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For most of my childhood, my Mom worked across the street at a convenient store called Tic Toc. When I say across the street, I mean like I would be sitting on the porch with friends late at night and my Mom would wave over on her break. Tic Toc was consistently robbed. They didn't have gas. I think old men just hung out there and played lottery tickets. The Pennsylvania Gambling Control Board has always had a tight grip on things, so at one time there weren't casinos in Pittsburgh. They were real fuckers. Bars were getting fined with regularity for having slot machines. Poker games got tipped off and shut down. Lottery tickets were it. Tic Toc called itself a food mart even though my friend's Dad was only there to gamble his paycheck. Tic Toc was the place I picked up lunch money from my Mom before school. It was where I bought Mountain Dew to drink Stone Cold Steve Austin style with my friends. It was where I got fat as a 10 year old boy.

The deli at Tic Toc was a great partner to the lotto ticket lifestyle. If you were a truck driver or an auctioneer, it was ideal. Hang out, scratch some tickets, don't hit on my Mom, and order from the deli. It wasn't much. The deli only had a few meats and cheeses, chicken wings, and cold salads. They also had a banger pasta salad. Actually, it was more of an antipasta; there was no actual noodle to speak of in the salad. Cheap, clear containers with lids marked with a Sharpie filled with salami, pepperoni, neutral cheese, olives, and canned banana peppers - all marinated in Italian dressing. When I think about every pizza place or deli back in Western Pennsylvania, most things you ordered contained the same two ingredients: Banana peppers and olives. Calzones, pizzas, house salads - they all came with these acidic buddies. They are a great 1-2. They are tart, low maintenance, and easy flavor. They are important to me in that bubble of Western Pennsylvanian, half-hick, Italian-American style of cooking.

So this is that antipasta salad with actual pasta added to it. Get a hunk of salami and pepperoni from the deli cut as thick as the slicer will allow. Same with an aged provolone. Cube them all. Add to cooked rotini. Rotini is the one true pasta for pasta salad. I think it is inexcusable to serve pasta salad with a cold, long noodle. I've seen pasta salads with linguine and broccoli and carrots and I can assure you those people are now outcasts. Pasta salad is for picnics. Asking anybody to do anything but shovel food into their mouth is bad form. Get your shit together and buy some rotini. Also, use jarred banana peppers and olives. Never mayonnaise. I'm a mayonnaise head, but it belongs nowhere near pasta. Most of my aunts back home will add bottles of Italian dressing to their salad. I can't stress enough how easy it is to make your own dressing. 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar and go nuts. Add basil, oregano, Dijon mustard, garlic - literally whatever you want. Speaking of ratios, Michael Ruhlman's Ratio is the best cookbook on the planet and if you have any remote interest in being a home cook, get it. It is a book that will teach you how to cook and experiment without rigid recipes. 

Wow Aunt Karen I can't believe you actually made something good!

Wow Aunt Karen I can't believe you actually made something good!