A Riff on Bert Greene’s Famous Ziti Salad
Cold pasta salad is almost a food group of its own in the United States. It’s a dish we can eat year round, but particularly love when the weather turns hot and sultry — as it does every July and August in my part of the US. And there’s something about a pasta salad made with mayonnaise that’s particularly satisfying.
My favorite main course pasta/mayo salad is Tuna Pasta Salad. But when I want to use a cold pasta salad as a side dish, this dill-heavy delight is the one I often turn to, particularly when homegrown tomatoes are in season. It’s a riff on the pasta salad made famous by the late Bert Greene at his gourmet food store (appropriately called “The Store”) on Long Island in the 1960s. This single recipe put his shop on the map — people would line up to buy the stuff.
Make this dish and your family will be lining up at dinner time with happy and hungry faces. And they’ll probably bring friends.
Recipe: Summer Pasta Salad
You can use any pasta with a “substantial” shape in this recipe. Greene used ziti. I often use rigatoni or shells, and today I decided to use farfalle (bow ties). I’ve made several changes to Greene’s original recipe. Most significantly, I omit the powdered beef bouillon that Greene stirred into his mayonnaise and sour cream dressing — I don’t think it adds very much to the taste.
I adapted my recipe from a photocopy of Greene’s that was given to me years ago. I own several of Greene’s cookbooks, but this recipe isn’t in any of them. It may appear in one I don’t own – The Store Cookbook. But you can find the original recipe all over the internet. Probably the best source is Arthur Schwartz’s post on The Food Maven. Bert Greene used to write a food column for the New York Daily News, and Schwartz was his editor.
This is a great side dish, and you can also serve it as a main course salad. You can adjust ingredient quantities in this recipe to suit your individual taste. The recipe takes about 20 minutes to prepare, plus at least another hour in the refrigerator to chill. It makes 3 to 4 quarts — enough for a meal plus extra servings. Leftovers store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days or so (they’re still safe to eat after that, but the quality diminishes).
- 1 tablespoon salt (for pasta water)
- 1 pound rigatoni, ziti, pasta shells, farfalle, or other “substantial” pasta of your choice (not a spaghetti-style strand pasta)
- ~¼ cup milk (optional, but effective; see Notes)
- ~¾ cup onion, cut into ¼ inch dice (or to taste; red is best, but yellow or white work too)
- 1 large shallot, minced (optional; you may decide to add a bit more onion instead)
- 2 medium tomatoes, cut into ½ inch dice or smaller (about 1½ cups; or to taste)
- 2 small or 1 large red bell peppers cut into ¼ inch dice (about 1½ cups; or to taste)
- ½ cup sweet pickle relish (or to taste)
- ½ cup sour cream (reduced-fat versions work fine)
- 1 cup mayonnaise (may increase by ½ cup if you prefer a mayo-intensive salad, but see Notes; reduced-fat versions work fine)
- ~2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh dill (or to taste; a bit more is dandy)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt to season the water, and the pasta. Cook until al dente (cooking time varies with the shape of pasta; start testing after 6 minutes to be safe).
- While pasta is cooking, cut up onion, shallot, tomatoes, and bell peppers. You may want to reserve a bit of each vegetable for garnish.
- When pasta is cooked, drain in colander and rinse with cold water to cool (I use the vegetable sprayer on my sink). Shake the colander to shed excess water, and dump pasta into a large bowl.
- Sprinkle the pasta with just enough milk to moisten (about ¼ cup) and toss.
- Add prepared onion, shallot, tomatoes, and bell peppers to the cooked pasta.
- Add the sweet pickle relish (or gherkins), and toss pasta and vegetables.
- In a separate bowl, mix together sour cream and mayonnaise. Add red wine vinegar to taste (start with 1 teaspoon). Add dill, salt, and pepper to taste. Mix until tasty.
- Add dressing to the pasta mixture, and toss well to incorporate. Taste, and adjust seasoning (and vinegar). After tasting, you may decide you prefer a bit more sweet pickle relish, too.
