Thursday, April 22, 2010

Potato Salad: Why Not Think Pink

Maybe it's the fact that the temperature hit 90 degrees on Easter. Or that it seems I haven't needed a coat in weeks. Or that our chive plants in Portsmouth were flourishing in March.
Whatever the reason, I had a hankering for that old summer picnic standby, potato salad.

The night before, we'd rotisseried a couple of chickens outside on our Weber grill -- so there was cold chicken in the fridge. And we'd spent the morning at one of the last of the Seacoast Winter Farmers' Markets, so we had fresh greens from Heron Pond Farm for a salad. What could be a better accompaniment to an April alfresco lunch on the deck than a homemade potato salad? There was only one hitch: I knew the potatoes we had on hand were Adirondack Reds, the pink-fleshed relatives of the blue potatoes I wrote about last time. I wondered: could potato salad be pink?

The answer would probably have been "no" if I'd been thinking about the traditional American mayonnaise-based version. But I'd spent the past year or so trying to replicate the potato salad from Karl's Sausage Kitchen on Route 1 in Saugus, which with its vinegary, oniony taste, is my current gold standard. Sure, I could probably ask Karl's for their recipe, but then I'd miss all the fun of trying to figure it out myself.

Here's what I've come up with so far: first, onions should be minced, not chopped. Second, in order to get as much flavor into the potatoes as possible, I sprinkle a healthy amount of salt into the cooking water. (Is there such a thing as a healthy amount of salt?) Third, as soon as the potatoes can be handled after cooking, I slice them (leaving the skins on, because there are lots of nutrients there) and put them into some champagne or white wine vinegar, mixed with a little white wine. If I've minced the onions in the food processor, which I usually do for this, I also pour in the onion juice, frequently adding a little prepared horseradish as well. You'll have to rely on taste here, rather than a recipe, as much will depend on how pungent the onions are as well as the sharpness/sweetness of your vinegar. 

The hot potatoes will absorb this mixture, so once things have cooled down a bit, I give it all a taste -- this will help me decide how to make my viniagrette dressing. Are things too puckery bitter? I may want to add a little sugar. Too bland? Maybe a little dijon mustard, another pinch of salt, and some more horseradish. Once those decisions are made, I add the onions, dress the potatoes with a bit of my viniagrette, to which I've added only enough oil to give it body, plus a few twists of freshly ground pepper, and a big handful of those chives that started it all. 

You can eat this potato salad warm or cold, but I like it chilled just a little bit, so the flavors have time to meld. Now, don't you agree: there's nothing like pink potato salad served with cold chicken on a plate of greens to make you think summer. 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Three Cheers for the Greens and Blue

I always want to enjoy springy tastes for Easter dinner, even when the weather is cold and dreary. That was even more true this past Easter, when the temperature hovered around 80 degrees F.  For instance, while I know that asparagus season doesn't happen until June in New England, Easter without roasted asparagus topped with grated Meyer lemon peel just wouldn't be same. (I feel  the same way about the dark chocolate-covered coconut and peanut butter Easter eggs made by the Women's Guild of Schwarzwald United Church of Christ in Jacksonwald, Pa, which thankfully, my brother Glenn sends us every year.)

Fortunately, local lamb and soup made with local celeriac was on the menu. We had some potatoes left over from our winter CSA and I thought briefly about roasting them, but I wanted something a little more "green" and fancy. I'd seen a recipe for a Greens and Potato gratin in the New York Times a while back. It was so tempting, it had been like money burning a hole in my pocket, as my grandmother used to say. (The recipe is part of Martha Rose Shulman's ongoing series of Recipes for Health, which I check out faithfully week after week because she's given me so many great ideas.) One thing I like about this gratin is that it's mostly greens, with just a few potatoes to give it some substance. Also, it's made with low-fat milk, instead of cream, like so many gratins are.

When we checked out our potatoes, we got a bit of a surprise. These were not ordinary potatoes, but Adirondack Blues, with a beautiful bluish purple  skin and flesh that doesn't fade when cooked. (This hybrid was bred by Cornell University potato breeder Walter De Jong in 2003; the skin and flesh have a high level of antioxidants and wonderful rich, nutty taste.) Just the thing to make a greens and potato gratin even more fancy!

While the recipe called for chard, beet greens or kale, we used arugula because we wanted it to have a more spicy flavor. The result was a colorful, delicious treat that I know will be on our table more than once a year at Easter.

Greens and Potato Gratin

Martha Rose Shulman

New York Times, March 8, 2010

This nourishing gratin makes a great vegetarian main dish. In addition to all of those nutrients provided by the greens, you’ll get lots of Bvitamins, vitamin C and potassium from the potatoes.

2 to 2 1/2 pounds greens (such as chard, beet greens or kale), stemmed and cleaned
3/4 pound small potatoes (such as baby Yukon Gold or new potatoes)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
3 large eggs
3/4 cup low-fat milk
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (1/2 cup, tightly packed)
1 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Oil a 2-quart gratin or baking dish. Place the potatoes and salt to taste in a large pot of water (you’ll be cooking the greens in the same water), and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover partially and boil the potatoes until tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, stem the greens and wash the leaves thoroughly, making sure to remove all sand.

2. When the potatoes are done, remove from the water and set aside until cool enough to handle, then cut in 1/2-inch slices. Bring the water back to a rolling boil, and add the greens. Blanch for about two minutes (three or four minutes for kale) until just tender. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon or deep-fry skimmer, and transfer immediately to a bowl of cold water. Drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop coarsely and set aside.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Stir in the greens, potatoes and parsley, and gently toss together. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.

4. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and milk. Stir in the Gruyère and Parmesan, and add more salt and pepper. Combine everything thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasonings. Scrape into the gratin dish. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the top, and place in the oven. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until lightly browned on the top. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: Serves six.

Advance preparation: This keeps well for about three days in the refrigerator. You can reheat in a medium oven or serve at room temperature. You can make the dish through step 3 up to a day ahead.