It’s that time of year to find great summer side dishes that go beyond the tired picnic fare. Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa cookbook has a number of great recipes that can really make your summer dinner party work.
This recipe is actually an adaptation of two of her recipes that she puts together. It starts with a French Potato Salad recipe and then improves it with additions you might find from the Provence region of France. I liked a number of things she did with the Provence additions, but she was also making that into lunch main all of its own by adding in Italian tuna, hard cooked eggs, and even anchovy fillets. I was more interested in making this a great vegetable side dish for a separate portion of fish. We paired this with a grilled Chilean Sea Bass on a cedar plank which was great. So I skipped all of the meat ingredients of the Provence additions below.
The flavors are bright, but not overwhelming, and the variety of vegetables makes for wonderful texture and is very satisfying even for big appetites. Perhaps best of all, this version is best at room temperature without the need to worry about any egg products going bad in the picnic sun.
Here is a link to the “basic” French Potato Salad recipe on the Food Network site under Barefoot Contessa and Ina Garten. I could not locate an online version from them for the Provence additions. I’ll repeat the entire recipe here.
French Potato Salad
* 1 pound small white boiling potatoes
*1 pound small red boiling potatoes
*2 tablespoons good dry white wine
*2 tablespoons chicken stock
*3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
*½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
*2 teaspoons kosher salt
*¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
*10 tablespoons good olive oil
*¼ cup minced scallions (white and green parts)
*2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
*2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
*2 tablespoons chiffonade of fresh basil leaves
Provencal additions (including my deletions)
*½ pound haricots verts, stems removed (French green beans)
*1 recipe French Potato Salad (see recipe)
*½ cup capers, drained
*1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
*½ cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
*½ cup good black olives, pitted
That would be the ingredients list for those ingredients I used in the two recipes that are put together. But before we go on I changed enough things that it’s probably worth noting them all in one place.
- 1/2 cup of capers is quite a lot. I like capers, but some people do not because of the tart flavor that they can bring. If I were you I would cut this back to 1/4 cup to start and then add in more to your liking.
- I also found that 1/2 lb of haricots verts (French green beans) was a little much, both in volume and putting them in without cutting. Go ahead and prepare the 1/2 lb of beans, but also cut them in half so they’re easier to eat along with the rest of the ingredients. Also, you can add just the right amount to your liking as well and use any leftovers for another salad or side dish. In my dish I probably used about 1/3 of a lb.
- She also suggested putting in pitted black olives. I chose to cut my olives in half so that they mix in thoroughly with the rest of the ingredients and their flavor is a little more subtle.
I went ahead and did the chiffonade of basil and mince of dill and parsley for this picture so that you could see all of the prepped ingredients in one place. For you I would suggest doing the minced herbs near the end so that they can maintain their maximum color for the salad.
Begin by boiling some salted water, enough to cover the potatoes and then some. When the water is boiling, add the potatoes. Reduce the heat as needed to keep a low to moderate boil. You don’t need a vigorous boil because it’s not necessary and the extra action from the potatoes rolling around in the boil is that they can beat each other up and their skins can not look as good.
It’s important to not overcook the potatoes, both for eating texture, but also because there are a lot of ingredients added to the potatoes that need to be mixed in. If the potatoes are over done then they will break down and the skins will start to separate which could make for a mushy salad with chewy skins mixed in. So after about 15 minutes of boiling, pull one potato out of the pot and poke a toothpick into it. As soon as you can push the toothpick into the center without too much resistance they are done. If it’s a little firm that’s okay and actually the way I prefer them.
In the meantime you can start making the vinaigrette that will go over the potatoes. Combine the vinegar, mustard, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper and whisk in the olive oil just like you were making a salad dressing.
When the potatoes are done boiling you can strain them and pour cold water on them. Or if they are not quite done you can drain them in a colander and place a dish towel over the top to let them steam a bit more. Usually any excess water will evaporate or be reabsorbed into the potato and so there is no need to dry them in any way.
Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them into bite size pieces. Some of the longer and skinnier ones I cut into three to four pieces while some I just cut in half. Try to get a consistent bite size and transfer them into a large mixing bowl.
Pour the chicken stock and wine over the top. Mix the liquid and the potatoes together. Let the liquid absorb and then mix again if there is still liquid in the bottom until all the liquid is absorbed.
Add the vinaigrette to the potatoes and mix. Use a large spoon and scoop under the potatoes, lift, and flip the spoon. This will help to not damage the potatoes and break them up while still getting things mixed up well.
Add the scallions, dill, basil, parsley, 1.5 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and toss together.
At this point you are done with the first recipe of French Potato Salad. You could stop here and have a very satisfying dish.
Proceeding on with the Provence additions, in a large skillet or sauce pan, add a small amount of hot water and add some salt to it so the beans will blanch in salty water. Place the pan on high heat and when you get a vigorous boil go ahead and add in the beans. Stir them around a little so that the hot water coats them all. If you don’t have too much water in here the pan should come back to a boil rapidly.
Side note: Blanching is the process of quickly cooking a vegetable but stopping the cooking process well prior to the vegetable being completely cooked through. This will enhance the color of the vegetable and soften it slightly which makes it a little easier to eat.
Continue to blanch the beans for 3-5 minutes. I will usually stop the process when the color of the vegetables are super bright. Quickly pour off the boiling water and run cold water over the beans. If you have ice handy then go ahead and add several ice cubes into the pan. The reason why we cool this so fast is to stop the cooking process in its tracks. This preserves the color and the texture right where we want them. If you walk away without doing this then the beans would continue to cook through, get too soft, and their color would fade to Army green…not nearly as appetizing or fun to eat.
As mentioned earlier I then cut the beans in half to better match their size to the rest of the ingredients thus making the salad less awkward to eat.
Add the beans, olives, capers (to your taste), red onions, tomatoes.
Carefully mix the whole salad together making sure you don’t stab the potatoes. Put your mixing spoon under all the ingredients and then lift to get the mixing action that will not damage the potatoes.
The time has come to enjoy. Spoon the salad into a large serving bowl. If you have put this together all at once the salad may even still be warm from the heat of the cooked potatoes. That’s okay. But you can easily get this dished up and set aside at room temperature until you’re ready to serve.
- Use about 1/3 lb of French green beans and cut them in half
- Use 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup of capers instead of the 1/2 cup
- Double the recipes…this stuff makes for great leftovers!
As you’ve probably guessed by now, making this salad is not precision cooking. Ina has created a great foundation, but use your own tastes to make what you think looks and tastes the best for your and your guests.