No matter what the variety or color, when a potato is harvested in its tuber infancy, it becomes a new potato. New potatoes are low in starch, high in sugars, and range in size from golf ball to marble. They have an incomparably smooth but firm texture and a skin so thin it may be missing in spots. Found only in backyard gardens and farmers markets, new potatoes represent one of summer’s fleeting joys.
My favorite way to showcase the new potato’s subtle flavor and creamy texture is to serve it in a salad…but not one of those sloppy American mayonnaise-y sorts of salads that you find in the deli aisle at the Piggly Wiggly. That would mask rather than enhance the potato’s flavor. Besides, too many people have an absolute aversion to mayonnaise stemming from a childhood experience like finding out too late that grandma used mayonnaise not Cool Whip in a Jell-O salad. I have my own aversions. While I love mayonnaise any other time, added to potatoes it represents for me a major public health menace. As a student, I read one too many textbooks that used church potluck potato salad as the source of a food poisoning outbreak to illustrate the terms and tools of epidemiology. No thank you.
French potatoes salad, thankfully, eliminates all of those bad associations while taking advantage of foods from the early part of summer-—herbs, fresh spring onions, and new potatoes. This vinaigrette is on the tangy side which enhances the flavor and texture of mild, creamy new potatoes. Small waxy potato varieties make a suitable substitute.
Selection & Storage: Potatoes should be firm and should have no green skin or sprouts on them. Green on a potato indicates sun exposure and the presence of a poison. DON’T EAT THE GREEN SPOTS—CUT THEM OUT. Store new potatoes in a cool, dark place away from the onions. I find a cardboard box, a burlap sack, or a paper bag on the pantry floor works well—dry, breathable material wicks moisture away. Spread them out as much as possible and remove any bad one immediately. Do not store them in the refrigerator as they become oddly sweet and may even turn black.
Preparations: New potatoes are easy to cook whole because of their small size. You do not need to remove the skin of the new potato because it is so thin. After boiling they will easily peel off when rubbed. They are delicious when boiled (10 – 20 minutes simmer time), creamed, or pan-roasted (drizzle in oil and roasted at 375◦ F for 25 – 35 min). They keep their shape well when cooked and cut, making them ideal for salads.
Cooking with Kids: Herbs are a major part of my postage stamp garden. Most are low maintenance perennials. The kids know the name and flavor of every herb in our garden. They sample them regularly and are in charge of harvesting them. I keep a small pair of scissors in the kitchen just for this purpose. Even if space is limited or you have black instead of green thumbs, try planting a container of herbs or placing a few in your landscaping. Herbs grow like weeds generally speaking. Moreover, they cost a fortune at the store and spoil quickly, so you’ll save money on groceries. In this recipe, I have the kids measure and shake the vinaigrette in a mason jar while I boil the potatoes.
- 2 lbs. new or waxy potatoes
- ¼ cup white or red wine vinegar
- 2 t Dijon mustard
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- 1 small spring onion or shallot, mince
- ¼ cup mix chopped herbs—thyme, tarragon, chives or parsley
- ½ t salt
- ¼ t pepper
- 1 or 2 pinches of sugar
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Place washed but unpeeled new potatoes in a large pot with enough water to cover them. Salt water if desired. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer. Simmer until tender—10 to 20 minutes depending on the size, drain and quarter if desired.
- In a large bowl whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, onion, herbs, salt, sugar and pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until completely combined. Toss with the warm potatoes. Serve warm, room temperature or cold.