Ode To The Potato

July 15, 2010

Maybe it has something to do with my Irish roots, but me and potatoes, we’re tight. They have nourished me many times over the past ten years when my wallet has been less than full but my tastebuds still want to be tantalized. Not only is the potato a blank culinary canvas for pretty much anything you have in your kitchen, it is arguably at its best when merely roasted with some olive oil, salt and pepper. And I love it for that.

My love affair was clinched last summer when we grew some red potatoes in our garden, making my Irish ancestors proud. For the faux gardener such as myself, when everything else in your garden looks nothing like the picture on the package of seeds, planting a row of potatoes will make you feel like you actually have a green thumb. You honestly can’t kill the things even if you tried. Go on vacation for ten days and come back to find out that your neighbors had watered once while you were away, no problem, they’re still going strong.

Our experiement of taking an old organic potato, cutting out the eyes (there should really be a more eloquent way of saying that), covering them with dirt and then more dirt as the mounds began to grow, turned into almost 100 potatoes. Like magic. But after the air of satisfaction dissipates and the magnitude of the bounty begins to dawn on you, the looming question remains, what to do with 100 potatoes when you have nowhere to store them?

Well, after you show your niece and nephew the thrill of digging up potatoes from the ground and then tell them they get to keep whatever they find (works like a charm), the next best thing is to throw a potato party. No guest can leave without taking a few home. And after that, when the baskets on your counter are still piled high, well, it’s time to make potato salad.

I’m not one to be initially drawn to a mayonnaise based salad, although I do love a good one with a balanced ratio, much like coleslaw. My favorite recipes tend to be mustard or olive oil based. I LOVE mustard. I’ve recently found myself turning on the dreaded oven just so I can make roasted potatoes with a dijon rosemary blend, even though the kitchen turns into a sauna. But it’s worth it every time. Last year my go-to potato salad was an olive oil, dijon mustard, fresh dill, scallion, green bean and walnut concoction. Mmm, I can taste it now just writing those words. I’ll have to give you the recipe sometime, except I usually just make it up as I go along.

But last night I found this recipe that I had cut out of a cooking magazine ages ago, and wanted to share it with you. If you like lemon, rosemary and bacon, and really, who doesn’t, then you will not be disappointed. It may even become your new favorite. The original recipe calls for pancetta but I had some left over bacon from the farmers market which gave it a delicious smokiness. If you don’t have either on hand or want to make it vegetarian, it would still be quite stellar. Also, I didn’t add the celery because, well, I hate celery. There, I’ve said it. I really don’t want to hate celery, raw celery specifically. I’ve tried numerous times to like it, with peanut butter and various dips, but even ranch dressing can’t hide the sharp bitter flavor that makes my jaw clench as I chew its stringy stalk. But if you don’t hate on celery, then by all means my friend.

Potato Salad With Pancetta, Rosemary and Lemon

Preparation time: about 20 minutes

Cooking time: about 20 minutes (largely unattended)

Serves:8

 

5 ounces 1/8-inch-thick slices pancetta (or bacon)

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (or more to taste, I love lemon)

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary

2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel

1 garlic clove, pressed

About 1/3 cup olive oil

3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (I used red and they were great)

3 large celery stalks, thinly sliced (or not)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

 

1.  Preheat oven to 400. Arrange pancetta slices on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes (do not turn). Drain on paper towels. Cool, then coarsely chop.

2.  Meanwhile, whisk lemon juice, rosemary, lemon peel, and garlic in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

3.  Place potatoes in a large pot. Add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium. Simmer with lid ajar until tender, 18 to 25 minutes. Drain, let stand until cool enough to handle, about 20 minutes.

4.  Cut potatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices (remove skin, if desired). Place in large bowl; add celery (or not). Drizzle dressing over and toss gently to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until cold, at least two hours. (I just let mine come to room temperature).

5.  Sprinkle with pancetta and parsley right before serving. Enjoy!

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