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A Better Macaroni Salad

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This macaroni salad has all the appeal of the old-fashioned, mayo-dressed version but with a few updates to make it taste brighter and better.

Macaroni salad is a staple at summer picnics, BBQs, and potlucks. I call this one “better” because it’s got all the appeal of the old-school, mayo-dressed version but with a few updates – namely, sour cream, Dijon mustard, fresh basil, and loads of crisp, crunchy veggies – to make it taste brighter. Cutting the traditional all-mayo dressing with sour cream and mustard makes the salad tangy and less mayonnaise-y, while the basil and veggies add fresh summer flavor. The key to the perfect creamy texture is thinning the dressing with a bit of water, so it coats the pasta without getting too clingy. However, keep in mind that the dressing thickens and gets absorbed by the noodles as the salad sits, so while all the components can be prepared ahead, it’s best to wait until right before serving to toss everything together. Macaroni salad pairs nicely with burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken, BBQ ribs, or grilled or BBQ chicken.

What You’ll Need To Make Macaroni Salad

macaroni salad ingredientsYou don’t have to use elbow noodles to make macaroni salad. As you can see, I use cavatappi; farfalle or fusilli would also work well.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until tender according to package instructions (about 1 minute past al dente).

boiling the pasta

While the pasta boils, prep all the add-ins.

prepping the vegetables and basil

Drain the pasta in a colander and let cool to room temperature.

drained pastaIn a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, mustard, vinegar, water, salt, pepper, and onion powder.

dressing ingredients in large bowlWhisk until combined.

whisked macaroni salad dressing
Add the cooked pasta, carrots, celery, bell pepper, scallions, and basil to the bowl.

adding pasta, vegetables and basil to dressing Stir until evenly combined.

tossed macaroni saladServe immediately or let sit for up to an hour at room temperature before serving. Keep in mind that the dressing will thicken a bit as it sits.

How To Make Macaroni Salad Ahead

The dressing can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated; the pasta, vegetables, and basil can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Before serving, bring all of the components to room temperature. Add the dressing to a large bowl and whisk to loosen, then stir in the pasta, vegetables and herbs. Taste and adjust seasoning and serve.

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A Better Macaroni Salad

This macaroni salad has all the appeal of the old-fashioned, mayo-dressed version but with a few updates to make it taste brighter and better.

Servings: 8 to 12
Prep Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 20 Minutes
Total Time: 40 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound macaroni, cavatappi, farfalle, or fusilli pasta
  • 1 cup mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3½ tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt, plus more for cooking the pasta
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ cup finely diced or grated carrots, from 1 to 2 carrots
  • ¾ cup finely diced celery, from 2 to 3 celery stalks
  • 1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, finely diced
  • 6 scallions, light and dark green parts, finely sliced
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package instructions until tender (about 1 minute past al dente). Drain and let cool to room temperature.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, mustard, vinegar, water, salt, pepper, and onion powder.
  3. Add the cooked pasta, carrots, celery, bell pepper, scallions, and basil to the bowl and stir until evenly combined. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve the salad immediately or let it sit for up to an hour at room temperature before serving. (Keep in mind that the dressing will thicken and get absorbed by the noodles as the salad sits.)
  4. Make-Ahead Instructions: The dressing can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated; the pasta, vegetables, and basil can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Before serving, bring all of the components to room temperature. Add the dressing to a large bowl and whisk to loosen, then stir in the pasta, vegetables and herbs. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary, and serve.
  5. Update Note: In response to feedback from readers, this recipe was retested and updated on &frac73;/22 to include less sugar.

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (12 servings)
  • Calories: 336
  • Fat: 19 g
  • Saturated fat: 5 g
  • Carbohydrates: 35 g
  • Sugar: 6 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Sodium: 268 mg
  • Cholesterol: 17 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • My husband just announced that your macaroni salad is better than our favorite deli’s that I’ve been trying to recreate for years!! I would definitely call that a success for you and me as well!
    Thanks Jenn for making me look like a rock star!

