This article appears in the July 2011 issue of LouisvilleMagazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
On more occasions in the past year than I care to ponder, a server has described a restaurant’s house potato salad as “not your grandmother’s potato salad.” I’ve even seen the phrase printed on menus, and not just in this town.
First of all, people the world over need to cut out this phraseology: not your father’s beer; not your granddaddy’s jazz; not your aunt’s angel food cake. There is even a line of casual wear called Not Your Daughter’s Jeans. Let it go, marketers. It’s gimmicky. And it was stale five years ago.
Not only that, but in every case the potato salad on offer has in fact not been anywhere near as simple and delicious as my grandmother’s potato salad, which I have written about in this column.
But if my grandmother were alive, I’ll bet she’d have been more than eager to try the potato salad below. I’m pretty sure she would even have been willing to make it, if she could still stand at the kitchen counter at age 110. Some grandmothers are just that way — they like to try new things, especially if it involves using ingredients from their own gardens.
The original version of this recipe came from my friend Susan, who subscribes to Vegetarian Times, which is no longer your ex-hippie’s Vegetarian Times. Ha, ha. Seriously, some readers may be old and alterna enough to remember when Vegetarian Times was one Californian man’s four-page pamphlet. He put it together after trying unsuccessfully for months to sell an article entitled “Being a Vegetarian Is Never Having to Say You’re Sorry — to a Cow.” The mainstream publications weren’t buying. Big mistake.
Vegetarian Times now has both an Internet presence and print-circulation numbers to rival those of the most sought-after food and entertainment magazines. Right now it seems to make more sense than ever. The entire nation has gone mad for meat. I’m starting to feel beaten down by all of the pork belly tacos and lardo-smeared bruschetta on menus from Chicago to Baton Rouge. Please, chefs! Remember the people who love the bounty of the greenery.
Well, at least home cooks can do so. I haven’t changed much about the original recipe except that it called for red new potatoes, while I think the dish both tastes and looks better with gold fingerling potatoes. It’s also an extra adventure in color if you do a combo of purple and gold fingerlings. These potatoes are all over the farmers’ markets as well as in many smaller groceries during the height of summer.
When the dwarf tomatoes start rolling in, you may find yourself wanting to use a variety of cherry, pear and grape tomatoes to create an even more stunning color effect.
But the bottom line is taste. This dish is such a pleasing mixture of warm and cool ingredients, both literally and figuratively. For extra-cool crunchiness, in addition to green beans (haricots vert work best), you can slip in some sugar snap peas. I also recommend experimenting with different nuts in the pesto mixture. However you serve it up, it will be the hit of any picnic or deck party. Even your grandmother will scarf it up.
The Recipe - Warm Potato Salad with Early Summer Vegetables and Herbs
Ingredients for the Pesto
1½ cups packed baby arugula
¾ cup packed baby spinach
¾ cup packed fresh basil
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup toasted walnut pieces
The juice of a half lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
Ingredients for the Potato Salad
1½ pounds gold fingerling potatoes, halved
3 cups small fresh green beans, trimmed
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ large fennel bulb, thinly sliced (2 cups)
1 large shallot, thinly sliced (⅓ cup)
3 tablespoons diced sun-dried tomatoes
⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¾ cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
To make the pesto:
Purée one cup of the arugula, ½ cup of the spinach, the basil, garlic and walnut pieces in a food processor until smooth. Add the remaining arugula and spinach and pulse until smooth. With the machine still running, pour in the lemon juice and oil and blend until combined. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
To make the potato salad:
Cook the potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Add the green beans and cook three to five minutes more. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Cover to keep warm.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the fennel and shallot in the oil for 10 minutes, or until browned. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and red pepper flakes and sauté three to four minutes more.
Toss the pesto and fennel mixture with the potatoes and green beans. Garnish with the tomatoes and leftover arugula and basil leaves and serve. Serves eight.