- Place in an airtight container (or cover the bowl with shrink wrap) and chill for at least an hour before serving.
- I go back and forth between thinking this salad is better with a tubular pasta like ziti or rigatoni, or a “shaped” pasta like farfalle. Currently I’m liking the shaped pastas. Who knows what I’ll prefer next week or next month.
- The purpose of adding milk (Step 4) is to partially saturate the pasta, so that it won’t suck up the mayo/sour cream dressing. This is a good trick to make your dressing go farther.
- Speaking of dressing, the original recipe calls for 1½ cups of mayo, instead of the 1 cup I suggest. Frankly, even 1 cup may be too much — this salad doesn’t lack for dressing, IMO. But you can adjust to your own taste.
- BTW, I often substitute yogurt for the sour cream or part of the mayo. It lowers the calorie count and adds a pleasant tang.
- The original recipe calls for sweet gherkins (6, finely diced), and I sometimes make it that way. But pickle relish is an excellent substitute, and I prefer to use it.
- Greene’s recipe calls for adding a tablespoon of pickle juice (from the gherkin jar). That’s too sweet for me. If you want a bit more zip, try adding more red wine vinegar.
- If you don’t know Bert Greene, he’s worth checking out on your next trip to the library. His best known books are probably Greene on Greens and The Grains Cookbook. I also like his Honest American Fare.
Mars Needs Mayo
As I served up this salad, we were celebrating the successful landing of Curiosity, the new Mars rover. Our happy chatter fell silent as we both attacked our plates, but finally Mrs. Kitchen Riffs came up for air. “Gosh, it’s been so long since we’ve had this! Why don’t we make it more often?”
“Way too long,” I agreed. “I don’t think we’ve made it since last summer. There’s just so much great stuff to cook.”
“Too bad we can’t live by the Martian year,” sighed Mrs K R between mouthfuls. “It’s 687 days long. We could fit in lots more good eating!”
Who can argue with such impeccable logic?
The Kitchen Riffs lab can’t yet manage interplanetary travel. But maybe we could at least find a more exciting name for this dish — preferably one that honors the Mars mission. Like Curio-ziti. Or Red Planet Pasta.
“Hey, I’ve got it,” squealed Mrs K R. “Little Greene Pasta Salad!”
OK, our ideas need some work. But one thing’s for sure: The flavor of this dish is out of this world.
You may also enjoy reading about:
Tuna Pasta Salad
White Bean and Tuna Salad
Hungarian Cucumber Salad
Roast Strawberry Salad
Spinach Salad with Parmesan
Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing
Creamy Cole Slaw
Potato Salad Basics
Pineapple, Coconut, and Carrot Salad
Lovely pasta salad. There are such fragrant tomatoes at the farmers markets right now. Perfect for this meal!
This sounds delicious. I love that you used a mix of sour cream and milk to create the dressing. Nice and rich! My kids just asked me to make pasta salad tonight. I guess it's the season.
I'll have to try your recipe sometime soon. Unfortunately tonight they asked for a specific recipe but will try yours later. Great photo 1 as always!
Hi Mother Rimmy, prime season tomatoes are so nice in this dish! They actually make the whole dish, IMO. Well, the dill helps too! Thanks for your comment.
Hi Vicki, once your kids taste this they'll love it! But of course they have a different taste in mind, and would be disappointed if you didn't make what they want. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
There are so many summery elements in this salad my friend I'm loving it :D
Choc Chip Uru
Hi Choc Chip Uru, this is an ideal summer dish. Something for you to look forward to! ;-) Thanks for your comment.
I never discovered cold pasta dishes until I left Italy. At first I was a little horrified at the idea of pasta cold but gradually came around to that way of thinking and now I revel in the variety of salads that can be created using pasta as a base. As always, you have made this one look super delicious.
After all these years of making this pasta salad, it took my visit today to realize that it must have come from Bert Greene. Although I never went to "The Store," I do have a few of his books hanging around here somewhere:) People never talk about him anymore. I'm so glad you brought him up today and I of course absolutely love the personal touches you have made to this recipe. I agree "little Green Pasta Salad" "Out of this World!"
