Friday, September 30, 2011

Pesto Potato Salad

First putting this together during the development of my “Italian Burger”, it seemed a natural fit as the side dish. Discovering that Ligurians traditionally put both potatoes and string beans into their classic pasta with pesto, I decided I couldn’t lose with this combination of ingredients. If it was good enough for the Genoese, it was good enough for us and our guests, and that’s exactly how it turned out.


Ingredients for the Salad:

5lbs red or Yukon Gold potatoes
1 small red onion
1C baby green beans
1/3C mayonnaise
1/4C chopped parsley
red wine vinegar
a fruity extra virgin olive oil
fresh pesto
salt to taste

Ingredients for the Pesto:

1C fresh basil leaves
1/4C fruity tasting extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1T toasted pine nuts
1T grated Parmigiano
1T chopped parsley


For years I made potato salad on the same day I boiled the potatoes, but it’s much better to make the salad the day after the potatoes are done, because they have less chance of falling apart during the stirring process. Boil the potatoes the night before. They are fully cooked when you can pierce them with a fork. Drain them, add cold water to the pot, and drain them again after 5 minutes. You can leave them in the drained pot on the counter and peel them just before making the salad. Blanche the green beans and refrigerate over night in a covered bowl or container.


To make the pesto, pour about 1/4C of the olive oil into a blender, then peel and chop 4 cloves of garlic and add them to the oil. Blend on high for a minute.


Take a good look at these pine nuts. Notice how they are elongated ovals, not roundish triangles? These are Italian pine nuts with a rich nutty flavor. The triangular pine nuts are coming from China and have a very different flavor, almost medicinal. Pan toast them over a medium heat while constantly stirring to keep them from burning. Add to the blender and turn it on for another minute.


Coarsely chop the basil and add it along with a few (3-4) sprigs of parsley to the blender. Blend until the leaves are minced. You may need to stop it and stir down the ingredients to make a smooth paste. Add the cheese and blend another minute. If the pesto seems too thin, add more basil, and if it is too thick, more olive oil with correct it. Parsley is part of a traditional Ligurian pesto, but more importantly, it keeps the pesto from oxidizing and becoming discolored. Set aside and start peeling potatoes.


After peeling, slice the potatoes and drizzle with red wine vinegar. Finely chop the onion and add it to the bowl of potatoes. You may also add a drizzle of olive oil.


Chop the parsley and add to the bowl now or at the end when the mayonnaise is added. Now cut the baby green beans into short lengths and add to the bowl.


The pesto should be thick as you see it in this photo. You’ll need some mayonnaise to help spread the pesto around the salad, but use as little as possible.


I started with about 1/3C mayonnaise, but ultimately had to add a little more along with olive oil. Start stirring the ingredients together and add sea salt a little at a time to taste. Potato salad is one of the few things I need to salt.

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