I’m not usually the type to make a recipe more than once or twice, even if it’s really great, because there are so many new things to try and I always have a backlog of recipes I want to make. It’s kind of like reading the same book twice… I’ve done it before, but I’d much rather take a chance and read something new!
This potato salad, however, is one of the few recipes which has made it into my permanent repertoire. I think every cook should have a good potato salad up their sleeve, and this is mine (well, one of the permutations of it, anyway). I originally got the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, and have only made a couple tiny modifications. This version calls for walnut oil and Sherry vinegar, mostly because I had recently bought some walnut oil and wanted to use it. Walnut oil is a real treat if you can find it, and pairs very nicely with Sherry vinegar. Once you have the basic method down, the recipe lends itself well to any flavors and variations you’d want to foist upon it. I often play around with the oil and vinegar combos- I’ve made this many times with olive oil & red wine vinegar (which is what the original recipe stipulates), but white wine or champagne vinegar would be good too. Or you could make an autumnal version using walnut oil and apple cider vinegar and put little bits of walnut and apple in the salad (maybe leave out the herbs for that version). I embellished this version of the salad with some walnut pieces, crumbled blue cheese, and bacon on top. It’s also great served on a bed of arugula. (Note: If you do use walnuts, don’t add them until just before serving- if they sit, their skins will stain the potatoes most unattractively.)
2 lbs small thin-skinned potatoes (redskin or yellow will both work), unpeeled, scrubbed, and cut into 1/4″ thick slices
2 tbs salt
1 medium garlic clove, peeled
1 1/2 tbs sherry vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 cup walnut oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small shallot, minced
1 tbs minced fresh parsley
1 tbs minced fresh tarragon
1 tbs minced fresh chives (see notes)
1 tbs minced fresh chervil (see notes)
optional garnishes: walnut pieces, crumbled blue cheese or gorgonzola, bacon…
Notes: When I made this, I only used the tarragon and parsley. For those of you who have herb gardens or unlimited grocery budgets, by all means use the chives and chervil; however, where I live, fresh herbs run at least $2 a package and I’m certainly not suggesting they’re crucial enough to justify that expense. If you’re leaving them out, I would up the parsley and tarragon to 1 1/2 tbs each, though. Spreading the potatoes on the baking sheet may seem like an extra unneccesary step, but it really helps get the dressing much more evenly distributed than just stirring, so you don’t get bland bites of potato with no sauce. Last but not least, in the photo, those are scallions you see… I couldn’t locate the shallot I *knew* was hanging out somewhere in the kitchen, so I improvised. But shallots would definitely be my preference.
Directons: Place the potatoes in a large saucepan with 6 cups cold tap water and the 2 tbs. salt; bring to boil over high heat, then reduce to medium. Lower garlic into the simmering water via a skewer or slotted spoon, and blanch for about 45 seconds. Run the garlic under cold tap water to stop the cooking, and set aside. Continue to simmer potatoes, uncovered, until tender but still firm, about 5 minutes. Drain potatoes, reserving 1/4 cup of their cooking water. Arrange hot potatoes on one or two rimmed baking sheets close together in a single layer.
Mince the garlic or put through a garlic press. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, reserved potato cooking water, garlic, and a few generous grinds of pepper. Taste both potatoes and dressing for salt, adding a little to the dressing if it seems bland. Drizzle the dressing evenly over the warm potatoes and let stand for 10 minutes. You can use this time to mince your shallots and herbs.
Sprinkle the shallots & herbs over the potatoes. Transfer to a serving dish. Mix gently with a rubber spatula to combine. Serve immediately. (The salad is best served slightly warm or at room temperature. If your schedule prohibits serving it right away, remove the salad from the fridge long enough in advance to allow it to come to room temp, and wait to add the herbs until just before serving.) According to Cook’s Illustrated, the salad is safe to sit out unrefrigerated for 2 hours.
And thus continues my homage, my elegy, my song of praise for the humble tomato…
It all started when I was very young. My grandfather on my Dad’s side was a farmer who grew field corn, probably used for things like animal feed, corn oil, and maybe even high-fructose corn syrup, who knows. But I prefer to remember him for the huge vegetable garden that he grew every year. We’d go out to the farm for the day and return home with brown paper sacks brimming with tomatoes, corn, and maybe some zucchini or cucumbers. The tomatoes and corn were the standouts, though; we’d boil up the corn, slather it with butter, dust it with salt and eat it with a big pile of sliced tomatoes. This is still my favorite summer supper, although now I usually add a simple green salad and some good bread to soak up all those tomato juices. I also have fond memories of helping my grandpa out on summer Saturdays at the Charlotte farmers’ market when I was 8 or 9 years old. I don’t know how much he really needed my “help”, but I would bag up the corn for the customers and get paid (I think?) a dollar an hour, money that went to candy purchases or my sticker collection.
