In a 1996 New York Times article, Marcella Hazan commented that “you can go all over Italy and you don’t find pasta salad.”  In 1997 she apologetically told the Baltimore Sun that she included a pasta salad recipe in Classic Italian Cooking “as a joke.”  So, if pasta salad isn’t Italian, what is it?

Some say it’s unabashedly American.  Recipes for room temperature pasta dressed in mayonnaise or in oil and vinegar began appearing in American cookbooks and newspapers as early as 1916.  This has led some to postulate that Richard Hellmann, a German immigrant who opened a delicatessen on Columbus Avenue in New York City in 1905, may have had a hand in its creation.  His deli became so famous for its potato salad dressed in his wife’s homemade mayonnaise that, by 1912, he built a factory to bottle the condiment for wider distribution.  By 1917, he closed the deli and devoted full time to his mayonnaise business introducing, some suggest, Americans to mayonnaise based potato salads and coleslaws.

If mayo can dress potatoes and cabbage, can pasta be far behind?  Pasta had only recently been assimilated as a new starch in the American diet, and it was gaining in popularity because it was cheap and easily prepared.  But what to do with those bland leftovers? Applying potato salad technique was an obvious solution; The Washington Post even printed a pasta salad recipe in 1930 that named the dish “mock potato salad.” 

The American cookbook classic, The Joy of Cooking, first printed a recipe for pasta salad in 1943, a concoction composed of pasta marinated in vinaigrette (aka “French dressing”), chopped green pepper, pimiento, celery, and grated onion, all dressed in mayonnaise, served on lettuce leaves and garnished with paprika.  A headnote from its author, Irma Rombauer, assures readers that “this is so much better than it sounds.”  By the 1960s, macaroni salad had become a staple of American backyard barbecues and summer picnics.