Potato Salad!

I can't get that monster out of my mind.

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POTATOES HAVE BEEN ON MY MIND LATELY in an almost romantic way. (By the time I get to Phoenix, he’ll be boiling. . . )

They always are, but I’ve been thinking about them a lot more than usual, partly because I’ve been writing a little essay about my potato love for another publication and partly because that’s just the kind of person I am.

The essay has no recipes, but my mind won’t stop until I come up with one. So as I was doing my potato reading, I began musing about salady ways to eat them and the many ways other world cultures incorporate potatoes into salad. (Huzarensalade! Sałatka ziemniaczana! Salată orientală! сала́т мимо́за!) We’re going to be making some of those dishes in the salad lab soon.

Meanwhile, we just happen to be at that stage in the Earth’s axial tilt at which food magazines and websites begin their panicked mourning of the end of summer—The tomatoes! The peaches! What will we do without them? Now, all we have to eat until spring is sand and snow and turnips—so it feels like a natural time to move toward potatoes, which grow most of the year where I come from. (By the way, I love turnips.)

Without venturing too far into international potato territory just yet, I did want to branch out beyond typical American potato salad, the kind you find at a diner when you order a sandwich. But I’m not going to give you my mother’s potato salad because my feeling about offering someone your family’s potato salad recipe is that no one is ever going to make.

Even if they ask for it, they’re not going to make it.

Because they think their own family’s is the best. Incidentally, my mother’s potato salad was really something special. She soaked the potatoes in a dressing spiked with a full jar of Durkee famous sauce, and it was loaded with chunks of onion, egg, celery, and the world’s sourest pickles, from the North Carolina pickle maker Mt. Olive, which is headquartered at the corner of Cucumber and Vine in Mount Olive, North Carolina, and was founded in 1926 by a Lebanese immigrant named Shikrey Baddour and his friend George Moore, a sailor, who turned it into a community business that eventually instituted profit sharing—back in 1946.

Also, thinking about potatoes helped me address another one of the Midweek Issue Crowd’s special requests for salads they’d like to see in the coming year. (If you’d like to become part of the Inner Salad Circle, which includes an extra issue midweek, direct access to the salad lab, and other felicities as we see fit, use the green button, below). We also have movie night in my apartment once a month. (Not really; I’d love it, but my apartment is too small and I only have one couch.)

Anyway, someone asked me for salads to pack and carry, presumably to take to the office, sturdy ones that you can stretch out during a week. And frankly, that screams potato salad to me. (Please Note: I absolutely will not go into the whole mayonnaise-will-kill you discussion again, except to say that if you’re toting your work lunchbox to an office in the Sahara Desert, hours and hours away from your house in a car with no air conditioning and there’s no refrigerator at work, don’t make these. I’ll find something else for you. Otherwise, you’ll be fine. Pack a ham sandwich and take a little Tupperware container of either one of these delicious potato salads, and you will be fine. You can also take a separate container of arugula and toss the potato salad with it when you get there, and forget the ham sandwich.)

One of my longtime favorite non-diner potato salads, that I go to again and again, was inspired by/stolen/adapted from the wonderful Laurie Colwin, which I wrote about in this earlier issue.

But for this trip around the potato patch, I wanted something herby, and also something with even stronger, sparkier flavors. I grew up in a family whose potato salad didn’t shy away from contrast and big flavors, as I’ve said, so while I love and will devour most potato salad, for our purposes today I want it to wake me up to the magic of potatoes—meaning how they manage to be a canvas for other flavors and a sponge for our favorite sauces and fats—rather than put me to sleep.

I’m going to give you the herby one today. And midweek, for the Inner Circle (when they all come over to watch Big Night) (not really), we’re going to have that big-flavored salad. All I have to say about it is the boys in the lab like beets. A lot.

When it comes to big flavors, though, this herby one is no shrinking violet. And it’s the perfect party dish.

*Recipe: Potato and Roasted Artichoke Salad with Herbed Parmesan Bread Crumbs and Lemon Garlic Dressing

Serves 4-6

  • 6-8 good size Yukon gold potatoes

  • 1 12-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed (I used Trader Joe’s, which are very good)

  • 1 large or a 3-4 small shallots, sliced into thin circles or half moons, rings separated

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

  • 1 cup mixed herbs (I used what I had: basil, mint, a few sage leaves, some oregano; I wouldn’t use rosemary, and I went easy on the sage)

  • 1 cup cubed stale baguette or other bread (for me, that was about 3 inches of baguette)

  • 2/3 cup grated parmesan (use something decent)

  • 1 cup flat Italian parsley leaves, stems removed

  • 10-12 oil-cured black olives, chopped (you can also use another strong black olive)

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F ( 204°C)

  2. Boil the potatoes, skin on, until fork tender. When cooled, peel and cut in halves or quarters, then slice into 1/4-inch slices. Gently toss with a few tablespoons of the dressing (below), being careful not to break them too much. Set aside.

  3. Meanwhile, in a bowl, gently toss together the artichoke hearts and shallots with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season with a small bit of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread them out on a tinfoil-lined sheet pan and roast until the artichokes begin to brown slightly and the shallots really begin to brown, about 20-25 minutes. Check them occasionally, and move them around to assure even cooking. (Leave the oven on for the bread crumbs; or, bake at the same time.)

  4. Meanwhile meanwhile meanwhile: Place the herbs and baguette cubes in a food processor (I used my trusty bullet blender, the salad maker’s best friend) and process until you have coarse green crumbs. Transfer them to a bowl and toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a few grindings of black pepper. Add the parmesan and toss again to fully incorporate. Spread on a parchment- or Silpat-mat lined sheet pan and bake for 7-10 minutes, until crisped, checking now and again to make sure they don’t burn. After they cool, break them apart with your fingers, since the cheese will make them stick together (and to the foil) a bit.

  5. To assemble the salad: place the potatoes in the center of a serving bowl, encircle with the artichoke hearts, sprinkle attractively with about half of the bread crumbs and the all chopped olives, then add a circle of parsley leaves. Drizzle with more dressing, show it off at the table, then toss and serve.

  6. Or, quite frankly, you can just throw all the ingredients in a big bowl and gently toss. Serve with more dressing and the remaining bread crumbs at the table. It’s delicious no matter how you do it.

For the lemon dressing

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil

  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

  • 1 clove garlic, grated

  • 1 tablespoon honey (you can also use maple syrup)

  • pinch cayenne

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients in a tight fitting jar and shake shake shake until completely emulsified. Taste and adjust seasonings; add more lemon or honey if desired.

THAT’S IT. WE’RE DONE HERE. Midweek, for paid subscribers, we’ll have that second delicious potato bauble (the one with beetss). Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to share the Department of Salad: Official Bulletin with your friends and loved ones who deserve it.

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