Here we are, just days away from one of our biggest national holidays, and we're all likely wondering how we're going to handle it. Usually there are reunions, picnics, neighborhood get-togethers, and fireworks, but those may be put on hold, or reduced drastically in size.

There's one thing we can count on, however, and that's what we'll be eating — ribs, burgers, brats, hot dogs, barbecue, all on the grill. Then there will be salads — the usual assortment of potato, fruit and pasta.

There's not a lot of variation in potato salads, but over the years, pasta salads have come into their own. You might categorize them into two kinds: macaroni salads and pasta salads. The difference is in the dressings — one creamier, the other a vinaigrette.

Interestingly, while we have the Italians to thank for pasta, pasta salads are our invention, starting with the macaroni version. Recipes for macaroni salad started showing up in 1914. Then, it was served on lettuce leaves, molded like Jell-O, or mixed with tuna. The first cook to put one together is a mystery, but potato salad may have been the inspiration, since mayonnaise dishes were popular during that era. It was also a handy — and cheap — way to use up leftover macaroni.

As years went by, its popularity grew, and it became a standard in church cookbooks, as well as in cookbooks such as "Joy of Cooking," "Betty Crocker" and "The Silver Palate." By the 1960s, macaroni salads had also become part of the convenience-food landscape and are still one of the most-sold items in delis.

When we say "macaroni," most of us think of that small, half-circle, hollow, tube-like pasta. It's definitely the most popular, but other macaroni include rigatoni, penne, rotini and cavatappi. What these all have in common are nooks or ridges that can hold dressings (or sauces if served hot).

As the basis for a salad, they are versatile and welcome all sorts of additional ingredients. The mayonnaise version can take peas, corn, ham, tuna, celery, a little pesto, onion and capers, for starters. The vinaigrette also welcomes color and crunch, like green and red peppers, celery, asparagus, any par-boiled or even grilled vegetable.

A big bonus is that these salads can be made a day ahead and only improve in flavor. They are also easy to transport. If you're going a distance, put them in a cooler. There are those who aren't fans of these, but let it be known macaroni salad is a favorite of Alice Waters, the Pioneer Woman, Yotam Ottolenghi, and me.

Easy Macaroni Salad

2 cups elbow macaroni, cooked and drained

1/3 cup celery, chopped

1/4 cup red onion, minced

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

1/2 cup tomato, diced (optional)

1/2 cup mayonnaise

3/4 teaspoon dry mustard

2 teaspoons sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar

3 tablespoons sour cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pepper

In a bowl, combine the macaroni, celery, onion, parsley and tomato. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, dry mustard, sugar, sour cream, salt and pepper. Add to the macaroni and gently stir. Season to taste.

Cover and store in refrigerator. For additional taste, crunch and color, you can add peas or green and red pepper. Mayo can be replaced with Miracle Whip.

Summer Pasta Salad

1/2 pound rotini pasta, cooked, drained and cooled

2 ripe tomatoes, medium-diced

3/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and diced

1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, medium-diced

5 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped

Place the pasta in a bowl and add the tomatoes, olives, cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.

Dressing:

5 sun-dried tomatoes

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 garlic clove, diced

1 teaspoon capers, drained

2 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

Place dressing ingredients in a food processor and whirl until almost smooth.

Pour over the pasta and mix gently. Just before serving, mix in 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup julienned basil.

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.