Just over a week ago, I spied this year’s first bin of freshly dug potatoes at the Brookline farmers market. Completely disregarding what any onlookers (or farmers) might think of me, I cheered and did a little dance. Yes, over potatoes.
We often think of potatoes in terms of hearty comfort food: golden home fries alongside scrambled eggs and sausage, baked potatoes piled high with onions and sour cream, flavorful morsels lending body to beef stew, crispy salted french fries, aromatic roasted tubers with perfectly browned edges. And I admit that by winter’s end I am usually ready to declare my table a potato-free zone ...for a few weeks.
But the potato cravings reappear soon enough. Not for those heavy winter mashed potatoes, but for a lighter-tasting starchy complement to whatever I have going on the grill. And fresh potatoes, early in the season, are the perfect base for a dish with minimal embellishments. They are earthy, buttery, sweet, aromatic, finely textured—in short, they taste more like potatoes than any storage-bin grocery store potato ever can.
When I know that we’ll be eating everything within minutes of getting it to the table, I’ll brush some half-inch slices with olive oil to cook alongside the chicken or burgers. Done just right, the potato rounds are tender and yielding inside, crispy and barely charred outside. A sprinkle of sea salt as I transfer them to a plate, and you can bet half of them won’t even make it to the table.
But other times I’m looking to plan ahead. Picnics, parties, or just dinner at home after a long day outside: these call for pulling a few things out of the fridge and no more than a few minutes spent fussing with last-minute preparations. Potato salad is an old summer standby, but I have never been a fan of the typical potato salad, heavy with mayonnaise and onions. That’s why I was thrilled when, several years ago, a friend who had offered to bring potato salad to a potluck lunch showed up with a dish that had almost nothing in common with that typical mayonnaise-based concoction—except the potatoes. They were dressed only with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. And they were delicious.
Tinkerer that I am, I have played with the recipe over time. I still like to keep it simple, but I’ve found that a squirt of prepared mustard goes a long way toward keeping the dressing emulsified. Waxy potatoes hold their shape best, and starting them in a pot of cold water promostes even cooking throughout. And a handful of green scallions from the market and a few pinches of dill from my own garden add both zing and color to the bowl, especially against a backdrop of rosy red potato skins.
Lemony Summer Potato Salad
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes, plus at least 2 hours chilling time
- 3 pounds freshly dug red-skinned potatoes (about 6-8 medium potatoes)
- 3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 or 2 lemons)
- about 1/2 tsp spicy brown mustard, or to taste
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 Tbsp flavorful extra virgin olive oil
- 4-6 scallions, green parts only, thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 Tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
Scrub potatoes well, but do not peel. Dice into 1-inch chunks. (You can make larger or smaller pieces as you desire, but try to keep them all around the same size to ensure even cooking.)
Place potato pieces in large pot, and fill with cold water to cover by at least a few inches. Add 1-2 Tbsp salt to the water, cover pot and place on burner set to high. When the water begins to boil, uncover pot and turn heat down to medium-high. Boil potatoes for about 12 minutes (more for larger pieces, less for smaller), or until pieces are easily pierced to the center with a fork. Drain potatoes very well, and let cool for several minutes in the colander (additional moisture will evaporate from the cut surfaces as they cool).
Meanwhile, combine lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk together thoroughly, then add olive oil in a slow stream while whisking mixture continuously. Taste dressing and add more juice, oil or seasonings as desired.
Add well-drained potatoes to bowl and toss gently to coat potatoes with dressing. Add chopped dill and most of the sliced scallions to the bowl and toss again to distribute. Cover potato salad and refrigerate to chill and let flavors mingle, at least two hours.
Remove from refrigerator at least 15 minutes before serving to allow any solidified olive oil to melt. Toss gently to redistribute dressing if necessary. Garnish with reserved sliced scallions.