It’s been over 20 years since I had one of my grandpa’s tomatoes, so now I have to make do with what I can get from the area farmers. Plotting out the fate of my remaining Eastern Market haul of tomatoes, I came across an unusual-sounding recipe in the Zuni Café Cookbook (one of my favorite cookbooks) for a layered tomato-and-bread ”pudding” that was a riff on the summer berry puddings popular in England. The concept is that you take white bread and berries (or in this case tomatoes), put them in a bowl with a weight on top, and the bread absorbs all the fruit’s juices and becomes compact and sliceable. I’ve never had the berry version, but stale bread and tomatoes seems to be a winning combination (think gazpacho, pappa al pomodoro, panzanella…) so I was game to give it a try.
The pudding turned out to resemble a ”structured” panzanella, tasting very salad-wannabe with its piquant sherry vinaigrette and bits of shallots and herbs. Judy suggests basil, but wanting something a little different I used thyme and rosemary and was pleased with the results. If the idea of soggy bread just doesn’t do it for you, I urge you to try it; you just may become a convert. I thought Judy’s panade (another mushy stale-bread recipe) was odd the first time I tried it, but now make it regularly. For efficiency’s sake, I think in the future I’d just make the more rustic panzanella if cooking for myself, but the layered presentation is certainly prettier if you have guests to impress.
Summer Tomato Pudding à la Judy Rodgers printer-friendly version
about 2 1/2 lbs very ripe tomatoes (if you can get heirlooms, the color variations make for an even more attractive dish)
8 oz. day-old bread, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 cup olive oil
3 tbs sherry vinegar (or sub red wine vinegar)
1 clove garlic
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 a small cucumber (about 3 oz), peeled, seeded and diced
about 1/4 cup minced fresh herbs of your choice
salt and pepper
Preheat the broiler. Put the bread in a single layer on a couple cookie sheets and run under the broiler until lightly browned (on one side only). Cut the garlic clove in half and rub all the toasted surfaces with it. Brush the nontoasted side lightly with water and place in a bag to steam and soften.
Whisk together the oil and vinegar; set aside. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise, place them cut sides down, and slice thinly. Pick out the shoulders and bottom end pieces and chop them. Place them in a mesh strainer, salt them, and squish them through the strainer over the vinaigrette to release their juice; discard. Add any juice that collects on the cutting board to the vinaigrette as well.
Build the pudding in a dish or bowl with a capacity of about 1 1/2 quarts. You’re going to be weighting down the pudding, so choose a dish into which a flat object such as a plate or lid will just fit. Start with a layer of bread, cutting or tearing it so it completely covers the bottom of the dish without overlapping. Continue with a layer of tomatoes, overlapping those very closely like shingles. Sprinkle on some shallots and herbs and a touch of salt and pepper, then drizzle on a few tbs. of the vinaigrette. Add another layer of bread, pressing down to encourage the tomatoes to release their juice. Repeat layers, ending with a layer of tomato. You should have a few spoonfuls of vinaigrette left over; save this, along with any leftover herbs, shallots etc. for garnish. Poke the pudding randomly with a skewer or a meat fork.
Cover with parchment paper or plastic, then place a plate or other flat object on top, and weight it down with cans or whatever you have handy (you’ll want a weight of at least a couple pounds). Set aside at room temperature.
After about an hour, remove the weight and check the pudding by sliding a knife down the side of the dish; the pudding should ooze. Taste the juice. If it seems too dry, drizzle some more vinaigrette over the top and down the sides. Press the pudding again until ready to serve.
To serve, remove the weights, run a knife around the edges, and invert the pudding onto a serving plate, rapping the bottom of the dish if it won’t release. Present whole, and then cut into wedges (I found a serrated knife works best). Garnish with any remaning sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs (or, if you like, a few scattered cherry or grape tomatoes).
When I lived in France, I learned how to make salad dressing (aka la vinaigrette) from scratch, and it was a revelation. Almost any vegetable, raw or cooked, can be dressed with vinaigrette and be so much the better for it (at least in my book). A popular salad on French lunch tables is carottes rapées (that’s grated carrots, not raped carrots, although I once had a French tutor who confused these faux amis during a lesson at her house, asking her husband if he could please rape the cheese for their dinner quiche…) I’ve never been a huge fan of carrot sticks, or of carrot coins in a salad, but grated carrots may as well be a different vegetable entirely. I can eat great big mounds of them, and they are one of the few vegetables I prefer raw.
Here’s an informative blog post by French food maven David Lebovitz on the cultural/ culinary significance of carottes rapées. He also links to his method of preparing them, which is simplicity itself: lemon, parsley, maybe a little olive oil. My crème fraîche version is admittedly a little less “pure”, but I did serve it to a Frenchman once who exclaimed excitedly ”Ah j’adore les carottes rapées!” and promptly ate most of the bowl, so I feel somewhat confident in saying that, although different, my method is still acceptable.
