Does anything bring our finicky tendencies to the surface more than food? Recently, after setting a bowl of just-picked cherries in front of my brother, he popped one off the stem into his mouth, thoughtfully chewing. “This is the first cherry I’ve ever had.”I looked at him like he was a crazy person, but then admitted that I didn’t remember a bowl of cherries ever gracing the family table of our childhood.
A few days later, I discovered the source of our family’s collective cherry aversion. “Oh, I’ve never liked cherries,” my mom said, “but I’ll eat them cooked in desserts, as long as it’s not cherry pie.” I had a flashback to cherries jubilee, a decidedly non-pie cherry dessert that my parents would serve for dinner parties. It always wowed both sophisticated guests and my pajama-clad brother and me with its boozy flammability. Besides the incendiary alcoholic ones, nary a cherry crossed my path until I became a farmers’ market fiend a little over five years ago.
I encountered the same food funniness while serving potato salad the other night. Mine was not the oft-hated goopy, mayonnaise-drenched mess, but I was a little nervous when I heard my mom and brother nonchalantly chatting about their dislike of potato salad. My friend, after thoughtfully chewing her first bite, said “I mean, I really don’t like potatoes, but I like this.” Throughout the meal, I stole furtive glances at my guests’ dinner plates, trying to make out in the fading light if the piles of food left on their plates were chicken bones or unloved potato salad.
Turns out I needn’t have worried, as the six of us put away the better part of over four pounds of mixed marble potatoes that night. In my unusual take on potato salad, mini spuds are roasted at high heat while a pleasantly bracing mustard and walnut oil vinaigrette is quickly whisked together. Tossed with plenty of toasted walnuts, fresh basil, and sliced scallions, this potato salad is best eaten at room temperature. I recommend gently smashing some of the potatoes to break their skins and allow the vinaigrette to better penetrate the starchy goodness.
Everyone decided that the potato salad was the best part of the meal, although even the non-cherry lovers agreed that dessert – salted caramel ice cream topped with homemade, uncooked brandied CHERRIES – might have been the sleeper hit. My take-home from all of this? When someone says they don’t like something, feed it to them anyway.
roasted potato salad with basil, scallions, and mustard-walnut vinaigrette
4 lbs mixed marble potatoes, or other small potatoes
1 heaping cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
one bunch basil, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tbsp whole-grain mustard
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp roasted walnut oil
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 425°F and line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Wash and dry potatoes, and spread evenly between baking sheets. Drizzle with olive oil, and toss to evenly coat potatoes. Sprinkle with freshly-ground black pepper and sea salt, and roast, shaking pans occasionally, until potatoes are tender and browning (about 45 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes).
Meanwhile, prepare vinaigrette. Place garlic glove on a cutting board, sprinkle with a generous couple pinches of sea salt, and chop and mash with the side of your knife until the clove breaks down into a salty paste.
Add garlic paste to a small bowl and add mustard, lemon juice, and vinegar. Whisk to emulsify. Add olive and walnut oils, and whisk vigorously to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with additional sea salt and pepper.
When potatoes are done, transfer to a large bowl. Add scallions and dressing, and toss to coat. Using the back of a mixing spoon or end of a wooden spatula, roughly smash some of the potatoes to break the skins. You’re not making mashed potatoes, but breaking the potatoes down will allow them to soak up more of the vinaigrette. See the picture for an idea of just how far to go with your smashing efforts.
Allow dressed potatoes to sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes to one hour. Just before serving, stir in walnuts and basil.