POTATOES AND POOR PETER COTTONTAIL
April 14, 2017
Sunday is Easter. Another holiday dinner. Ham, lamb, turkey or beef, whatever you choose, there will be lots of it and usually as many accompaniments as there are friends and family members at the table. Spring is here, and my Grandma Margaret used to serve Easter picnic in her award winning back yard. A fantastic gardener, she would have called a landscape architect these days. Her yard had fish ponds and fountains, miniature gardens, ranunculus and bougainvillea, succulents, ferns, avocados, citrus, and loquats. We lived in Santa Barbara, California with a year-long growing season.
Margaret was also a great cook. She would bake a ham at Easter and serve it with chile rellenos and an assortment of salads; macaroni, cold bean, stuffed avocados, individual lettuce, tomato and cucumber with a dressing she would mix by just pouring from the bottles and sprinkling from spoons. It was magic! My cousins and I would watch her do it, hoping for the secret that made it so good that everyone would drink it from their little bowls when they were done. Of course, no picnic in my family is complete without potato salad. Everyone I've ever met thinks their mother makes the best potato salad. So usually whatever you grew up with is the way you like it.
I remember learning to peel hot potatoes, and the smell of warm vinegar and oil, while pineapple was caramelizing on the ham. I loved that kitchen. She made two dressings for the potatoes, one while hot and the other after it cooled, then added green onions, black olives and pimentos, which for us, were considered a luxury food, very fancy. That little jar of pimentos was usually only seen on holidays for the potato salad.
Potato salads are diverse, fun, and packed with vitamins and minerals. I make several of them: French with haricot verts and moutarde forte vinaigrette, Mediterranean with tomatoes, roasted red peppers, purple onions, and capers, lobster-potato salad with homemade black pepper-garlic aioli, and most recently a sweet potato salad with black beans, poblano chiles and cilantro dressing. Of course I make the "family" version as well, but somehow it's never quite as good as it was on that brick patio, with the scent of cloves, a cool kind of sunshine, and the Pacific air adding a little salt to everything.
Try roasting fingerling potatoes or red creamers, the little tiny potatoes, and tossing with salt and pepper, Champagne vinegar and your favorite oil. Blue potatoes with shrimp, for a pink and purple salad with a good squeeze of grapefruit juice and chopped cilantro and parsley. Yukon Golds with avocados, anchovies, garlic and lemon, or even good ole Russets, baked, diced and tossed with cheese, chives and sour cream in warm bacon dressing. Create your own, serve warm or cold, use what you like, a little bleu cheese, herbs, greens, and go to town!
Easter is a little later this year and that much warmer, so in keeping with tradition, I'm having a picnic, complete with Grandma Margaret's potato salad, roasted root vegetable salad (parsnips, carrots and hopefully spring turnips with Sherry dressing), Skordalia green beans, and Qualia e Coniglio Marinato alla Griglia. I have a great recipe; marinate in yogurt, red wine, garlic and fresh herbs like rosemary and oregano and mint; overnight in the fridge or a few hours at room temperature, then grill, coated with marinade, cook fully. That's right, when my friends were hunting quail, there was poor Peter Cottontail, hopping down the wrong bunny trail. C'est la vie!