    • — Dawn on September 20, 2022
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  • This is the best macaroni salad ever!!! Follow the recipe exactly and it’s perfect!! I love all your recipes!! The best!!

    • — Linda Wegener on September 5, 2022
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  • Excellent flavor! We loved it and will definitely make again and again!
    Thanks Jen! ❤️

    • — Lisa on August 21, 2022
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  • I added double the celery and bell pepper for crunch, and used Mexican table cream instead of sour cream for a milder taste. It was delicious!

    • — Sshhrrnn on August 18, 2022
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  • I just made it. It’s very delicious. This will certainly be my new go-to -recipe for macaroni salad. i do not really like basil, so I left that ingredient out. Thank you for this recipe!!!

    • — Yonette T. on August 7, 2022
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  • I hadn’t had macaroni salad since I was a kid, and didn’t really have fond memories of it. Perhaps my tastes have matured, but I found this recipe to be excellent! So flavorful, and plenty of room to experiment with added veggies. Next time, I’ll halve or even quarter the recipe for two of us. Thanks as always, Jenn.

    • — John M. on August 1, 2022
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  • Best macaroni salad ever! Keeps very well in the refrigerator afterwards. We ate the last of it three days after preparing. It was still delicious. Will never buy from the grocery store again! Thanks for this wonderful recipe.

    • — Astrid Wittwer on July 21, 2022
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  • Quick question: any specific reason to allow pasta to cool rather than rinsing with cold water?
    Thanks Chuck

    • — Chuck Klemballa on July 21, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Chuck, It’s fine to rinse it in this case.

      • — Jenn on July 21, 2022
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    • 5 star. Had a taste one day for old-fashioned macaroni salad. So I saw yours and read it. Sounded great and it was far better than any I have ever eaten. Kept eating it till it was gone. Kept making excuses to eat some more. Going to make it again tomorrow. Thanks. Love everything I have ever tried of yours. Elyse

      • — Elyse Valenta on July 31, 2022
      • Reply
  • I made this recipe and it turned out perfectly! It was delicious. I’m only an average cook but I find your recipes easy to follow. Love the step by step. The ingredients are usually easy things people have in their kitchen.

    • — Susan Wrightsell on July 16, 2022
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  • This is the best macaroni salad recipe I have tried. It was very tasty, very easy, and although the pasta soaked up the sauce a bit, it was still very good days later.

    • — Shana McLean on July 13, 2022
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  • Used 1/5 the amount of sugar and added some Yoghurt, diced chilies and cooked prawns cut slightly bigger than the macaroni – was declared a total winner by everyone, One of our guests added a bit of harissa paste to their helping and that worked too. Thank you for something different.

    • — Nick Andrews on July 12, 2022
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  • Made this for our annual family bbq, and it was a hit! For me personally I will do less sugar next time so it is less sweet, but that’s just personal preference, not a reflection of this recipe. Jen’s recipes are truly delicious and easy to prepare. Love OUAC!

    • — Christine on July 10, 2022
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  • Thank you for adjusting the sugar! You did the work for me. I thought it was an awesome recipe and will definitely make again – with the new sugar amount. 😉

    • — Lulu on July 8, 2022
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  • I am always on the search for the perfect macaroni salad recipe, and I am picky. This salad was a hit, but I had no doubt as so many of your recipes are in our house! I did make two changes; I cut back on the sugar based on comments because I don’t care for sweet macaroni salads (I know some do though!). I ended up using 2 tablespoons. And, I used greek yogurt in place of the sour cream because I had it on hand. This salad has SO much flavor, and I love the addition of basil! It is something new and unexpected compared to traditional macaroni salads. Thanks for sharing another winner!!

    • — Shaynee on July 7, 2022
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  • I made this a few days ago and the only change I made was to reduce the sugar to 1/4 cup and it had the perfect sweetness for my family. The only “problem” I had is that I didn’t pay attention as to how much this recipe served (it’s 8 to 12)! With my daughter visiting from Australia and son & daughter-in-law joining us for supper that made us around 6 people short. LoL
    Anyhow, we’ve had it for lunch the next day but I still had to throw too much away which is entirely on me. It is a delicious recipe, the flavour is fabulous but from now on I will make half unless I have a crowd to serve 😉

    Another wonderful, easy to make recipe Jenn and thank you so very much for sharing your expertise with this Canadian. You absolutely ROCK girl!

