Italian Improv – a summery Potato Salad

'Italian Improv' Summery Potato Salad
'Italian Improv' Summery Potato Salad

Fourth of July
A pot-luck Open House eVite awaits my culinary decision. What ingredients do I already have for a summery potato salad? Hubby has our Prius. Is out getting same-day prescription computer glasses to replace the ones he lost last night at the annual county fair.

On Friday, chatted with my friend, Lynn, during the reflexology treatment she was doing. Lynn’s hosting an ‘authentic pot-luck’ with no pre-planning of the menu. All her guests were offering to bring salads of one sort or another. Just perfect – don’t you think – for a 4th of July gathering? So, I volunteered a potato salad with vinaigrette-style dressing.

It’s been weeks (much too long) since I’ve made a new post on FWB. As I prepped the salad ingredients and planned the photographs, I was having a lively conversation with all of you in my head. Is that how the rest of you food bloggers cook & bake? Do you have mental conversations with your readers as you put your creations together?

If someone had been videotaping my activities in and about the kitchen, I would have appeared to be a highly inefficient, erratic cook. Washed and prepped the russet potatoes, put them on to steam, and set the timer for 15 minutes.

Then I went out to the garden. Needed to figure out where to hang the freshly washed and filled hummingbird feeder. The hanging chain near the bay window has disappeared behind an exuberant star jasmine, a lacy white drape of fragrant bloom. Wasn’t sure the hummers could even spot it there? Considered the Hachiya persimmon growing in a huge pot, but no….too easy for our kitty, Jaeci, to jump from the soil surface to the feeder.

Jaeci, our gray & white kitty in her garden lounge
Jaeci, our gray & white kitty in her garden lounge

Tried hanging the feeder on my viciously thorned climbing rose, but imagined tragic visions of an impaled hummingbird. Considered a loop of utility wiring by the back door near the window, but it was too solidly affixed to the house with paint. (Hmmm….was this a food post or a garden journal entry? And did I remember I had left something cooking on the stove….no.) Wandered over to the Japanese maple, but decided any branches I could reach weren’t far enough out-of-reach for an agile, athletic, blood-thirsty cat. Finally, decided on a sturdy bamboo cane, too slippery & flexible for Jaeci to climb, and well away from any rocks, branches, or fences high enough for her to leap from. Seemed right, as visiting hummingbirds use the bamboo for perches to survey ‘their’ backyard territory.

Steamed Organic Russet Potatoes
Steamed Organic Russet Potatoes

Coming back into the house, THEN I remembered. The sweet fragrance of “well” cooked potatoes filled the kitchen. Wasn’t sure how long past the 15 minutes they had been steaming? Stuck a fork in one of the pre-cut pieces, very soft, not falling apart (thankfully), but tender enough to need gentle handling when assembling the salad.

Didn’t want the potatoes to cook further. Poured off the steaming potato water. Filled the kitchen sink with fresh water and swirled the hot potatoes – still in the steamer colander – quickly through the cool water to stop the cooking and remove some heat. Replaced the potatoes in the pot to drain off any excess water.

Next, I went shopping in the pantry to pull an ‘improv’ recipe together. Versatile potatoes can be flavored in innumerable ways. Thought it would be fun use Mediterranean cuisine ingredients as a creative twist to a satisfying, often boringly predictable dish. Selected virgin olive oil; the last of some port wine vinegar & balsamic vinegar; jars of roasted sweet red peppers, round green capers, whole black Calamata olives (still pitted) that were tucked into the refrigerator door; fresh savory from last week’s farmers market; a serpentine Armenian cucumber from this morning’s farm market outing; black peppercorns for grinding fresh; and finally – to add an unusual flavor element  – two gourmet colored salts: coral hued Himalayan pink salt (reputed to be high in minerals) and Salesh, a strongly scented, alder-smoked black salt I couldn’t resist purchasing last week.

Mediteranean cuisine ingredients for Italian potato salad with a flavor twist!
Mediteranean cuisine ingredients for Italian potato salad with a flavor twist!

