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Stretching (Potato) Salad Days Into a Week

August 03, 1995|RUSS PARSONS | TIMES DEPUTY FOOD EDITOR

When the weather gets this hot, it's all you can do to get home, much less think about dinner. That's why every weekend I make up a big batch of potato salad.

Not your everyday picnic potato salad with mayonnaise, but rather potato salad with oil, vinegar and especially green beans. This salad can be made up on Sunday, then stuck in a plastic bag and refrigerated for later in the week. I always make a double batch (it's perfect with grilled meat), then stretch it as far as I can.

Of course, to me, the key to great potato salad is green beans, which were made to go with potatoes. It's not just the coincidence that they're both found in markets at the same time--the earthy creaminess of baby boiling potatoes goes perfectly with the vegetal flavor and slight crispness of the green beans.

With that as a bedrock to build on, the sky is the limit. I must have made this salad a hundred different ways, from plain-Jane vinaigrette to a luxurious white truffle-flavored mayonnaise, and they've all been good.

Once, I served the salad three days out of five--first, as a straight green-bean potato salad with a red wine vinaigrette. A couple of days later, I portioned some out and added some canned tuna fish, along with some lemon juice, a bit of minced shallots and more olive oil to make a cold dinner salad. I finished the week by adding to the remainder a bit of cold, grilled steak that I had sliced thin and a mustardy vinaigrette. If I'd had any, I bet some slivered arugula would have been great in that one.

This version, as originally constructed, had buttery little Yukon Gold potatoes and snapping-fresh Blue Lake green beans. I was thinking tarragon, and when I started talking with the herb lady at my farmers market, she volunteered that she thought the perfect herb for the salad would be Mexican tarragon; she said it had a slightly more astringent flavor than regular. Then she tossed in a grapefruit, which she said would be perfect with the herb.

Sometimes you have to rely on the kindness of strangers. She was absolutely right. The acidity of the grapefruit was just what the slightly harsher flavor of the Mexican tarragon needed in the salad.

*

Unless you've got an herbal fairy godmother watching over your shoulder, you may not be able to find Mexican tarragon. But the salad works well with regular tarragon--the difference is strictly one of degree.

Obviously, this salad is remarkably forgiving, but there are a couple of points I'm picky about.

For one, don't undercook the green beans. They should have some bite left, but you need to cook them long enough that their flavor and color develop--about eight to 10 minutes on my rickety old stove (it takes five just to get the water back to the boil). Then, as soon as you pull the beans out of the water, immediately dump them in a bowl of ice water to set the bright green color. Be sure to pat them dry before adding them to the salad.

The potatoes are a little more trouble, but you'll find the effort is well repaid. First, unless you're forced to use the big boilers instead of babies, cook the potatoes whole. Water and oil don't mix--you've heard that before--and the less surface that's exposed to water, the better the dressing will adhere.

Pat them dry and cut them in half or in quarters as soon as the potatoes are cool enough to touch. You don't have to have asbestos fingers for this dish, but the hotter the potatoes are when you cut them up and add the initial seasoning, the better the flavor. That's because the starch hasn't had a chance to cool and set. The flesh is still fluffy and it will absorb flavors quite readily.

No matter which version of the salad I'm making, I toss the hot potatoes with minced garlic, salt, pepper, oil and vinegar (Sherry vinegar adds a nice nutty quality) as soon as possible, and set them aside until I'm ready to use them.

GREEN BEAN-POTATO SALAD WITH CITRUS-TARRAGON DRESSING

1 pound small boiling potatoes

2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar

Salt

1/2 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound green beans, trimmed

2 tablespoons grapefruit juice

2 teaspoons fine-sliced tarragon

Cook potatoes in boiling water until they can be penetrated easily with tip of small knife, about 20 minutes. Remove potatoes and, while hot, pat dry in kitchen towel and cut in quarters. Combine in mixing bowl with vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, garlic and little olive oil. Toss ingredients to combine well. Set aside to cool.

In same pot of boiling water, cook green beans until just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and drain beans, then add to potatoes.

Combine remaining olive oil, grapefruit juice and tarragon in small bowl and mix well. Pour over salad and mix well to coat. Taste and correct for salt.

Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

191 calories; 604 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 7 grams fat; 30 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 1.79 grams fiber.

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