Karen Norris/Staff

Lords of the ring salad

Family reunions were measured by how many times this dish was served. With my mom gone, no one can make it quite the same – but we try.

I’ve never been a “shovel it in” kind of eater. But when my mother served up her summer dinner special, ring salad, that’s exactly what I did – just shoveled it in, spoonful by spoonful. My sister and brother, all of our children, and now our grandchildren share a deep tribal passion for this stuff. Mom would place a big, blue-green Pyrex bowl of it on the poolside patio table at family picnics. 

Our reunions in upstate New York varied in length depending on how well travel plans could be coordinated. Summer get-togethers were measured by ring-salad consumption: They were one-, two-, or three-batch affairs.

Ring salad has no exotic ingredients. It’s just chopped onions, celery, and hard-boiled eggs with mayonnaise, spices, and of course those tiny, tiny, oh-so-delicate ring noodles that seem to effervesce on the tongue. There is no substitute.

Before we dug in, we’d gaze worshipfully at the heaping bowlful under its dusting of paprika.

“Ah, ring salad,” someone would intone.

The bowl was nearly always scraped clean at one sitting, regardless of what else was on the menu. This was more rapidly accomplished if we had guests, who seemed to love it as well. 

On rare occasions, a small residue of the salad might have been refrigerated with other leftovers, but it never survived to the next meal. Someone would open the fridge, peel back the plastic wrap, and dip in a spoon. Another might fill a small bowl. The tempting and satisfying summer dish would be gone – until the next batch.

Mom died five years ago, shy of 100 by just a few years. She made ring salad right up until weeks before her passing. We all have the recipe, but it’s not quite the same as when she made it. Did she sneak in a secret ingredient or two? It wouldn’t be like her to hold out on us. Maybe it requires the blue-green bowl – long the ring salad’s presentation vessel – or that the whole Wunder clan gather around it in dripping swimsuits. Perhaps it was just that Mom had boiled, chopped, mixed, and served it all just right.

My son says it is the subtlety of the flavors, the cool feel of it on the tongue on a hot day, and “definitely those tiny noodles.” He fondly recalls his late-night raids as a teenager on whatever was left in the bowl. 

Even if I couldn’t make ring salad just like Mom’s, I’d always stock up on the requisite round noodles in their signature red box before I headed back to my home in Indiana, where I have yet to find them in grocery stores. Waiting until next summer to eat ring salad was not an option. 

I moved to Switzerland last summer, however, and plan to remain. Those little pasta rings are nowhere to be found here. It’s not that I don’t like fondues and chocolate, but ... 

I bemoaned the no-noodle situation to my brother in a phone call recently, and two weeks later a package arrived from him. Picking it up and hearing a familiar rattle, I knew exactly what it contained: authentic ring noodles. They cost about a dollar a box, a cheap enough gift.

Then I noticed the overseas postage: $29. I quickly got back to thank him, asking why in the world he’d spent so much to send something so cheap. His reply:

“Sometimes you just gotta have it.”

I am savoring every spoonful.

Recipe for ring salad

It may be a mystery why this is so wildly popular with our family and guests, but the recipe is straightforward. Serves six (or three to four hungry Wunders, according to Sue). Can be halved.

Ingredients:

2 cups dry pasta rings, boiled, drained, and cooled (about 4 cups cooked)

4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

1 1/2 cups chopped celery

1 small onion, chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 teaspoons prepared mustard (we use yellow)

1 1/2 teaspoons celery seed

Salt to taste 

Pepper to taste

Paprika (for dusting)

Directions:

Cook and drain pasta, then let it cool. Put it in a large serving bowl with eggs, celery, onion, and parsley. Mix well. In a separate bowl, stir together mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, celery seed, salt, and pepper. Add this mixture to pasta and combine. Cover. Chill for several hours. Dust with paprika before serving. 

Notes:

In Rochester, New York, we’d buy boxes of dried pasta rings at Wegmans. It’s also available online. As with any pasta salad recipe, this one can be tweaked. You might try adding cold cooked shrimp, a chopped sweet pepper, maybe a splash or two of hot sauce. But know this: We Wunders do not fiddle with perfection. 

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