One of the revelations of adulthood is discovering the variety of things that people call potato salad. It’s the quintessential summer dish – evoking heat waves, sprinklers, sunburns, mosquito bites, and nights lying awake with a wet washcloth on your forehead. As a kid, I knew that if my mother was making potato salad, supper was going to be fun. There might also be strawberry shortcake. Or maybe we’d eat outside and have watermelon.
My mother’s potato salad was the classic version that forms the cornerstone of church picnics and summer barbecues. All of the moms I knew made it exactly the same way: diced potatoes, boiled eggs, celery, and Miracle Whip. Sure, maybe someone would throw in some green onions, and I think once I had a version with chopped ham. But like vanilla ice cream, or corn on the cob, potato salad had a wonderful, predictable sameness to it. I loved it, and could never get enough.
I was probably 20 years old before I tasted a warm potato salad. It was dressed with a simple vinaigrette, and tossed with a soft tangle of tarragon and sweet slices of Vidalia onion, neither of which I’d tasted before. So it was a triple whammy for me, and I quickly learned to make it. My Warm Potato Salad was a regular feature at university potluck suppers, proudly displayed next to the tabouleh and vegetarian chili.
The question of whether it’s better than my mother’s potato salad has never arisen in my mind. To me they are like two different people who just happen to share the same name. This is really delicious with any kind of small new potato, we are lucky enough to have a local supplier of creamy fingerlings that just love to be roasted.
Roasted Potato Salad
Serves 4 as a side dish
NOTES We’ve sometimes added bacon or lardons to this salad, or used sliced shallots instead of Vidalia onions. You can also think of adding dill, or chervil, or whatever mild herbs you like, just be sure to use a generous amount of tarragon. The roasted potatoes do not refrigerate well. You can also make this using unpeeled boiled potatoes, it makes a lighter-tasting salad that does keep well in the fridge.
4 pounds of fingerling potatoes
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
about 2/3 C olive oil
a Vidalia onion, halved and sliced
½ C fresh tarragon leaves
½ C Italian parsley leaves
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1. Clean and dry the potatoes. Cut them, unpeeled, into bite-sizes pieces, toss them with olive oil, salt, and a little peper, and roast them in a 400º oven for 15 – 20 minutes, or until golden and crusty on the outside, and soft on the inside.
2. Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette. Pour the vinegar into a salad bowl, and whisk in enough salt to balance the vinegar’s acidity. Add the pepper and mustard, and whisk to combine. Add the olive oil in a thin stream while whisking. Add the Vidalia onions and fresh herbs, and let them macerate in the vinaigrette while the potatoes finish cooking.
3. When the potatoes are done, let them cool for about 20 minutes before adding them to the salad bowl and tossing them gently to coat with the vinaigrette. Let the salad rest for a few minutes before serving so the potatoes can absorb the flavours, then taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.