Oliver’s, our local health food / gourmet grocery store a mile from our home, was featuring a display of colorful, flavored, gourmet salts from around the world. (May have to do a special post just on them!) From 20 different salts I selected 3: the pink, the smokey black, and a burgundy Hawaiian salt. It was an impulse purchase. I use extremely modest amounts of salt in cooking or at the table, so what exactly was I going to do with $12 worth of gourmet salts? Must ask…do YOU purchase ingredients or produce on a whim and then wonder WHAT to do with them?

Cooking for a food blog audience is NOT sane, though it may be exceedingly or obsessively methodical. With all elements at hand, I began to put the salad together.

~ Drained 1-1/2 cups (approx.) of Calamata olives and put them in a big mixing bowl
~ Diced two roasted red peppers into little pieces (ended up using half a 13oz jar in the final salad)
~ Selected 4 stems of fresh savory, picked off its leaves chopping them into fine bits
~ Drained the capers and shook about half the 3.5oz jar into the bowl
~ Drizzled olive oil (1/4 to 1/3 cup…didn’t measure) into the bowl along with 1/8 cup of the port wine vinegar and more balsamic vinegar to taste (perhaps another 1/8 cup)
~ Ground a generous amount of black pepper over it all
~ And sprinkled in the smoked black salt VERY conservatively as I didn’t want its pungent flavor to overwhelm the salad

Photo session time! Took various groupings of salad ingredients out back to the slate patio where the afternoon sun was shining brightly.

Calamata Olives & Roasted Red Peppers in olive oil & specialty vinegars
Calamata Olives & Roasted Red Peppers in olive oil & specialty vinegars

*   *   *
Picture this: a plump, almost 60-year-old, woman with a camera slung over her shoulder, carrying armfuls of odd kitchen paraphernalia & food items back and forth across the yard looking for the ‘just so’ garden setting to harmonize with her potato salad colors. (Wacky? Right.)

Next, executing a series of contortionist positions, she peers intently at various food stuffs through the camera’s viewfinder close to ground level. Beginning to sweat in the hot afternoon sun, she has to wipe both her forehead and camera off with a hand towel at frequent intervals.

Next, she fills a bucket of water with the garden hose and proceeds to splash it over the ‘Raja’ slate to accent its stunning colors. The patio, now slick & wet, eliminates sitting or kneeling positions for the remaining photography shots, so she resorts to Indian-style squatting. Thankfully, she still can do so.
*   *   *

Satisfied with my photo catch, brought everything back inside to finish up the salad.

Armenian Serpent Cucumber Slices
Armenian Serpent Cucumber Slices

~ Chopped the sweet, tender cucumber into slices, and then quarters (after taking this photo)
~ Finished dicing the red peppers
~ Gently folded in the cooled potatoes
~ Did a taste test for salt. Added a bit more of the Himalayan pink, and the salad was ready to serve.

Pink Himalayan Salt & pungent alder-smoked Black Salesh (salt)
Pink Himalayan Salt & pungent alder-smoked Black Salesh (salt)
'Italian Improv' Summery Potato Salad
'Italian Improv' Summery Potato Salad

And ready for a final portrait session.

NOTE: Adding some fresh garlic or smashing some roasted garlic into the vinaigrette might be a yummy addition next time I make this salad. Also, before taking the potato salad to Lynn’s, I sprinkled on a generous amount of coarsely grated Parmesan for added protein. (Didn’t get photos of that however.) The salad is fine served either way.

Coarsely grated Italian Parmesan Cheese
Coarsely grated Italian Parmesan Cheese

The Italian Improv Potato Salad was eaten with great gusto at the potluck, by guests with all sorts of gastronomic preferences, including Lynn’s 90-year old mother Isabel, who confided she hates eating anything out-of-the-ordinary (her ordinary, natch) or new. And figures since she’s lived this long, she must be doing something right!

Got razzed by a last minute guest, who thought ‘Italian’ potato salad was an oxymoron. “Aren’t potatoes Irish?” (Didn’t get into the history of new world food discoveries with him.) “Isn’t pasta, Italian?” I smiled & said “Noodles were invented by the Chinese. Are noodles and pasta the same…..?” he parried, while helping himself to a huge plateful. Downed with gusto!