    • — Susan,West Kelowna, BC Canada on July 7, 2022
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  • This is a dynamite macaroni recipe! I made it this past weekend for a 4th of July picnic where it was devoured in minutes. It’s very kid friendly. I especially enjoyed the heightened apple cider vinegar notes in the recipe.
    Thanks, Jenn, for creating another winning recipe!

    • — Cissie on July 5, 2022
    • Reply
  • My whole family loved this macaroni salad!! I haven’t made macaroni salad in years because I always thought they were so so, but this has completely changed my mind! A few people commented that it’s too sweet — I made the recipe as written and found the flavors to be perfectly balanced – definitely not too sweet. This will go on my list for any summertime BBQ!!

    • — Tammy on July 5, 2022
    • Reply
  • Omitted the water, doubled the veggies (all of them!), doubled the Dijon, halved the sugar, made it the night before – It Is Awesome!!! Tangy yummy goodness!!! Jenn, your recipes are amazing!!!

    • — Coldren in Cali on July 5, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jen, I made this yesterday, I wanted something for the 4th of July that could be easy to take anywhere. Well, needless to say, it is really good. My neighbors said it was delicious and they all think I’m a great cook! I know it is that YOU are a great chef 👏🏻👏🏻 Thanks for sharing your recipes, you detail them with pictures, and this is so helpful , I can compare all steps against your pictures and feel confident if they kind of look like yours. Very happy with your site 🙂

    • — Eugenia on July 4, 2022
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    • ❤️

      • — Jenn on July 4, 2022
      • Reply
  • Nice tangy flavors! Can’t wait for the steaks to be done so we can eat this salad! Thank you Jenn

    • — SJG on July 4, 2022
    • Reply
  • It’s always a great day when a new recipe is published on Jenn’s website!! I made exactly as printed and it’s pretty.stinkin.delish!!!!

    • — Tamera on July 3, 2022
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  • This is a very good recipe has lots of flavor but I found the sugar to be a little bit too much, I even put less sugar in then the recipe called for and felt that you could use about quarter of the sugar for the salad. I will definitely make this again!

    • — Janet on July 3, 2022
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  • Excellent macaroni salad but a little too sweet for me. I will definitively do it again with half the sugar.
    Great for summertime 🙂
    Thanks !

    • — Martine Bélanger on July 2, 2022
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  • I saw a salad similar to this on Family Dinner with Andrew Zimmern. I started searching for a recipe for the details that were omitted.

    I added red onion and substituted Butter Milk for the water and it added a common flavor. Many in the family don’t like a Mayo-ie flavor.
    I added a couple of fresh Mozzarella balls cut into 1/4″ +- squares.
    I didn’t add any sugar and it still has a slightly sweet but savory taste.
    I have 15 family coming for 4th of July dinner today and I not sure there will be much left. My wife and I keep sampling it and then smile.
    Thanks for posting your creation. I will bookmark your site for future delights.

    • — Brad on July 2, 2022
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  • Usually not a fan of cold macaroni salad but this is different! I wanted to try it to go with your smash burgers and it turned out awesome. Love your recipes!!

    • — Lulu on July 1, 2022
    • Reply
  • This salad is great! I wanted a recipe for a good macaroni salad but never found one. This is it. It tastes great with BBQ chicken or pork. Leftovers were excellent cold and straight from the fridge. Thank you!

    • — Laura K. on June 30, 2022
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  • This looks terrific! We have a pretty strong aversion to celery in our household but I still want to make this. Any suggestions on what to use instead?

    • — Alice on June 30, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Alice, You can add another bell pepper – would be nice in a different color.

