I’m insecure about ideas. I blame it on education.
Remember in school how it was drilled into our heads to credit ideas? Footnotes, bibliographies and quotes ensured that original ideas were separated from those you learned. This was not friendly acknowledgement of those who had travelled an intellectual path before you, no, this was punitive. Signed ethics statements made it clear this was about fear and cheating.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in offering credit where it is due, but learning is supposed to be about becoming our own thinkers. We should take joy in watching our ideas grow up, move out of the house and go on to live new, exciting lives of their own.
For a long time I struggled with claiming recipes as my own or writing them down. After all, I thought, I knew the inspirations that had created each of them: a flavor combination from Alice Waters, technique from Christopher Kimball. It’s what I’ve learned from Julia Child, Deborah Madison, Rosso and Lukins, Mollie Katzen and my Mom that inspire my cooking. Every pat of butter I add reminds me of Joanne Creelman’s shirred eggs. Every vinaigrette is a testament to Sean Holland.
Crediting inspiration for me has become less about transparency and more about surrounding myself with the company of dear friends: those I know and those I keep close on the book shelf. Every recipe is a team effort, and the joy comes in watching those techniques and discoveries come together right in front of me, then sending them home to be practiced and enjoyed by someone new.
With each new summer cookout, looms the threat that someone is going to show up with those clear plastic containers from the deli counter of potato salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw. Now, rumor has it that these salads actually contain potatoes, macaroni and cabbage, but the protective coating of mayonnaise obscures any possible proof.
Okay, that was a bit of hyperbole, but most summer cookouts abound with rich, grilled meats and sauces, toasted buns and baskets of chips and dip. What I want from my salad is something light and bright to balance the plate, and a gloopy heap of mayonnaise just doesn’t cut it. Enter the “French” potato salad.
Like may other American “French” delicacies like fries, toast and dressing, I’m not sure how french this is, but I think they would approve. Boiled potatoes are tossed, still warm, in a sharp, buttery vinaigrette, with garlic or shallots and fresh herbs. They soak up the dressing and releasing the flavorful oils from the greens; exactly what you want sitting next to your burger, hanger steak or chicken thighs, complete with flawless grill marks.
This is a recipe I served at Eastern Market recently, but experiment throughout the summer. Toss with halved cherry tomatoes and basil, use fresh tasting tarragon and shallots, baby arugula or minced red peppers. But please, I’ll take my potato salad without mayonnaise. and I like my burgers rare.
French Potato Salad with Mint and Garlic Scapes
- 4 cups small potatoes
- 3 tbs mint
- 1/4 cup finely chopped garlic scapes
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa Vinegar*
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup Koroneiko Olive Oil*
*More magical ingredients from Sapore Oil and Vinegar. Champagne or white wine vinegar can replace the Champagne Mimosa. The Koroneiko Olive Oil is Greek. Mild and grassy. Substitute another high-quality olive oil.
- Boil potatoes in salted water until still firm but can be easily pierced through to the center with the tip of a knife. Drain potatoes.
- Meanwhile, mince garlic and mash it into a paste with coarse sea salt. Whisk with Champagne Mimosa Vinegar. Season with pepper. Set aside.
- Mix mint and garlic scapes in a salad bowl.
- Cut warm potatoes in 1” pieces – halved or quartered – and toss with mint and garlic scapes. The heat will release oils in the mint.
- Whisk oil into vinegar mixture in a steady stream until creamy. Toss with potatoes. Dress lightly so not to overpower the other flavors.
- Season to taste with salt, pepper and additional mint.
Gardeners, cooks and farmers share a unique awareness of the changing of the seasons. Crocus and radishes give way to irises and asparagus. Early summers pinks, blues, English peas and sweet cherries change to late summer yellows and oranges, summer squash, sweet corn and tomatoes.
The seasons are changing right now. Farmers at the Market admonish us to enjoy the spring’s last rhubarb and asparagus, while filling the gap with the year’s first tomatoes and squash, helped along with early season cover. They taste richly of the soil they’re grown in, but not yet sweet from the summer sun.
Seasons of eating start with hunger, built over months of waiting. That first spear of asparagus or first ripe tomato is wonderful eaten raw and fresh. Over a six to eight week season your recipes progress from old favorites to new experiments. Finally, when you think you can’t eat another zucchini or ear of corn, they are gone until next year.
