Up your picnic, potluck game with this pimiento cheese pasta salad

If death is unavoidable, so is funeral food.

The desire to make food for a grieving family is embedded deep within us, especially if you live in the South, says cookbook author Perre Coleman Magness. The Memphis, Tenn.-based author recently published “The Southern Sympathy Cookbook: Funeral Food with a Twist” (Countryman Press, $22.95), which honors the long-held tradition of bringing food and comfort to people who have lost a loved one.

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In her research, Magness found out that fried chicken is still the granddaddy of funeral foods and that plenty of cooks, however well-intentioned, are still dropping off Jell-O salads for friends in grief. This pimiento cheese salad would be a welcome sight on many potluck tables and picnic blankets, not just a memorial service.

Pimiento Cheese Pasta Salad

I never really thought of pasta salad as a funeral food until I was attending a wedding at a very, very small church in a very, very small Mississippi town. As I was waiting in the vestibule to be ushered down the aisle, I glanced at the church bulletin board and saw a sign-up sheet for the funeral reception of a congregation member. Three people had signed up to bring macaroni salad.

— Perre Coleman Magness

10 strips bacon
1 pound elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons cider vinegar, divided
7 green onions, white and light green parts only
3 tablespoons chopped chives
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 1/2 cups whole buttermilk
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 ounces sharp Cheddar, grated
2 (7-ounce) jars diced pimientos, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup chopped celery (optional)

Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook over medium-high heat until very crispy. Remove to paper towels to drain and reserve 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease.

Cook the macaroni in a large pot of water with 2 tablespoons vinegar, according to the package instructions, until cooked through. Drain the pasta, rinse it with cool water, and drain well again. Return the pasta to the pot and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar and the 2 tablespoons of bacon grease. Stir to coat the pasta well and leave to sit for 15 minutes.

Place 4 of the green onions, the chives and the parsley in a food processor or blender and pulse to chop finely. Add the buttermilk, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper, and blend until smooth and combined. Pour the dressing over the macaroni and stir gently to coat. Add the grated cheese, drained pimientos and cooked bacon and stir to distribute.

Finely chop the remaining green onions and add onions and celery, if using, to the salad, stirring to combine. The dressing will absorb and thicken as it chills, so don’t worry if it looks a little loose. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Cover the salad and refrigerate until chilled. The salad will keep for three days covered and refrigerated. You can stir in a little more buttermilk to loosen the salad up before serving. Serves 10.

— From “The Southern Sympathy Cookbook: Funeral Food with a Twist” by Perre Coleman Magness (Countryman Press, $22.95)