      • — Jenn on June 30, 2022
      • Reply
    • Jicama

      • — lowandslow on June 30, 2022
      • Reply
  • This really looks great. I’m fixing it for the Fourth of July. Thanks

    • — Tina Bazzell on June 30, 2022
    • Reply
  • I enjoyed the flavor very much, the veggies and the basil gave it depth. The only thing I would change is the amount of sugar, it was a bit too sweet for me. Other than that, this recipe is a keeper!

    • — Christina W. on June 29, 2022
    • Reply
  • I love the comments and ideas from people who made this, so helpful. Jenn’s recipes are fantastic, easy, and dependable, and I know this is FIVE STARS as written.

    Two changes I made for those who care:
    I started by making the dressing first, so to give it marinating time as Jenn suggested. I HALVED the dressing as I only had so much Mayo on hand. I substituted the sour cream for grass fed probiotic Greek yogurt which I wasn’t concerned about, it worked great, and I did not need to add the water to recipe it called for. I substituted 2 TBSP monk sugar(comes from monkfruit) for the cane sugar. I’ve only ever used Monk Sugar in my coffee. For those not familiar, it has zero calories and carbs and is the healthier sweetner on the market that won’t mess with blood sugar, do the research for those interested. Once all was prepped, rather than throwing everything together at once, I made a little bowl of pasta, veggie and dressing for me to taste, refrig, and taste again. As Jenn mentioned in one of her replies, she does not rinse the pasta, I couldn’t agree more, dressing will stick better. I walked away and overcooked it by 60 seconds. Anyway, now that I have everything prepped, I can make one with Tuna and maybe hard boiled egg, ect ect. All kinds of variation to work with here, it’s very forgiving! THANK YOU JENN!

    • — WendyUSA on June 29, 2022
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  • I did add some chopped hard boiled eggs to mine. Delicious.

    • — Jill on June 28, 2022
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  • WAY better!! Made this last night and cut down the sugar as others suggested. It was just amazing. I haven’t had one of these in years as they were so awful. This was perfect for a hot night meal. Will be using this often during the summer. And other times as well. Thank you Jenn for bringing back some wonderful memories with an even better taste!

    • — Judi on June 28, 2022
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  • Excellent! Didn’t have any fresh basil so I substituted dried. I’m sure fresh would have put it over the top. Looking forward to making this part of my regular rotation.

    • — Judy on June 27, 2022
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  • I haven’t made macaroni salad in a really, long time! Way back when – I made a mayo, tuna, and peas version. However, when I quit smoking the taste of tuna was overwhelmingly strong and I couldn’t stomach it anymore. I was excited to see this recipe posted because it seemed to resemble the ‘wet dressing’ type you sometimes see in a deli case except a whole lot fresher! So, I made it last night for a delayed Father’s Day get together along with your Grilled BBQ Chicken. The salad was truly a hit with everyone and there were comments about how nice it was to have a light and fresh macaroni salad versus a heavier, mayo-laden one. It was also agreed the added vegetables and basil really took it to another level. Maybe just a tad too sweet so I’ll cut the sugar just a bit next time, but that’s simply individual preference. Definitely a keeper and it definitely won’t be long before I make this one again. Thanks, Jenn!

    • — Jen R on June 26, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn – just curious, why cool to room temperature instead of rinsing with cold water. This would also stop cooking process.
    Thanks. Chuck

    • — Chuck Klemballa on June 26, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Chuck, I’m just not in the habit of rinsing my pasta but it’s perfectly fine to do that here if you’d like. Hope you enjoy!

      • — Jenn on June 28, 2022
      • Reply
  • I am looking forward to making this recipe, but I can’t tell how much sugar. My recipe shows a box with an X inside of it next to the sugar. Please explain the amount of sugar to use.

    • — Linda Jenkins on June 26, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Linda, I’m sorry there’s an X showing up there! Can you tell me what browser you’re using? You’ll need 1/3 cup of sugar. Hope you enjoy it!

      • — Jenn on June 27, 2022
      • Reply
  • I will never “just use mayo” again! The veggies and dressing make this the best! I did go a bit lighter on the sugar as I was afraid of the sweetness factor…but this actually had flavor! So good.

