Small, Good Things: It’s So Easy Being Green

By Joe Dizney

A recent trip to Adams Fairacre Farms in Wappinger uncovered bags of almost marble-sized red new potatoes begging to become the base of a spring salad. My culinary confidante and shopping companion, Z, suggested a Ligurian version of potatoes, green beans and pesto, but a bin of perfect softball-sized globe artichokes was too good to pass up — as were the first of the shell peas I’d seen this season.

A stop at Vera’s Marketplace on Route 9 in Philipstown on the way home uncovered asparagus, which I also find hard to pass up, and a few fava beans, a little early but at a reasonable price.

To most Americans, potato salad is made with a rich mayonnaise dressing, eggs and pickles. While Z’s suggested Ligurian version is tasty, fresh and healthy, I had something even lighter in mind.

Admittedly, German cooking is in no way considered light, but there is a technique used in German potato salad — dousing the warm potatoes with vinegar or dressing so that they absorb a bit before you add the remainder of the ingredients — that makes sense.

Spring Potato Salad (Photo by J. Dizney)

Rather than use straight vinegar, which could be a bit too assertive, I followed a more Mediterranean spirit and split the dose between lemon juice and white-wine vinegar and a healthy amount of extra-virgin olive oil. The latter harmonizes with the green vegetables as well as the tarragon and mint I imagined as herbal high notes.

Your salad might be very different: substitute snowpeas, fennel or spring onions. Notice what’s local and fresh and makes sense to you. Even the red new potatoes are negotiable — small Yukon Golds or fingerlings will work. I found myself imagining the addition of Jerusalem artichokes instead of globe artichokes. The herbal top notes are equally flexible depending on what you have on hand or desire and what your accompaniments are.

Almost anything goes. The dressing will hold it together. Just keep it in — and don’t forget to enjoy — the season.

Spring Potato Salad

Serves 4 to 6

1½ pound small (1 to 1½-inch diameter) new red potatoes (cut to size before boiling)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Tips from one bunch asparagus (slice and reserve stalks for an omelet or stir-fry)
1 cup shelled peas (about 1 pound in the pod)
1 cup shelled, blanched and peeled fava beans (about 1 pound in the pod)
1 small bunch scallions, white and green parts thin-sliced on the bias
(Optional: 3 to 4 globe artichoke hearts, blanched, cooled and diced large)
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped mint

Boil the potatoes, covered, in a pot of generously salted water for 10 to 12 minutes. While they boil, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice, adding salt and pepper to taste. When the potatoes are done, drain them and toss the warm potatoes, minced garlic and olive oil dressing in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to cool.

Prepare an ice water bath. Blanch the asparagus tips, shelled peas and peeled fava beans for 2 to 3 minutes in a pot of solidly boiling salted water, drain and immediately plunge into ice water bath. When cool, drain thoroughly and reserve.

When the potatoes are completely cool, add the blanched vegetables and scallions and toss lightly to mix. Add more oil if dry and adjust salt and pepper. Just before serving, add tarragon and mint and toss again. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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