Saturday, April 14, 2012

Salad of Potatoes, Sugar Snap Peas & Arugula

More than any other time of the year, Spring is when dinner practically makes itself. The young and tender foods available in the stores and at the market require very little from the cook....the greatest pitfall is to do too much and mask their subtle charm. Today's post is in the spirit of this ideal...a beautiful little salad that almost doesn't even need a recipe...just a few techniques. We had it for dinner on a busy night this past week: baby potatoes, sugar snap peas and young arugula. It could hardly have been easier (or tastier).

For the potatoes I used Melissa's brand Baby Dutch Yellow Potatoes. Local true new potatoes are still more than a month away, but in the mean time, these are a reliably good little waxy potato that work very well in a salad. To prepare them I simply steamed them whole. If you prefer, you could cook them by boiling them, but steaming seems to do a better job of cooking them through without encouraging them to fall apart.

As soon as the potatoes were cool enough to handle (almost immediately) I halved them and tossed them with some salt and vinegar. Adding plain vinegar (without any oil) to the warm potatoes is a little trick that will make any potato salad you make more flavorful—whether ultimately dressed with a classic vinaigrette or a mayonnaise-based dressing. The warm potatoes readily absorb the vinegar, seasoning them throughout.

Warm potatoes with vinegar and salt
After the potatoes have had a chance to absorb the vinegar, the olive oil is added (along with the herbs)--adding the oil sooner would inhibit the absorption of the vinegar. At this point, this would make a simple and satisfying potato side dish.

This salad could be made with any number of the green vegetable in season during the Spring and early Summer months, but I chose to use sugar snaps because I happened to have some on hand. Sugar snap peas can be used in a salad raw, but it's nice to soften their crunch just a bit with a quick blanch—just until the water returns to the boil should be sufficient. If I were using asparagus or green beans, I would cook either of these a bit longer.

I finished the salad by tossing the vegetables with fresh herbs and serving them on a bed of arugula dressed with a tangy Dijon vinaigrette. This time of year, the herbs are soft and delicate—it's hard to use too many. I used just chives, but parsley, mint or tarragon (alone or in combination) would have been nice. If you happen to have a chive blossom or two, breaking them up and scattering the little individual lavender flowers over the salad would make a beautiful and zippy addition. The arugula I used was what I purchased at last week's market...and it was delicious (arugula is my favorite salad green), but this week I purchased a bag of mixed baby lettuces and they would have been equally good.

Accompanied by a simply prepared piece of chicken or fish, this salad makes a wonderful, light Spring entrée. Without the meat or fish, it would be a fine first course. When we had it, I served it for our dinner with some pan-seared steelhead salmon. The salmon, with its peachy-pink flesh, was particularly lovely against the beautiful greens of the Spring vegetables.

Potatoes & Snap Peas with Arugula

1 1/2 lbs. small waxy potatoes (Yellow Finn, Yukon Gold, Fingerling or Creamer-type)
2 T. red wine vinegar, divided
1 small to medium shallot, finely diced
1 t. Dijon Mustard
Salt & Pepper
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 to 1 lb. sugar snap peas, trimmed & halved on the diagonal
3 oz. Arugula, rinsed, dried & stemmed if necessary (weighed after removing the stems)
2 T. (or more) minced fresh chives (or parsley...or tarragon...or mint...or a combination)

Ingredients for salad for two

Scrub the potatoes. Steam over simmering water until tender to the tip of a knife—20 minutes or so, depending on their age and size. (If you prefer, you may instead cook the potatoes in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain well.) As soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle halve or quarter them (depending on their size). If using fingerling, cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Place the potatoes in a bowl and pour 1 T. of vinegar over them along with salt & pepper to taste. Toss gently to combine. Let stand for 10 minutes or so to allow the warm potatoes to absorb the vinegar. Toss in the herbs and add 1/4 cup of olive oil and fold gently. Set aside.

While the potatoes are cooking, combine 1 T. of vinegar and the shallot in a small bowl; let sit for a few minutes to allow the vinegar to soften the shallots. Whisk in the mustard. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup of oil, adding it in a thin stream. Taste and correct the seasoning and the vinegar balance—the vinaigrette should be fairly sharp.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the snap peas and allow the water to return to the boil—about a minute. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Pat dry and set aside. (If cooked ahead, refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.)

To serve the salad, place the arugula in a medium-sized bowl. Season with salt & pepper and drizzle with a small amount of the vinaigrette. Toss carefully to coat. Mound the dressed arugula onto a serving platter (or divide among individual plates). Add the snap peas to the potatoes and toss. Add a bit of dressing if necessary. Taste and correct the seasoning. Mound the potatoes and snap peas on top of the arugula and scatter more herbs over all if you like (chive blossoms would be especially nice).

Serves 4 to 6 as an accompaniment to fish or chicken for an entrée. Serves 8 (or more) as part of a salad buffet.

Variation: Either asparagus or green beans (cut into two inch lengths on the diagonal and blanched in boiling salted water until tender) would make a fine substitute for the snap peas.

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