Here, then is a celebration of the passing of asparagus. It’s been a wonderful spring for it, although May’s heat led many farmers to end their harvest earlier than usual. Enjoy this salad, simple and fresh, elegant enough for fine dining, quick enough for a Tuesday supper. Until next year.
Asparagus Mimosa Salad
The name of this salad refers to the similarity in appearance between the grated egg and the foamy yellow/white flowers of the Mimosa tree.
- 2 eggs, hardboiled
- 1 pound asparagus
- 2-3 radishes, cut in matchsticks
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa vinegar*
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 3/4 cup Olive oil – the good stuff!
*Another treat from Sapore Oil and Vinegar in DC. You can substitute champagne or a tarragon,white wine vinegar.
- Begin vinaigrette: whisk together shallot, vinegar,mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Peel and finely grate the hardboiled eggs. Set aside. You won’t be able to get the entire egg grated. Pop the larger, leftover pieces in your mouth.
- For a special presentation, line up your asparagus spears and cut them to fit the plates you will be serving this salad on.
- Blanch asparagus in a large boiling pot of salted water for approximately 3 minutes, until crisp tender. Shock in an ice bath.
- Complete vinaigrette by whisking in olive oil in a thin stream. Taste vinaigrette with an asparagus stalk and season to taste with additional salt pepper, oil or vinegar.
- Place asparagus stalks on individual plates, drizzle with vinaigrette, top with radish and egg.
*Thomas Keller takes the tender ends of the asparagus, left over when you trim the spears to the size of your salad plates, and blanches them for about five minutes. Shock them in an ice bath, then puree them in a blender with a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid, salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. That’s the green sauce you see on the bottom in the photograph.
At Easter brunch I was speaking with my friend Amy about the live cooking demos I give at Eastern Market each Saturday. She said, “I love it! I always go to my local farmers market and have no idea what to do with the beautiful food there.” I have the same problem.
Each week I talk to the farmers at the Market and ask “what’s going to be at its prime for next weekend?” I head home with bags of food to think and study. I’ll read through recipes in four or five cook books, search on line and wait for inspiration to hit. What flavor combinations sound most exciting with this ingredient? Are there other fresh ingredients I can use? And, what will be relatively quick and easy?
Some weekends, you walk through the market and the produce just speaks to you. Fresh, young, early season arugula that isn’t too peppery yet. The temptation of early season tomatoes that you know could use a little flavor boost, and a wonderful new fresh tomato infused olive oil that I was introduced to by the folks at Sapore, the new olive oil and vinegar store near the Market. The oil takes April tomatoes and makes them taste like July.
Sometimes the ingredients just come together. And it’s truly magic.
The secret to this rich, bright tomatoey dressing is a combination of grated tomato pulp and the fresh tomato infused olive oil from Sapore*.
- 1 medium tomato
- 1 clove garlic
- 3-4 large basil leaves, cut in thin ribbons
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 3/4 cup Ripe Tomato infused Olive Oil, or other high quality olive oil
- Cut tomato in half, scoop out seeds with your fingers and grate, cut side in, on a box grater. The skin will protect your hand from the sharp grate.
- Mash together garlic with a pinch of salt using the flat side of the knife or the tines of a fork. Sharp, hard crystals of sea salt help shred the garlic.
- Whisk together garlic paste, 1/4 – 1/3 cup tomato pulp, basil and vinegar. Season with black pepper.
- Whisk in olive oil in a thin stream until thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt pepper and more vinegar or oil as desired.
*”You want me to buy an entire bottle of olive oil for one recipe?” Absolutely! First, this dressing is delicious and you’ll make it again and again. Secondly, you’ll want leftover oil to drizzle over your early or late season tomato sauces to give them fresh, summer flavor.
Thanks for asking.
Fennel has a light anise flavor that just tastes so darn fresh. Add crisp sweet apple and sharp radish. Toss with a tart, buttery lemon vinaigrette warmed with floral coriander. It’s a light start to a heavy meal. A bright compliment to a richly sauced main of chicken or pork. It’s an indulgent brunch paired with farm-fresh eggs and good bread spread with rich butter.
Fennel and Apple Salad
Dress this salad lightly to keep the flavors balanced.
- 1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 apple, julienned
- 3-4 radishes, julienned
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- Olive oil – the good stuff!
- Mix together shallot, lemon juice, coriander and mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Toss fennel, apple, radishes and parsley in a large bowl.
- In a steady stream, whisk olive oil into the lemon juice, shallot mixture.
- Lightly dress the salad to taste. Add an extra squeeze of lemon juice or pinch of salt if needed.