Thanks for sharing...
P.S. Mrs. Hullings's Cafeteria is in the book but the recipe is for Cheesecake Salad; "A Gourmet Award Winner to be served as salad or as dessert." Let me know if you want it.
I know some folks are not too keen on dill. But I love its unique flavor -- especially in salads.
Great pasta dish for those warmer days...The sour cream would add such a creamy texture... yum.
I saw this on Foodgawker this morning and didn't realise it was you until it popped up in my feed! What a great pasta salad - It looks so fresh and tasty. I like that you included in the notes the option to use yoghurt for a lighter option.
oh wow.. no doubt about why this is on Foodgawker is there? I love this!
Hi Suzanne, I had always heard that Italians were horrified at the idea of cold pasta dishes - thanks for confirming it. But, as you found, there are some tasty pasta salads out there. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
Hi Louise, Bert Greene wrote some really good cookbooks; a shame he's not better known. And isn't this a super salad? One of the best cold pasta salads out there, IMO. I think I'll pass on the offer of the recipe for Cheesecake Salad, but thanks so much for offering. And thanks for the comment.
Hi Carolyn, you're right that some people don't care for dill. Me? One of my favs (although I seem to say this about a lot of things!). Thanks for your comment.
Hi Tania, this is indeed a pretty creamy salad - really good. And perfect with totally ripe tomatoes. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Amanda, I got lucky with my Foodgawker placement today (first page!). And this salad does have a very fresh taste. The yogurt makes it particularly nice, IMO. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Maureen, this salad isn't quite in the orgasmic category but it's awfully close. Really good stuff. Thanks for the comment.
I love a good pasta salad, this one sounds wonderful.
It is amazing how some of our favorite little dishes get pushed to the back burner and not made near enough. What a great little pasta salad! Glad to see someone else likes sweet pickle relish. :) I've never used sour cream as part of a pasta salad dressing. It sounds delicious just like the whole salad! Now you have me craving one!
This is such a flavorful pasta salad! I love the flavor of dill. This salad must taste amazing!
Hi John, I actually ended up close to your recipe with pickled watermelon rind. :)
This pasta salad looks really good! It is nice to see in recipes some old tricks: adding sour cream to mayo. My mother does it in equal parts proportion. I tend to like sour cream better, so I use always more sour cream. What is new to me is using the milk. To prevent pasta from sticking we use olive oil, just a tablespoon. I need to try adding milk next time I make pasta salad. :)
Hi Words of Deliciousness, aren't good pasta salads great? This one is a winner - trust me! ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi MJ, sweet pickle relish is good stuff. And yeah, there's always some shiny new recipe we all have to try that distracts us from what we already know is good. Anyway, you should try this - I really think you'd like it. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Asmita, if you like dill you'll love this salad - lots of dill in it. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Marina, re pickled watermelon rind, I'm really curious to see your next post! I often do equal portions of sour cream & mayo in other things (like my Blue Cheese Dressing) - but I haven't done it in this. I really should. Although I so often add yogurt, that kinda sorta has the same overall effect. Thanks for your comment.
This is definitely the ultimate summer side! I love all the fresh dill in this version.
Like you, I really do like a mayo-based pasta salad. Served really chilled, it makes a perfect lunch/dinner on those really hot summer days. If I'm lucky enough to think of it, I'll gladly make one sometime after supper when the next day's forecast is for a scorcher. This way, if I don't fell like cooking, I won't have to.ANd i ofter cut the mayo with sour cream, having only recently "discovered" Greek yogurt. Both are good and, as you say, add a little tang. THis is a great recipe here.
Very nice :)
This pasta salad looks out of this world! Haw haw, original, I know. My punny suggestion for a salad name is even worse--Little Greene *Martians* Salad--but I was super excited when I read about how you guys are using this to celebrate the landing of the Curiosity. I'm so excited too, and should've thought to make something for the occasion! I'm definitely giving sweet relish and the milk technique a try next time I whip up pasta salad. Thanks for sharing!