    • — Molly on June 26, 2022
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  • Like this but thought dressing was way too sweet. I will reduce sugar next time as 1/3 c seems too much

    • — Stacey Goldfarb on June 25, 2022
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  • Delicious! The combination of tasty dressing, crunchy vegetables, and fresh basil really take this macaroni salad to the next level. It’s a perfect complement to grilled summer dinners. Thanks for another great recipe!

    • — Lauren on June 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • This was wonderful! Neither my husband nor myself were originally big fans of macaroni salad, but this has changed our minds! The dressing is a little tart, and not as heavy as all-mayo versions. We especially liked all the vegetables in this recipe. Nice!

    • — AliceK on June 25, 2022
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  • Great recipe! I only cooked the pasta to al dente, should have done the extra minute. Dressing is the best.

    • — Linda on June 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • Thank you, it’s a perfect side ,quick and easy and most important: delicious!

    • — Gita on June 25, 2022
    • Reply
  • A nostalgic recipe. Did you or anyone ever put pimentos in your macaroni salad? Do you think the addition would work with your recipe. I’d love to make it for our 4th of July cookout.

    Thank you!

    Kristen Berry

    • — Kristen Berry on June 25, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Kristen, I haven’t put pimentos in this, but I think you could. I’d love to hear how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on June 26, 2022
      • Reply
  • Jenn,
    Thank you for the “Better Macaroni Salad” recipe. My husband, when I told him I was making macaroni salad, he said ” Oh, ok.” I ‘m sure he was thinking of macaroni with mayonaise and sweet pickle relish – he’s not a fan.
    Vegetables are his thing. He loved the salad witht the carrots, pepper, and onion. And the dressing with the mustard – he was SOLD. He volunteered this salad for a potluck emergency radio event he is involved in.
    THIS IS A COMPLIMENT TO YOU!!
    I am putting this on as my premanent Potluck salad for the rest of the summer.
    Thank you for such a delicious recipe.

    • — Candace on June 24, 2022
    • Reply
  • Finally a macaroni salad with great flavor other than bland mayo & peppers. Thanks much!

    • — Sheryl Forster on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • This sounds delicious, but I love macaroni salad with chopped hard-boiled eggs would that work with this recipe and would I need to increase wet ingredients?

    • — Karen B on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Karen, Sure, that’ll work. I’d either increase the dressing by a bit or make a little less pasta. I’d love to hear how it turns out!

      • — Jenn on June 27, 2022
      • Reply
  • This is similar to a recipe from “The Store”, a posh caterer in the Hamptons. However, instead of salt added to the dressing, they add beef bullion which adds a deeper flavor to the dish.

    Also, low-fat Greek plain yogurt is a good sub for sour cream. I make the substitution at 50/50 in every mayo-heavy dish, including tuna salad.

    • — Lorra on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, How about adding a can or two of tuna to make it an entree salad?
    Thanks. Chuck Klemballa

    • — Chuck Klemballa on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Sure, Chuck, that would work!

      • — Jenn on June 23, 2022
      • Reply
      • Thank you, it’s a perfect side ,quick and easy and most important: delicious!

        • — Gita on June 25, 2022
        • Reply
    • I think would work well!

      • — Jenn on June 23, 2022
      • Reply
      • Hi Jenn. I have a silly question. Is it 1 pound of cooked or dry pasta? I can never remember if the weight referenced in pasta recipes is pre or post cooked. I’m excited to make this today with seasoned chicken thighs in our air fryer.

        • — Jennifer on June 26, 2022
        • Reply
        • dry (one box) 🙂

          • — Jenn on June 26, 2022
          • Reply
  • do you salt the cabbage first so the cabbage does not get soggy?

    • — Patrick Miller on June 23, 2022
    • Reply
    • Hi Patrick, Are you referring to my coleslaw recipe? If so, I do not salt the cabbage (and it doesn’t get soggy).

      • — Jenn on June 23, 2022
      • Reply
  • When I make my macaroni salad, I marinate the pasta with an Italian vinaigrete the night before. Gives it zest!

    • — Connie Manuel on June 23, 2022
    • Reply

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