French Purple Potato Salad, with pancetta, mustard, and thyme
I like doing things that don’t exactly break with tradition, but are just ever so slightly different. And therefore, special. Just a little bit of thought can change the same ol’ same ol’ to a showstopper.
Enter potato salad. I love nothing more than to head to the deli counter and buy the traditional stuff full of mayo and onion and gherkins. But French potato salad is a bit different. It’s mustard- and vinaigrette-based, rather than built on mayo, and usually involves a little bacon. How can that be bad?
So, when I saw a bag of purple potatoes for sale at the supermarket for a buck fifty, I thought, now is the time to make showstopper potato salad. It starts with crispy pancetta, and a vinaigrette made from the pancetta drippings, olive oil, white wine vinegar, and spicy Dijon mustard. Added to that is the sharp zing of fresh shallot, and the earthy, grassy flavors of fresh thyme and parsley. In the warm vinaigrette bath I plunge my hot purple potatoes. I toss them and let them sit and toss them again, until they have little drunk up all the pancetta and vinaigrette and mustard into themselves. Serve them room temperature, and you will never, for better or worse, be tempted by the deli counter again. It is the best potato salad I’ve ever had. Suddenly, the humble potato has reached its fully Versailles potential. Plus, no mayo to go off at a picnic. The French think of everything…
Excerpted from my weekly column Franglais on The Huffington Post.
French Purple Potato Salad
serves 4 to 6
2 ¾ pounds purple potatoes, halved or quartered
¼ pound cubed pancetta
10 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Put the potatoes in a big stockpot and cover with water by at least 2 inches. Season with salt, cover, and cook over high heat until just tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. In a wide sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat. When it shimmers, add the pancetta, and cook for 3 minutes. Set the pot aside, and the pancetta will continue to crisp while it cools.
Once the pancetta is cooled, add the remaining olive oil, vinegar, mustard, shallots, thyme, parsley, salt, and pepper. Whisk until emulsified.
Drain the potatoes, and put back in their big hot stockpot. Pour the vinaigrette over the hot potatoes, and gently toss to coat. Allow to sit, tossing every now and again, until completely room temperature. The potatoes will suck up the dressing. Serve at room temperature.
My mother has been making these peas my entire life. They are one of the dishes I call home ahead about. “Mom, I’m coming home next week. Will you make your peas and onions?” I’m not sure why she makes them. They’re not particularly French. Or complicated. But they are special–soft, sweet, savory. Remarkable.
Turmeric doesn’t often stand alone. It’s the cheap color substitute for saffron, or one in many ingredients in a curry. It’s rarely special and remarkable. But in these peas, it’s the main flavor, the headliner. That smell like toasting earth, intense as its color. Toasted in olive oil, mixed together with peas and sweet, soft onions. That’s the dish. Serve with baguette, and you’ll be a turmeric convert.
Heat the oil in a wide, high-sided sauté pan over high heat. Add the onions, and sauté until soft, stirring often for up to 10 minutes. Add the turmeric, and stir into the onions. Add the peas, and season with salt. Cover with a lid and cook, stirring occasionally, on medium-high to high heat, for 40 minutes. Serve with baguette.
Niçoise Panzanella Bread Salad, with black olives, green beans, cherry tomatoes, anchovies, tuna, herbs, lemons, and BREAD!
Some people say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Don’t reinvent a classic–it’s a classic because it’s perfect as is. Which, is true. But even though this panzanella is something of a reinvented Salade Niçoise or Pan Bagnat, I’m not reinventing it to improve it, but so I can find more ways to eat it because I love it.
Salade Niçoise is iconic, as is the Pan Bagnat which is just a Salade Niçoise sandwich. This is somewhere in the middle: a bread salad full of all the flavors that make a Salade Niçoise a Salade Niçoise: cherry tomatoes, tender blanched haricots verts, anchovies, garlic, lemon, olive oil, thyme, basil, and the best part–albacore in olive oil. All tossed with toasted, crusted cubes of bread that soak up all the flavor and make it a meal. It’s salty, fresh, crisp, and bright.