This recipe looks very tasty!! I really like your use of plain yogurt instead of sour cream, and also to cut back on the use of mayo. I use plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream in any recipe that calls for sour cream, its simply a better health choice and most people won't notice the little taste differences. I think this beautiful salad will be sitting on my kitchen table tonight, thanks for sharing.
Gorgeous salad! Love the individual portions in ramekins! Dill is such a great addition!
I've no doubt that this is indeed out of this world. I love a good pasta salad although I rarely make them. You've inspired me! I'm going to make this before summer disappears.
I love pasta salad and yes, it's so good to enjoy this during the otter months of the year. I think this would be lovely with a nice cold drink xx
Pasta Salad is perhaps the most popular dish to bring to potlucks in summer days.
I like the mayo+sour cream mixture. Surprised to see the relish in the recipe but I can see why not. Looks delicious!
Hi Katherine, doesn't dill have fantastic flavor? This dish really highlights it - super flavor! Thanks for the comment.
Hi ChgoJohn, Greek yogurt is such good stuff. Too bad it's twice the price of regular yogurt! And this dish does well if you make it a day ahead and let it chill overnight - it retains that fresh taste. Thanks for the comment.
Hi CJ, it is! Thanks for the comment.
Hi wallflourgirl, it is out of this world! ;-) The Curiosity landing was amazing - we stayed up past our bedtime, eyes glued to NASA's website so we could follow all the action. Do give sweet relish a try - I think you'll like it. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Alessandra, you're right about there not being a huge taste difference between sour cream and yogurt (particularly if you add mayo to the mix). Let me know whether you enjoyed this! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Baker Street, we actually sometimes serve sides in ramekins, and they're also great for food styling in photos! Isn't dill wonderful? Such a great summer flavor. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Kristy, I think you'll like this one. The only problem with pasta salads is all the fat in the mayo (and sour cream), and you can cut that with yogurt. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Hotly Spiced, you can also make this right now where you are and dream about the warm weather! And in a few months when we're cold and shivering, your weather will be perfect for this. ;-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Holly, the relish adds a nice touch of sweetness, but not too much. Plus it's easier to use than dicing up the gherkins (and both flavors are rather similar). And you're right about this being a great pot luck dish. Thanks for the comment.
I now must add this Mr. Greene to my cookbook shelf! I am sure your version does his version proud. Anything with mayo in it and I'm there. We got all excited about the Mars landing as well! I am going to give this recipe a go--printing a copy out so as not to have it get lost in all my bookmark/faves tabs! It looks delish!
Hi Kelly, Bert Greene is great. I think you'd really like him. And this recipe really is great - it's also one that's fun to play with a bit to tailor to your taste. Thanks for the comment.
I like pasta salads as well. And I would love to have a home tomatoes. I like it so much that I buy them in an organic stores.
Hi Marta, when tomatoes are in season, you can buy some pretty good ones in stores, particularly stores that specialize in organic produce. And yes, pasta salads are great! Thanks for your comment.
You are a busy guy! Love the Bert Greene story and the pasta salad looks great. I love how you are so thorough!
Hi Abbe, this salad is really, really good. We've long since polished off the batch, and I'm missing it. Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.
My husband just bought a whole bunch of dill yesterday. I usually use it to make persian dill rice but i am sure i would stillhave some dill left over to make this salad.
Hi Cakewhiz, Persian dill rice sounds pretty good! But do save a bit for this salad - it's worth it. Thanks for your comment.
Hmm delicious! My children especially love pasta salad and I'm happy you posted this. I need some variation too, so it's perfect! I'm looking forward to try the sour cream addition!
A lovely recipe! I love that kind od summery dish and never get tired of eating pasta salads.
Oh how I wish summer was already here! But I still have a few months to wait...I would eat this pasta salad even in winter. ;) Love how it looks and bet it tastes great too!
