What We’re Cooking This Week: Italianish Potato Salad

When we think of ourselves eating somewhere in the sunny Mediterranean, what we’re eating is never potatoes.

Italianish potato salad. (Jim Dixon)

When we think of ourselves eating somewhere in the sunny Mediterranean, what we’re eating is never potatoes. Potatoes are for Ireland, Poland, Idaho, and other places farther north that are usually cold and wet. The people living with the perpetual sunshine and blue water of the inner sea only eat brightly colored, summery vegetables. But potatoes are grown and consumed all across the Mediterranean, from papas bravas in Spain to the North African fritters called maakouda to batata harra, Lebanon’s crispy roasted spuds tossed in a garlic cilantro sauce.

Even the so-called experts get this wrong. A recent article in The Washington Post about a Spanish-Portuguese variation of the Mediterranean Diet claimed, “The main difference is that they have potatoes and bread instead of pasta because they’re marginally farther north than cities that are on the Mediterranean Sea.” Overlooking the geographic popularity of the potato is, excuse the pun, small potatoes compared to the global food system’s other problems, but it can keep us from discovering just how tasty the potato can be in the lands of tomatoes and lemons.

Italians treat potato salad like they do most other vegetables. Use the best produce, cook it simply, and add olive oil. While Americans think of potato salad as soft, mealy russets smothered in mayo, the Italian version uses waxier red spuds and dresses them with garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and maybe a little parsley. My recipe sticks close to that, but swaps less pungent green onions for the garlic and adds a couple of flavor bombs in the form of capers and anchovies.

Italianish Potato Salad

1 pound small red potatoes

3 green onions, split and sliced

2 tablespoons capers, preferably salt-packed

3-4 oil-packed anchovy fillets

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Kosher-style sea salt to taste

Boil the potatoes whole in well-salted water until easily pierced with the tip of a knife, anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes depending on the size. Drain and let cool slightly, then cut into bite-sized pieces.

While the potatoes are still warm, toss them with the vinegar and set aside.

Soak the salt-packed capers in cold water for about 15 minutes, then drain and chop coarsely. Slice the anchovies into small pieces.

Add the capers, anchovies, green onions, and olive oil to the potatoes; toss well. Since the capers are quite salty, taste the salad before adding any more salt. This is best at room temperature.

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