So like I said, this is one more way to eat your Salade Niçoise. And who doesn’t want that?
7 ounces haricots verts, halved and blanched until tender crisp
45 cherry tomatoes, halved
30 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
12 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained and roughly chopped
1 cup baby arugula, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
1 5-ounce can of albacore in olive oil, drained
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and toast until just golden brown, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking together the lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, thyme, and salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, toss together the haricots verts, cherry tomatoes, olives, anchovies, arugula, basil, parsley, and the lemon-thyme vinaigrette. Then, add the tuna and bread croutons to the bowl, and gently toss until everything is combined. Let sit on the counter for at least 20 minutes before serving.
This is one of my favorite dishes of all time. I got a ton of friends and readers telling me that they loved the Cheapskate Spaghetti. This is like Cheapskate Spaghetti–goes to Japan.
I was at the restaurant Basta Pasta in New York with three of my best friends. I seem to have been the last person on earth to go there, but I’d been hearing about the place for years because they do one of those hot pasta dishes tossed in a hollow Parmesan wheel. And those are always a show stopper. But I didn’t realize that the point of the whole place is this Japanese Italian fusion. And before you judge pasta with sea urchin in a pink sauce, let me just tell you it is heart stopping–so special and different and wonderful and complex.
This pasta, Spaghetti with Tobiko and Herbs, is based on the pasta I had a Basta Pasta that night: spaghetti tossed with tobiko (flying fish eggs, like on the outside of your California Roll) and shiso, a Japanese herb that falls somewhere between mint and basil. I know, it sounds coo coo for Coco Puffs crazy. But it is kind of like a much more delicate, sweeter, fresher version of spaghetti with clam sauce. The fish row bursts ever so slightly in your mouth, and has that unmitigated flavor of the sea. The shiso (or in our case, the mint and basil) counters it with a tremendous garden freshness. And the easy butter sauce is so simple and elegant and good. Good thing I asked the waiter what was in it! Honestly, I can’t stop making this dish. It’s weird, but that’s what makes it special. And the fact that it’s even cheaper and easier than everyone’s favorite Cheapskate Pasta–well, that just speaks volumes. You have to try this. You won’t be able to stop eating it, and no one will be able to believe that you made it!
Spaghetti with Tobiko and Herbs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound spaghetti rigati (recommended: Barilla)*
½ cup clam juice
⅓ cup tobiko (flying fish roe) or masago**
⅓ cup chiffonade of shiso (or mint and basil)***
Dice the butter, and put it back in the fridge.
Cook the spaghetti in very well salted boiling water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water before draining.
Add the clam juice and reserved pasta water to the empty pasta pot over high heat. Once the mixture comes to a boil, whisk in the butter, 1 cube at a time, until they are all dissolved into the sauce. Take the pot off the heat, and toss the pasta with the sauce. Taste for seasoning, and add salt if you want it.
You can either divvy the pasta up between 4 bowls, and divide the tobiko and herbs on top of the bowls of pasta; or you can toss the tobiko and herbs with the pasta in the pot. Either way, serve right away!
*I like the spaghetti rigati because each strand holds the sauce and tobiko to it. But if you can’t find it, just use regular spaghetti, like Basta Pasta does.
**This is those tiny orange fish eggs on the outside of sushi. I buy it for $1.89 for ⅓ cup at a local Asian market, in the freezer section. You can also try your local sushi restaurant, or the sushi counter at your supermarket.
***Shiso is an Asian herb that I can’t find. So I use a mixture of 10 basil leaves and 20 mint leaves.
The first thing that hits me about celeriac is the smell. It’s like the forest floor and a cabbage patch and a grassy field all at once. It is so intensely vegetal. And let’s face it: few vegetables can tread the line between root vegetable and garden vegetable with such success. It has the bulk and heartiness of the likes of a potato, but the lightness and brightness of a very mild celery. It’s gorgeous. And because so few people really eat or make it in the States, it’s that smell that immediately takes me to France, and makes me feel like I’m having something ever so special.