Hi Nami, the sour cream addition is great. You might want to play with yogurt, too - it adds a somewhat different (but delicious) note to the salad. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Rosa, this dish does say pure summer to me - although sometimes I cheat and make it in the winter! The tomatoes are never as good, of course, although sometimes I can buy acceptable cherry or grape tomatoes. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Jenny, I know, this is cruel posting this when you're still "enjoying" cold weather! But you can make it now if you can find decent tomatoes (the tomatoes add tons of flavor, so I wouldn't bother if the only tomatoes you can find taste of cardboard). Thanks for your comment.
It would be hard to beat Curio-ziti. A seriously excellent recipe title. There are so many recipes for pasta salad, but so few good ones, and I'd love to give this one a try.
Beautiful pasta salad...love the flavors and the creaminess of this pasta...perfect for the hot weather :)
Thanks for the recipe and hope you are having a great week!
What a perfect summer salad! Light and wholesome. Can't wait to make this!
Hi Beth, no matter what one calls it, this really is a good recipe - well worth trying. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Juliana, it's great! And although the weather isn't as beastly as it has been, it's still hot - so this remains a perfect dish for the weather. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Patty, it really is tasty. I think you'll enjoy it. Thanks for your comment.
I love Mrs K R's logic. Wouldn't be able to enjoy summer twice as long and eat more pasta salads. One of my favorite things about summer, btw. I don't use dill too often, I'm going to be on the lookout for one so I can add it to my garden.
Hi Gina, I like Mrs K R's logic too - she's a real keeper! I'm not growing dill this year, but I have to in the future - it's one of those flavors that whenever I use it I kick myself for not using more often. Such a great herb! Thanks for your comment.
This looks wonderful. But I was expecting to see tuna in the recipe? I love that tip about adding milk to make the dressing go farther. I always have a problem with the pasta soaking up all the dressing!
Hi Jen, sorry if I was confusing in the intro — the tuna pasta salad I linked to is another salad (one with tuna). This one is tuna-less. That milk tip seems a bit odd at first, but it really works! Thanks for your comment.
Yes, John, yoghurt is even better: it is closer for the sour cream we have in Europe. As a matter of fact, I dilute one part of sour cream and one part of yoghurt to get the consistency I like. :)
Hi Marina, I'll have to try your equal parts of yogurt and sour cream some idea - sounds terrific. Thanks.
This looks great! I love pasta salad, especially during the summer. It's a lovely dish for a hot day.
Hi Riley, it's really a great salad. And you're right about it being particularly appropriate for a hot day - that's when it's at its best. Thanks for your comment.
My all time favorite pasta salad is my mom's tuna noodle salad. I can't believe I haven't made any yet this Summer....I believe I may need to make so for sure this weekend now:-) I love all the flavors in your salad, it sounds so fresh and delicious:-) Take care, Terra
Hi Terra, it's so easy to basically forget to make stuff! There's always something else demanding our attention - or at least that's the way for me. Thanks for commenting.
This looks delicious! I haven't made a cold pasta dish...ever! Weird, huh?
Hi Cathleen, maybe just a little weird. ;-) But there really is so much other good stuff to make that it's understandable. However, this is truly a great salad - worth making. And, in your words, delicious! ;-) Thanks for commenting.
This is a great salad recipe and I love the milk trick..
I too replace sour cream and part of the mayo in many recipes with yogurt and I agree, the tang is a pleasant addition to most recipes
Hi Sawsan, isn't the flavor of yogurt so good? I use it all the time. Thanks for the comment.
I made this salad for years when I was catering and the comments were tremendous on it. I followed the original recipe, including the packet of "George Washington" bouillon, which absolutely made the dressing!!! I can't imagine it without it!!! It is best made with tubular pasta and made the day before, it soaks up a lot of dressing. I also reserved at least 1/4 of the chopped vegetables and dill to use for garnishing, just before serving; that turned it into a beautiful presentation!
Hi Loret, I really like the idea of reserving some of the veggies for garnish! Great idea. I've never been able to find the "George Washington" bouillon, alas. I tried it with another brand and didn't really like the flavor all that much - so I've omitted it. Maybe the brand Greene used had a magic ingredient! Thanks for the comment.
Post a Comment