While you can certainly serve this salad on its own, I love to make a first course out of it by mounding it into the center of an avocado. It’s a little more luxurious, and somehow it has a sort of retro appeal. You can either peel the avocados (if they’re the correct ripeness, the skin should easily peel right off) or leave them in their shells and let people scoop out the flesh with a spoon.
salade de carottes rapées en nid d’avocat/ grated carrot salad in an avocado nest
Serves 8 as a first course; adjust measurements for smaller or larger crowds
4 ripe avocados
2 tbs crème fraîche (or substitute 1 tbs sour cream + 1 tbs plain yogurt)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbs olive oil
2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, optional
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
some finely chopped parsley to garnish (I didn’t have any the day the photos were taken, and your salad certainly won’t be ruined without it, although it is a nice touch. If you really like parsley, use more and mix it right in with the carrots.)
Notes: As with almost all salads and salad dressings, I implore you to taste as you go and adjust as necessary- the measurements are intended as guidelines only. If you don’t do dairy, this dressing can easily be made without it; just increase the olive oil and lemon proportionately. Most vinagrettes use a much higher oil to acid ratio, but I find that because carrots are so sweet, they can stand up to a dressing that is quite tart. When everything comes together, it should be well-balanced. Also, if serving with avocados, their fatty blandness balances the extra tartness from the lemons. Don’t fear the sour!
Directions: Make the dressing: in a medium bowl, combine the crème fraîche, mustard, and olive oil; whisk together until well combined. Whisk in the lemon juice until fully incorporated, and season to taste with salt and pepper. If using the garlic, smash the clove and put it in the dressing to infuse.
Peel 4 carrots and grate on a box grater or in the food processor. When ready to serve, fish out the garlic and discard, and toss the carrots in the dressing until fully coated. If serving with the avocados, it’s ok if the salad is a little “over-dressed”, because you need a little extra so the avocado isn’t bland. If you’re just serving the carrots on their own, however, you may want to add a couple more carrots or reduce the quantity of dressing. If you over-dress the salad, or let it sit too long before serving, the carrots will get soggy. (Heaven forbid this should happen, but if it does, take comfort in knowing that pieces of baguette are the perfect vehicle for sopping up the extra juice.)
Halve the avocados, remove the pits, and if they don’t sit still, remove a small sliver on the bottoms so they don’t roll around. Mound the carrots in the hollow, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Man, I feel like Rachel Ray about to post this… ACK! I promise not to use the words “yummo” or “sammie” though (and please feel free to shoot me if I ever do).
Last night I didn’t get home until 9PM- I had worked late and then gone to get groceries afterwards. I needed something fast for dinner and somewhat on the lighter side, since I was eating so late. I had bought some Niman Ranch bacon (pretty much the only bacon I’ll buy anymore after reading this article in Rolling Stone) and a couple bags of greens, and had some little grape tomatoes on hand, so I thought “BLT”- only I didn’t want to eat all that bread. So I took two pieces of bacon, cut them into small pieces and fried them up while I made a mayo-based vinaigrette dressing. I then tossed the dressing with some baby spinach and wild arugula, drained the bacon bits on a paper towel and sprinkled those over the top with the tomatoes. I ate it with a small piece of toast, and it was a perfect meal. I’m sure this idea of BLT salad has been done before, but I so enjoyed my take on it that I thought I’d share anyway. The fact that the main ingredient is leafy greens makes it miles healthier than a BLT sandwich, but yet all the classic flavors are still there. I would actually venture to say that at least to my taste buds, this was much tastier than a BLT sandwich, but then I’m a big salad and greens fan. You could even cut back on the bacon and use only 1 slice, or three slices between two salads.
For the dressing, I didn’t measure, but I’ll try to approximate for you. You won’t usually find me putting mayo in my salad dressings- I usually prefer a “clean”-tasting vinaigrette- but I wanted to approximate that classic BLT flavor, and mayo is pretty integral to that. I made a large-ish individual salad, so adjust amounts if you’re cooking for two, or if you want smaller side salads. In the bowl in which you’re going to toss your greens, put a blob of mayo (about 1 tbs) and a much smaller blob of dijon mustard (maybe 1/2 tsp) and whisk together. Add a small amount of olive oil, about 1/2 to 1 tsp, and stir that in too. Whisk in some red wine vinegar, about 2 tsp. Season with a little salt (not too much- don’t forget your bacon will add salt) and freshly ground pepper. Taste for acidity- I like mine on the acidic side because it cuts through the richness of the bacon, but add a smidge more olive oil (or mayo) if it seems too tart. Toss in your greens (feel free to substitute other types of greens- the spinach-arugula mixture was pretty darn good though) and top with the bacon and tomato. This will make enough to dress a good-sized dinner salad for one. I plated mine for photo purposes; otherwise I would have saved a dish and just eaten it straight out of the bowl!