Courtesy Judith Hausman
As I wait patiently for the summer’s first tomatoes, squash and peppers (can eggplant be far behind?), it’s easy to forget that new potatoes are ready to harvest first. My CSA share included 6 pounds of small potatoes last week in white, red and purple.
Generally, I choose grains over potatoes in my cooking, but these little beauties could convert me. Freshly harvested potatoes are thin-skinned and moist. They cook quickly—so pay attention!–and are distinctly flavorful and sweet, compared with larger, older, cured potatoes. So this past Sunday, a lunch I prepared for guests included potato salad.
There are so many ways to make a potato salad: classic American style, with mayonnaise, celery and a splash of pickle juice; German style with vinegar, a little sugar and bacon; Russian style with egg, peas and carrots. Frankly, any of these recipes would have been delicious, given the raw materials, but I chose a French-style preparation for our meal. A classic mustard vinaigrette, some fresh herbs and capers were all these potatoes needed to shine. Because I had them, I added some chopped-up pea pods. A little grated carrot would be pretty, too.
A Winning Vinaigrette
A good vinaigrette depends on quality extra-virgin olive oil in a roughly 3:1 ratio with the vinegar. By simply tasting it while you mix, you can make the adjustments to suit your preferences. I generally keep two grades of olive oil in my pantry: a cheaper one for cooking and a special one for just such salads.
To complete the mustard vinaigrette, I like whole grain mustard, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and wine vinegar. I use white wine or Champagne vinegar to avoid staining the potatoes with red wine vinegar. Still, it will taste great with red wine vinegar or even with balsamic. Some cooks insist on adding a minced shallot or two to the dressing, as well as a few tablespoons of straight white wine (not vinegar) to the potatoes.
Choose Your Herbs
The herbs include in your salad are open to creativity. I had basil and parsley in my deck pots, but dill, mint and chives are tasty complements to potatoes, as well.
Be careful not to overcook the potatoes when preparing this salad. I left the potatoes whole and unpeeled, and set my timer for seven minutes at a time to test them. The largest ones took about 15 minutes in simmering water, and even then, a few of them split open, almost overdone. I rushed them under cold, running water to stop the cooking. I tossed the just-tender potatoes with half the vinaigrette when they were still warm and then refreshed the salad with the other half before serving. This salad tastes best at room temperature—not too too cold.
Yield: 4-6 servings
- 2-3 pounds small, whole new potatoes, scrubbed
- 1/4 cup edible pea pods, chopped (optional)
- 1/2 cup grated carrot (optional)
- 1/2 cup fresh herbs, chopped
- 2-3 T. capers
- 6-8 T. high-quality extra-virgin olive oil
- 2-3 T. white wine vinegar
- 2 tsp. whole grain Dijon mustard
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 shallot, minced (optional)
In pot, barely cover whole potatoes with water, and simmer until just tender, about nine to 15 minutes, checking frequently with a fork.
Meanwhile, beat all vinaigrette ingredients together with a fork or small until emulsified. Taste to adjust seasoning.
Immediately rinse cooked potatoes in cold water. As soon as you can handle them, cut them into large chunks and toss gently with capers, chopped herbs and other vegetables.
Drizzle about half dressing over potatoes and either chill or leave at room temperature. Just before serving, add remaining dressing.