By Grace Strahan
Growing up in the South, and the daughter of a Baptist preacher, I attended my fair share of church potluck dinners. This is where you will find any community’s best cooks and dishes. I vividly remember Mrs. Mable’s coconut cake and Mrs. Louise’s chicken and dumplings. After the plates began to clear, I would hear the ladies chatter in the kitchen as they cleaned — complimenting one another on their prized dishes and sharing culinary secrets.
My mother is a master recipe collector. It seems that every time I go home to visit, she has just been to a church dinner and gotten this recipe for something she has made for us to try. I also tell her, “You people are the eatin’-est bunch of folks I’ve ever seen!”
However, I must admit that I have benefited from this parade of dinners that seems to come around much more regularly than I remember from my childhood. One of my favorite recipes that my mother passed along to me was a pasta salad recipe that is great for summer meals or that church dinner that you might be headed off to.
The great thing about pasta salad is that you can start with a basic recipe and alter it to suit your individual tastes and needs. This recipe can be done with whole wheat or regular pasta. I choose whole wheat pasta, but it isn’t required. Add some shrimp or chicken and a side of fruit, and you have a complete meal.
Sharing recipes and using ones that I have collected is a way to connect with and remember my past. I have a little red cookbook that was a Christmas gift from my best childhood friend. It is filled with recipes that I have scrawled on the pages of the book and stuffed with notecards. No matter where I go, I can always go back and revisit those church dinner days. Cooking for me is a happy reminder of the people I have known and places I have been in my life. I am reminded of the people from my past and their influences on my life as a thumb through the pages.
It’s funny how recipes and cookbooks can be as vivid as photographs in an album. They bring back the visual images, sounds and smells from events in my life. It is where more memories will be made throughout the remainder of my life. Cooking can be a joy connecting past with present, a way to pass on traditions and make new memories as our lives change and grow.
Summer Pasta Salad
16-ounce box of spiral or penne pasta (whole wheat or regular)
1 package of Good Seasonings Italian Dressing Mix, dry package
1 small seedless cucumber, sliced
Grape tomatoes, 1 package
1 jar or pepperoncini peppers, drained and sliced
1 can of artichoke hearts, drained and quartered (not the marinated kind)
1 can of sliced black olives
Feta cheese crumbled
1/2 bottle of Newman’s Own Italian Dressing, Lite
Cook the pasta according to the package until al dente. Drain and rinse with ice with ice water until chilled. I do this by pouring the pasta into a colander, adding a couple of glasses of ice and rinsing thoroughly with water running over it. The ice will melt and chill the pasta. Once the pasta is cold, if you still have pieces of ice, just remove them. Make sure your pasta is drained well. Place the pasta in a large bowl. Add cucumber, tomatoes, peppers, artichoke hearts, olives and dressing mix. Crumble in feta cheese to taste. Stir in 1/2 bottle of dressing and chill until ready to serve. When serving, be sure to stir well to mix in dressing that may have settled to the bottom of the bowl. Add additional dressing if needed.
Email Grace Strahan at gstrahan@SynergeticsDCS.com .