My Mom's 90s Era Pasta Salad and My Newman's Own Dressing Obsession
Paul Newman was the king of salad dressing
Ever since I was old enough to eat salads, I have been obsessed with Newman’s Own oil and vinegar salad dressing. As a child of the 90s, my mom often served dinner side salads, and my iceberg lettuce and carrot shreds would be doused with the best that Paul Newman had to offer. My salad bowl would resemble an oil and vinegar soup because I’d use half the bottle in one sitting. By the time I reached elementary school, my mom had to start buying the dressing in bulk due to the sheer quantity I was consuming.
The popular dressings of my childhood held no interest for me. Wishbone Italian? Tasted fake and felt slimy. Hidden Valley Ranch? No thanks! Ken’s Blue Cheese? I’d rather have no salad at all. I wanted that perfect combination of oil, vinegar, and spices, with Paul’s handsome face beaming from the front of the bottle. As a kid, I couldn’t name one Paul Newman movie, but I would argue with anyone who would listen that his salad dressing reigned supreme.
Somewhere in the 90s summer blur of picnics, neighborhood block parties, and family barbeques, my favorite pasta salad was born. The origins of the recipe are unknown, but my mom made it her own and used my favorite dressing. The recipe included tri-colored spiral veggie noodles, chopped up cucumbers, black olives, and diced tomatoes. Unlike other 90s pasta salads, my mom kept it pretty plain- no kidney beans or chunks of cheese for our family. It was simple, refreshing, and delicious. I begged her to make it for every spring and summer occasion, especially beach trips. It was the perfect combination of fresh veggies, hearty noodles, fatty olives, and Newman’s Own oil and vinegar dressing married all the ingredients together harmoniously.
In third grade, my class had to make a cook book. Each child contributed their favorite recipe. Most kids in my class chose desserts. We put on a recipe demonstration for our classmates and their parents. I remember feeling oddly out of place tossing together a pasta salad while other kids made classic 90s desserts like pudding dirt cups, jello poke cakes, or puppy chow. I didn’t really mind though, because at the end of the day, I got to go home with a giant bowl of my favorite pasta salad smothered in oil and vinegar.
As an adult, I’ve had to tweak my mom’s recipe. In college, I discovered I have a gluten intolerance. I also realized that the hydrogenated vegetable oils that make up Newman’s Own dressings are not very healthy compared to olive oil or avocado oil. Sadly, my lifelong Newman’s Own dressing obsession came to an end. Thankfully, I’ve found some delicious alternatives.
These days, I still make my favorite summer salad, but I use Jovial gluten free brown rice pasta and Primal Kitchen Oil and Vinegar or Italian dressing. To my delight, I’ve discovered that the oil and vinegar is a perfect flavor match to the Newman’s Own dressing that dominated my childhood taste buds. They also have a Greek dressing that is delicious, especially when you use Kalamata olives instead of the classic black. You could add feta, sliced parmesan, and sometimes I make a meal out of it and add shredded chicken. It's the perfect summer pasta salad to pair with barbeque or burgers and hotdogs.
Every time I make my family’s pasta salad, I get nostalgic for summers in the 1990s. It takes me back to simpler days filled with roller blading, Spice Girls songs, playing sharks and minnows at the neighborhood pool, biker shorts, Tamagotchi’s, video games on floppy disks, and listening to the screechy sound of dial up internet loading. I love that 90s trends are coming back. My pasta salad is no exception- it will never go out of style.
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