Honestly, I was surprised EVERYONE loved it, eating their servings enthusiastically. The smoky Salish is very distinct, the first flavor one notices. Perhaps its smoky nuances were reminiscent of backyard barbeques or a tasty campfire meal? In any case, every guest lavished complements on the pleased, improv chef.

So, with a unanimous ‘thumbs-up’ from Lynn’s guests, give it a try for one of your summery meals!

11 thoughts on “Italian Improv – a summery Potato Salad”

  1. I am definitely going to try this delicious looking salad. I love this blog and have been telling people about it on my own blog.
    I think that your keeping Bri’s blog on is a wonderful tribute to her.
    all the best

  2. I don’t care where potatoes come from – food from the gods. I bought some pink Himalaya salt a while ago, but it has such a strong sulfur aroma and flavor that I find it hard to use. Does yours? Maybe it doesn’t bother you.
    I’ll have to try this. Though I don’t have a patio for the photographing part. Will a tar-paper roof do?

  3. Maureen ~ Just visited your blog and left a comment of thanks there. My fruit trees have shaded our veggie bed, so can’t grow summer ones anymore. Am overrun by flowers & other wonderful plants though…

    Kella ~ Thanks for coming by. Let us know how it comes out for you.

    Victoria ~ Our pink salt doesn’t have a sulfurous smell. There was an Indian salt that IS sulfurous in the store display – reputed to be good with eggs (which also have lots of sulfur. Maybe you could use yours that way?

    And YES, tar-paper or brownstone brick walls, or wrought-iron gratings or some of your interesting textiles would make wonderful backgrounds for your culinary creations. After all, we cook where we live, no?

  4. Hi my name is Fabian Molina and I stumbled upon this blog Months ago and Love it! Great layout and also I am from Sonoma county so its great to read about the near by farms and what not.

    But I was Working at Autumn Moon Ent. This summer and ran into Marc on a lunch trip with the Autumn Moon team. I know I recognized him from some where and couldn’t pinpoint it. Then I came to this site to find more great recipes and Found his picture with his wife Bri.

    Just want to say that it was great meeting you Marc and Im glad you guys still keep this site Running in your Wife’s Honor.


  5. I love this web site it is giving me some ideas on food. Thank you for telling about it.

  6. Hi! Fabian ~ Sorry for my delayed reply. Didn’t get the alert on your comment somehow?

    Gosh, it’s a small world. What are the chances you would discover FWB….and then meet Marc at work? Love synchronicity like that.

    Anyway, thanks for finding FWB. Glad you enjoy the site. Bri loved good food & has left a wonderful legacy to inspire the rest of us. I’d better get cookin’, too.

  7. Jeff ~ Good to see you here. Plenty of creative cooking ideas, for sure! Can’t wait to read some of your food articles, when you’re ready to write them.

    Thanks too, for your BBQ recipe. Will give it a try soon.

  8. Hey Fabian – I am always surprised when I meet someone who has discovered this blog. I am extra surprised and delighted that we happened to work at the same place. What are the chances of that? Bri really put her heart into this blog and I am so glad it continues to bringing joy to people.

    Jeff – I’m glad you like the blog. You should start a food blog of your own. I know you have some great ideas and recipes to share.

  9. Joe From Wisconsin

    My very italian mother makes an italian potato salad almost just like this and it is wonderful. I was perusing a recipe for this, because like most italians she never writes down a recipe and while she told me how to make it, I needed a refresher. She puts in whole cherry tomatoes and not the peppers, but I think I would totally enjoy the pepper with the potatoes. And sometimes she cheats and cooks the potatoes in the microwave skin on to avoid adding humidity to the already steamy kitchen on a summer day. I think the dry cooked potatoes soak up the dressing better then boiled. Best part is….with no mayo, this potato salad is served at room temp and wont kill you if its out too long.

  10. Joe ~ Delighted to learn my “improv” salad is actually authentic Italian fare! Your mother’s idea of cooking the potatoes ‘dry’ is a great one. I’d probably bake them, if I planned ahead of time…. (am generally a spontaneous impromptu cook).

    As a side note: My hubby and I avoid microwaved food if at all possible. The traditional ways of cooking are more time intensive, a bit messier, but much more healthful.

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