This soup was inspired by a Vichyssoise, if you consider a Vichyssoise to be a thick soup of root vegetable and onion, rather than exclusively potato and leek. The soup is simply celeriac, caramelized shallots, thyme, and vegetable broth, simmered and blended together until it’s thick and creamy, even though there’s not a drop of cream. In the age old French tradition of stirring grated cheese into hot soups, I serve it with a mound of grated Gruyère to be melted and stirred into the thick and steaming soup. The result is a hearty soup with the lightness and smell of a garden, punctuated by the slight sweetness of the caramelized shallots and the earthiness of thyme. The Gruyère does magical things, adding that salty nuttiness that I love, and oozing into the soup. If you make one soup this fall, it has to be this one!
In a large stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat until frothy. Add the shallots, and cook on medium-low to medium heat until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Keep a cup of water on the side, and add a splash every few minutes to keep the shallots from burning before they are caramelized.
Add the potatoes, celery root, thyme, salt, pepper, and vegetable broth, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, and reduce the heat to medium-low, simmering for 30 minutes. Add the contents of the pot to a blender, and carefully purée until smooth. Serve very hot, with a big pile of coarsely grated Gruyère to pile on top and melt into the soup.
Maybe I say this every month. It’s very possible. But Chipotle has been my absolute favorite Secret Ingredient to date. Which may be why I’m doing five recipes instead of the usual three.
Chipotles are smoked jalapenos. But, they are somewhat different than the usual jalapeno you’d buy at the store. Green jalapenos are picked when the pepper is slightly unripe. Like bell peppers, the longer a jalapeno stays on the vine, the more its color deepens from green to red. So jalapenos meant for chipotles are left on the vine until they become deep red in color, then dry a bit, and are finally harvested. Once they are harvested, they are smoked over a period of days until they are quite dry, like a prune. Then, they go on to many different forms, the one I prefer being canned chipotle in adobo, where the peppers are packed and rehydrated in a vinegar-based sauce with onions and flavorings, that becomes a secret ingredient all on its own.
Chipotles can be used in all sorts of complicated dishes, slow cooking with pork, or co-chairing a fantastic guacamole with avocados. But one simple preparation that I often see on haute-casual brunch menus is chipotle ketchup, served simply with fries. The smoky, earthy spiciness of the chipotles add a great kick to the ketchup, but the adobo, with its similar spices and vinegar content to ketchup just kicks the whole thing up, while still staying in the vein of the original ketchup. The result is something seamless that simply works.
Sometimes, for this column, I have a very distinct thing that I want to do. Like, Celeriac Remoulade. And then I pace and puff and pout my way around a supermarket, hunting for the celery roots that are never going to be found, because they’re not in season. This week, I did as the French do (probably very appropriate given the nature of this column), and just wandered the produce aisle, looking for something to strike my fancy. And I found them, baby leeks. They’ve been so trendy for so long, which is something you don’t say everyday. So, I figured, let’s give them a whirl.
My flavor inspiration came from Thanksgiving stuffing, the onion and thyme action with a salty bite. I do a quick blanch on the leeks, and then toss them with olive oil and whole thyme leaves and a bit of nutty Parmesan, and then put them into a hot oven to have everything crisp and crumble into each other. The result is such a beautiful, unusual side dish, full of soft, mellow onion flavor, and charred, woodsy strands of thyme, and nutty, salty Parmesan. Hey, ’tis the season. Might as well get with the times.
6 ounces baby leeks, tips and dark greens trimmed away
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup water
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
10 small sprigs thyme
1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Halve the leeks lengthwise. Place the butter and water and salt in a sauté pan over high heat. Add the leeks in a single layer, and place the lid askew over the pot. Cook until the water has just evaporate, about 7 minutes.
Gently toss the leeks with the olive oil and add the whole thyme sprigs. Roast in the oven until just slightly golden, about 3 minutes. Scatter the Parmesan over the leeks, and return to the oven for 1 minute more. Serve on the side, or on top, of chicken or fish.