One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

-Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, "Pavarotti, My Own Story"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Pesto Potato Salad

If you ask me, a summer gathering isn't a summer gathering unless there's a potato salad. Unfortunately, most potato salads are glorified vehicles for boatloads of mayonnaise and I try to keep my meals low calorie where possible, so I came up with this relatively guilt-free salad which uses pesto sauce rather than mayo.

Pesto contains many heart-healthy ingredients such as pine nuts, olive oil and garlic and is delicious! You can use pesto on chicken, pasta, fish, salads... This salad can be made with purchased pesto. As I try to avoid processed foods, I make my own. The recipe is below. Pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays - just microwave a couple of cubes for a minute to thaw them whenever you need a quick pasta sauce. 

Botulism warning: Garlic and herbs, when kept in oil without the presence of an acid, can lead to a paralytic and potentially fatal illness called botulism. Commercial pesto is heat-treated to prevent this risk. Homemade pesto should be frozen if you intend to keep it beyond a couple of days to stop the development of the botulism bacteria. 

The keys to this potato salad are to salt the cooking water very heavily, to add a splash of vinegar, and to dress the potatoes while they are still hot. Salting the cooking water helps the seasoning penetrate to the core rather than just staying on the surface. The vinegar adds a brightness to the salad and ties all the flavors together, and heat helps the potatoes absorb the flavors better.
Pesto Potato Salad
You can use distilled white winegar, sherry vinegar or wine vinegar. Avoid balsamic which is too sweet for this salad. Try to pick a less floury potato variety such as Yukon Gold or red.  You will need one medium-large potato for each person and half a tablespoon of vinegar and a full tablespoon of pesto for each potato. This can be made the day before and refrigerated.

Potatoes, peeled and diced into one inch cubes
White vinegar
Purchased or homemade pesto

1) Bring a pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil and cook potatoes until fork-tender but not falling apart, 7-10 minutes.

2) Drain the potatoes and immediately toss with the vinegar, then stir in the pesto. Taste and add more salt and pesto if needed.

3) Let cool and avoid eating half of it while still hot like I did!

You must grate your own parmesan cheese or buy the freshly grated stuff from the cheese aisle - don't use the processed cheese product sold in green cans in the pasta sauce section! If grating your own, the easiest way is to break the cheese up into small chunks and grind it in the food processor.

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves (one large bunch)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/3 cup olive oil

1) If using a blender, simply blend all ingredients. If using a food processor, first process the dry ingredients together and then drizzle in the olive oil while the machine is still running.

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