables.  Using the spatula, fold the two mixtures together until vegetables are evenly enrobed in dressing.  Cover and refrigerate while cooking, thoroughly draining and cooling the macaroni, and, shredding the lettuce as directed below.

IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228~Step 3.  In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 6 cups water to a boil.  Add the salt.  Add the pasta shells and cook until al dente, about 6-7 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Drain into colander and rinse under cold tap water to halt the cooking process. Transfer to and spread pasta shells out on a baking pan that's been lined with parchment.  Drain and "dry" (meaning free from moisture, not dried out), 20-30 minutes.

IMG_3238 IMG_3238 IMG_3238 IMG_3245 IMG_3245 IMG_3245 IMG_3245~Step 4.  Place the cooled pasta shells in a large bowl.  Add the tuna salad to the macaroni.  Use the rubber spatula to fold the tuna salad into the shells.  Shred the lettuce into thin short strips, as thin as you can -- the technical term for this is chiffonade, which means "little ribbons" in French.    Fold the lettuce into the tuna-macaroni salad, followed by the lettuce, cover, and refrigerate until well chilled, 1-2 hours.  It's worth mention that after 24 hours the lettuce will become a bit wilty (still delicious though), so, if preparing salad a day ahead, shred and add the lettuce just prior to serving.

Prefer to skip the pasta shells or macaroni?  No problem:

IMG_3210Lighten Up w/a Refreshing Tuna-Mac Garden Salad:  Recipe yields about 5 cups tuna-macaroni salad.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; rubber spatula; spoon; 4-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; 2-quart saucepan; colander; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c161c2200bCook's Note:  My dad's mac & (cottage) cheese is a comforting, flavor-packed dish that will provide almost instant gratification because it goes from stovetop to table in the time it takes to cook the macaroni. His unusual combination of hot, spicy, buttered elbow macaroni, tossed with cold cottage cheese (he liked farmers' cheese more but began substituting cottage cheese as farmers' cheese started to get harder find)  literally bursts with flavor.  ~ Dad's Mac and Cheese, or:  What I Cook just for Me ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019


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