Thursday, July 05, 2007

Grilled Potato Salad

My grill pan is my new best friend. Until maybe a year or two ago, I had never even tried grilling, and to this day, the only grilling I’ve done has been on a stove rather than an outdoor grill. Maybe it comes from not eating hamburgers or hot dogs, or the fact that neither my mother nor any of my roommates ever had a grill.

We have this really great stove with a grill attachment, and I slowly learned to use it for tuna steaks, but I got really irritated with it when I tried to grill sliced vegetables. Inevitably, a few would fall through the grates and into the fire, and I would mourn each casualty. But then (and this shows how little I know), I saw someone using a solid-bottomed grill pan on a cooking show and I was completely blown away. Here was a way to grill inside, without having to switch out my burners for the grill attachment AND without losing any poor little pieces to the flames.

As with most purchases though, I sat on the idea for a good three or four months before I actually took the plunge. I looked around online, browsed a couple of kitchen stores, read a few articles, and held tightly to our money until it began to bleed. And then, as much as I wanted to use all my Christmas money to, say, pay down the mortgage early or add to the meager retirement account, The Carnivore (bless him) gently coaxed me into going shopping and spending a little bit of money on some things I had been wanting. I’m so grateful.

Grill pans are beautiful inventions. And I have a crush on mine. Now that summer is here and we’re eating so many fresh vegetables from the farm, the grill pan is getting used nearly every day. One of The Carnivore’s new favorite side dishes is grilled zucchini, summer squash, Vidalia onions and bell peppers. Since its such a quick and easy way to cook, I’m freed up to work on other dishes, and its now a rare day that we don’t have two or three side dishes along with our entrée.

The CSA has opened us up to a world of new possibilities though, and where I used to do fairly predictable things with some vegetables, our weekly shares are so fresh and so flavorful that I have tried to focus on more minimal techniques, ones in which the vegetable is allowed to shine on its own or with only a little decoration, rather than getting overcooked or drowned in a sauce. But even when I use these farm-fresh veggies in some of my tried-and-true, slower-cooking recipes, we’re still often shocked at the difference in flavor and texture. I recently cooked the Italian Vegetable Soup with just-picked, organic zucchini and leeks, and the improvement was obvious. The local, seasonal cooking concept isn’t just another political/environmental/feels-good-to-be-a-martyr cultish kind of thing. Nor is it even too far out of the mainstream. I mean, the raw foods or the macrobiotic diets tend to just sound weird to most people (for more than obvious reasons), but since we’re only a few decades past when there was no alternative to eating locally and seasonally, and since those few decades have seen a marked decrease in healthfulness and an increase in obesity, well, its just not that hard to see why we need to embrace a better way of doing things.

Oops. And I had sworn to myself that I wouldn’t even step onto the soapbox in this humble potato post…

In my quest for new recipes for all these summer vegetables, I’ve strayed from my usual sources and have been perusing some different cookbooks, notably Chez Panisse Vegetables (recommended by the farmer who supplies us with these delicious vegetables) and The Joy of Gardening Cookbook (which my mother had picked up for me at a yard sale a few years back). But I have found the best source has been cooking magazines. Two of my favorites, Cooking Light and Fine Cooking, are very timely and tend to focus on the season at hand. While that irritates the tar out of me during Thanksgiving (because I don’t care to read any new variations on sweet potato casserole), it means great things during the summer months.

A month or so ago, I dug out my Spring/Summer 2006 issue of The Best of Fine Cooking Fresh and I found numerous recipes that I couldn’t wait to try. The most intriguing sounding of them though was the one for a Grilled Potato Salad. And while the concept sounded counter-intuitive to me, I love-love-love potatoes and so I was game to try it. Plus, since I loathe the usual cold, mayonnaise-based, family reunion-style potato salads, the fact that this one used a vinaigrette instead really piqued my interest. Allen’s Bar and Grill, a revered institution in Athens which closed down a couple of years ago (yeah - the place in that B-52's song), had a great warm, vinegar-based potato salad that I used to devour. Allen’s may have been best known for its hamburgers, but for obvious reasons, I never tried one of those.

I’ve taken stabs at a couple of other warm potato salad recipes, and I’ve never had much luck as they’ve either been too bland or the texture has come out all wrong, so I was a bit nervous the first time I tried this Grilled Potato Salad recipe. The potatoes ended up taking longer to cook than I had hoped, and I didn’t cut them small enough the first time I made them, but WOW, we loved the recipe. Actually, I loved it so much that I’ve been making it twice a week for the past three weeks or so now. And I covet leftovers so that I can eat them for lunch during the week as well. The herbs add such a fresh flavor, and the vinegar and mustard add just enough tartness. I hope to never be parted from my beloved grill pan.


GRILLED POTATO SALAD (from Fine Cooking magazine, serves 4 as a side dish)

  • 1 lb red onions, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 8 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 lb baby new red potatoes, halved or quartered depending on size (aim for roughly 1-inch cubes)
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbs white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs (choose from parsley, tarragon, dill, chervil, basil and chives)
  1. Heat a grill pan over medium heat. If using open grill grates, skewer the onions and potatoes so as to not lose any through the grates.
  2. Brush the onions with a little olive oil.
  3. Toss the potatoes with about 2 Tbs olive oil. Add the thyme, salt and pepper, and toss.
  4. Grill the potatoes and onions over medium heat until tender and browned (20-30 minutes for the potatoes, 10-15 minutes for the onions).
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the mustard and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in 6 Tbs of olive oil.
  6. Coarsely chop the onions and toss them and the potatoes with the vinaigrette until coated, and then toss with the herbs. Add more salt and pepper, if needed.
  7. Serve warm.


cindy j said...

Girl, how are you? I am an admirer of your extremely well written blog tho I have no cooking skills. I get to check in on you and see your oh-so-cute little guy grow up before my eyes and get a sense of how you are. It sounds like life is very nice right now and you deserve that. I am stupidly surprised at how far along you are - 22 weeks! Once again I toss out my tired but sincere wish that you (and The Carnivore) will call me (or The Q) if you ever need us. In the meantime, you and O.T. should come over for a boat ride. And please do tell me about the particulars of your grill pan (brand, $, where). I might can swing its purchase since it's gotta be cheaper than buying a grill. Um, right? Or there's always Christmas.
Much love,
Cindy - from far far away in the real O.C.

Process said...

I'd like to know the particulars of your grill pan, too!