Elis Halenko is a Registered Dietitian and owner of Halenko Creative Agency.
She first developed her interest in nutrition while visiting her mother’s favorite wellness stores as a child, feeling a bit like a Hogwarts student looking up at shelves upon towering shelves of herbs, dried foods and concoctions.
After graduation from Ryerson University’s Nutrition & Food program, food photography began working its way into her life—and as her experience grew, so did her passion for food art.
Macaroni salad is a classic dish enjoyed during the summer season. It’s the quintessential item to serve beside watermelon, ice-cold beverages, and BBQ meats. I have to admit that I often did not enjoy eating macaroni salad at barbecues because I always found that it was covered in heaps of mayo and not much else.
With this macaroni salad recipe I used a lighter and fresher approach, but I did not rob it of its richness. The heartiness is provided by the addition of bacon and olives. The dressing is light—and in fact is more like a pasta salad dressing. This recipe was inspired by the well known Nicoise salad, a deliciously traditional salad with origins in France.
Cold Macaroni Nicoise Salad
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
- 4 pieces of Ontario bacon, cooked
- 1/2 pound short pasta, such as macaroni
- 1 Tbsp canola oil
- 1/2 pound green beans, whole or chopped
- 1 cup red radish, chopped
- 1/2 cup Nicoise (or Kalamata) olives, pitted
- 1/2 cup green olives
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1-2 tsp Dijon mustard seeds
- Black pepper and salt to taste
Start by boiling about 2 litres of water with a pinch of salt for the macaroni, adding about 1 Tbsp of canola oil so that your noodles do not stick together. Prepare a steamer basket for the washed green beans, adding only about 1-2 cups of water in the pot. While you are waiting for your water to boil, using a skillet or sauté pan, cook your bacon (see below for cooking instructions). Once your bacon is prepared, leave it aside on paper towel.
Throw the green beans in the steamer and blanch them for 2-3 minutes. Try not to overcook them—they should still be firm to the touch! In addition to preserving the beans’ texture and crunch, they retain more nutrients and are sweeter when they are gently cooked.
I decided to keep the ends on the beans and serve them whole. Keeping the ends on encourages people to interact with their plates and slow down their eating so they can enjoy the conversation while mindfully savouring their meals.
If, however, you prefer to chop up all your ingredients into bite-sized pieces, this is an option as well. Chop just before serving, if possible, so the texture stays intact until they are added to the dish. Chop up the remainder of the ingredients, radish and parsley.
At this point the water for your noodles must be boiling! Add the macaroni noodles and cook until al dente. Al dente translates in Italian literally to “to the tooth” (which means “firm to the bite”). The cook time to prepare al dente noodles varies per noodle size, type, and quantity prepared at once. For the macaroni noodles in this recipe, this takes about 7-9 minutes.
Once the noodles are done, drain them over a sink and put them under cold running water for about 30 seconds. We do this because the steam left in the boiled noodles will continue to cook the noodles unless they are chilled. Further, this is a cold pasta salad dish, so we want all the ingredients to be cool in temperature.
To make the dressing, combine in a bowl: red wine vinegar, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper, and mustard seeds.
Pour the dressing over the pasta noodles and begin plating your dish cold, adding the crispy bacon and finely chopped parsley on the top.
If you would like to make this Nicoise-inspired salad more traditional, add tuna, egg and red potatoes. Enjoy!
How to cook bacon
Preheat the oven to 400 °F. Place a rack in the lower third of the oven. For easier cleanup, line a baking sheet with foil. You can also place the bacon on a rack set on top of the baking sheet to help even out the crispiness, as bacon cooked in the oven retains a bit of chewiness near the middle. Avoid overlapping the bacon, as they will stick together while they cook.
The exact baking time will depend on the thickness of the bacon and how crispy you like it. I like to wait until it’s a deep golden brown and crispy, which takes about 15 to 20 minutes for thick cuts.
Remove the bacon from the oven and use tongs to transfer it to a plate lined with paper towels to soak up the excess fat and let the bacon finish crisping.
Start with a cold 12” pan—if you prefer, use one with raised ridges that allow the fat to drip through and away from the bacon. Lay out your strips on the pan. You can place them so they are touching a bit in the pan, as the bacon will shrink as it cooks.
Cook bacon low and slow. Soon the bacon will begin to release some of its fat. When it starts to buckle and curl, use the tongs to loosen the strips and turn each slice to cook on the other side.
Keep flipping and turning the bacon so that it browns evenly. Again, the exact cooking time will depend on the thickness of the bacon and how crispy you like it. I like my bacon crispy, so this takes about 7-8 minutes on the stove top at medium heat. (Remember that your bacon will continue to cook when you pull it from the pan and will stiffen up a little upon cooling.)
Remove the pan from the heat and use tongs to transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels to soak up the excess fat and let the bacon finish crisping.