Recipe: Avocado and Bacon Macaroni Salad

(Image credit: Gabriela Herman)

Macaroni salad is as classic American as apple pie. Traditionally it calls for a slightly sweet mayo-mustard dressing mixed into regular elbow macaroni, with a snappy crunch of raw carrot and celery. For me, though, with so many more fresh ingredients at our fingertips now, this old-school recipe is due for a makeover.

(Image credit: Gabriela Herman)

Macaroni Salad Meets Avocado Toast

Avocado toast is something the younger set of my family really loves. My sisters, brothers-in-law, nephews, and niece gobble it up regularly. We all love the crunch of the bread with the creaminess of the avocado and dribbles of olive oil. The texture and bite of the kosher salt and red chile flakes sprinkled doesn’t hurt either.

With this recipe, I blend the two beloved dishes into an inspired and refreshed macaroni salad that everyone dives into — me included! The fundamentals of classic macaroni salad remain in tact — a little mayo, a hint of sugar, and of course, elbow macaroni — but they are mixed beautifully with fresh avocado, homemade croutons spiked with red chile, and a bright, lemony olive oil. It’s a modern-yet-classic summer salad mash-up that’s as unexpected and eye-popping as it is delicious.

(Image credit: Gabriela Herman)

Some Make-Ahead Strategies

Bake the bacon in the oven the day before at 400°F for 17 to 20 minutes. This keeps the kitchen clean and more organized the day of your gathering. Boil the macaroni the day before, too, and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Set both out on the kitchen counter for about an hour before making the salad.

Toss all the ingredients together with the dressing once your guests arrive. This keeps the avocado from turning brown before you eat and keeps the lemon flavor bright. I like to pile the croutons high on top to play up the toast theme of the recipe and add more dramatic effect.

Avocado and Bacon Macaroni Salad

Serves 8 to 12

For the croutons and macaroni:
4 to 5 (1/4-inch-thick) slices whole-grain bread
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the pasta:
2 quarts water
2 to 3 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 ounces elbow macaroni

For the dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, grated
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 to 2 pinches red chile flakes
Freshly ground black pepper

To finish:
3 avocados, pitted and cut into 3/4-inch chunks
6 thick-cut bacon slices, cooked and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
Olive oil or lemon oil (optional)

Make the croutons: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 375°F.

Cut the bread slices into 1/4-inch cubes (you want the croutons to be smaller)
and place in a small bowl. Add the chile flakes, lemon zest, and salt. Pour the butter into the bowl and toss until completely coated.

Spread the bread cubes on a rimmed baking sheet in an even layer. Bake until golden-brown and crispy, stirring halfway through to ensure even browning, 10 to 12 minutes. Watch carefully so the croutons do not burn.

Cook the pasta: Bring the water to a rolling boil in a large pot over high heat. Season with the salt and oil. Add the macaroni and let the water return to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium and cover, leaving it slightly cracked to release the steam. Cook until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Drain in a colander and let cool to room temperature in the colander. Meanwhile, make the dressing.

Make the dressing: Place all the ingredients in a medium bowl, season with pepper, and whisk until creamy and smooth.

Transfer the cooled macaroni to a large bowl. Add the avocado, bacon, and onion. Pour the dressing over top and gently fold together until all the ingredients are combined.

Transfer the salad to a large serving bowl or platter. Pile the croutons on top. Lightly drizzle with olive oil or lemon oil to finish, if desired.

Recipe Notes

  • Storage: The salad can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • Make ahead: The dressing, macaroni, and bacon can be made and stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. The croutons can be made and stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

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