LEMON ROSEMARY POTATO SALAD
I love the classic yellow picnic potato salad with hard boiled eggs and that yummy mayo/mustard/pickle dressing. My mom used to make it for family gatherings and “court picnics”. We used to live on a horseshoe shaped street that would be closed to traffic for the annual neighborhood get together. I have fond memories of fathers gathering pennies from everyone, climbing up on a roof top, and tossing pennies down to the kids. So far as I can remember, no one ever fell off the roof!
One neighbor used to refer to my mom’s potato salad as “That messy potato salad.” His wife always made a version with sour cream and dill, but no mustard or eggs. This potato salad is different from either version. No mayonnaise to be seen, the dressing combines olive oil, lemon juice, zest, and fresh rosemary, making it seem more like a European-style potato salad rather than American. The first time I made this and brought it to a potluck, the hostess asked for the recipe as soon as she tasted it. Truly a compliment because she ALWAYS makes great salads herself!
The fresh rosemary makes this salad stand out; don’t try leaving it out or using dried rosemary. It just will not have the same WOW factor. A friend of mine, who tested this recipe, mentioned that I should make this clear: the rosemary should be finely chopped–no green toothpicks, please!
About those potatoes
Like all good potato salads, this one uses waxy potatoes. And in this case, the yellow or golden ones. You could use waxy red or new potatoes, but I like the look of the golden color on the inside of the potatoes and the light skins with the olive oil dressing. Don’t use starchy potatoes like russets; they will fall apart and try to mash themselves when stirred together with other ingredients.
Let’s see now, potatoes, olive oil dressing with fresh rosemary -you don’t need much else, except of course a bit of bacon. I love this quote from Doug Larson, “Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.”
Oh, and fresh garlic. I know that some people swear that it is important to finely chop garlic rather than pressing it through a garlic press. I really don’t discern much difference, so I take the quick and easy route and use my garlic press. If your press doesn’t separate the skin from the garlic bits, just smack the garlic with the flat edge of a large knife. The skin will peel right off.
A Favorite Tool
The microplane is one of the most frequently used tools in my kitchen. If you don’t have one, it really is worth the investment. You can certainly use another type of grater, but I use this so much, I sometimes think I should have two. I put citrus zest in lots of different foods, both sweet and savory. I am forever digging it out of the dishwasher because I need to use it AGAIN.
You will find that the dressing ingredients combine easily and emulsify without much fuss. I do give it a final whisk together before adding the dressing to the cooked potatoes, though, just to be sure it hasn’t separated.
The freshness of the lemon juice and zest wakes up your taste buds, the celery provides a nice crunchy compliment to the soft potatoes, the bacon adds saltiness without having to add additional salt to the dressing.
I’ve thought about adding some brightly colored sweet bell pepper but haven’t tried it yet. Although the color would be nice, I think the flavor of the peppers might detract from the simple, pure taste of this dish.
Make sure you cut the potatoes into equal sized pieces so they cook evenly. Peel or not, it is up to you. Just scrub the potatoes if you are leaving the skins on.
Back to the cooking part: drop those cut up potatoes into cold water. If you try to boil potatoes in water that is already hot, the outsides of the potatoes will cook faster than the insides and will cook unevenly. Potatoes will get mushy and start falling apart on the outside before the inside is properly cooked. So, start them in cold water, bring them to a boil and reduce the heat as you let them simmer until done. It’s good to leave the lid off, unless you want an eruption of starchy water all over your stove top.
I use this time to chop the celery, breathe the aroma of the rosemary and lemon again, and rub my hands along the stainless steel sink to get the garlic smell off. Honest, it works, and is one reason I will probably never have a porcelain sink. A quick rub along stainless steel gets garlic and onion odors off of your hands effortlessly.
Umm, Nobody’s Perfect
Test the potatoes with a thin knife in about 15-20 minutes. If it slides in and out easily, they are ready. Drain and let the potatoes cool enough so you can handle them without burning your fingers. Cut them into bite-sized pieces. Dang, I felt that my potatoes were slightly over-cooked this time when I waited 20 minutes. So check early and re-check in a few minutes if needed.
Usually I just dump everything together and stir. But since the potatoes were a little soft, I ended up layering about half the potatoes, celery, bacon and dressing. I repeated the layering, and then gently tossed it all together. That seemed to work without breaking up the potatoes.
This potato salad can be served right away, while still warm, or made ahead and chilled until ready to serve. I have found that if I serve it right away, I don’t need to use all of the dressing; it gets too oily. When I make it ahead, I pour about half of the dressing on, refrigerate the salad and dressing separately. I also mix in some of the bacon so the flavor can permeate the whole salad, but save some out to stir in just before serving, so the bacon retains some crunch. Then I perk it up with more dressing when ready to serve.
Lemon Rosemary Potato Salad
5-6 slices bacon, or uncured turkey bacon
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
1 garlic clove, chopped or pressed
2/3 cup olive oil
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1-2 teaspoons salt
3 large celery stalks, thinly sliced
Cook bacon until brown and crisp. Cool, crumble and set aside.
Whisk lemon juice, rosemary, lemon peel, and garlic in large bowl. Gradually whisk in oil until thickened. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
Put potatoes in a large pot. Add salt and enough cold water to cover by at least an inch. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium. Let potatoes simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until cooked through ( a thin knife should slide in and out easily) but not mushy. Drain; let stand until cool enough to handle, about 15-20 minutes.
Cut potatoes into thick slices or bite sized chunks. Place in large bowl with dressing; add celery and crumbled bacon. Toss gently to coat. Cover and chill if not serving within 2 hours.
To Make Ahead: Salad can be made 1 day ahead. Stir in some of the crumbled bacon, but reserve most until just before serving so it stays crisp. Add bacon and toss gently just before serving.