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Italian, German touches give potato salad fresh new taste

By Jeff Wilkin
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
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I’ve smashed potatoes, and swirled them with butter, spices and blue cheese salad dressing.

I’ve sliced reds and whites, tossed them with peppers, onions and celery and wrapped them in foil for charcoal broils.

I’ve teamed them with hard-boiled eggs — plus more onions and celery — and drenched them in a mayonnaise mix.

But now, the revelation has come. And so has inspiration from Italy and Germany. My new summer potato side dishes have dropped mayo from the cast and promoted vinegar and olive oil to starring roles. The result is a tangy and lighter-tasting potato salad.

I first tried Italian-style potato salad during one of my neighbor Dino’s Italian-themed backyard gatherings. During these parties, an Irishman who is happy enough to sip a few beers is asked — told, really — to grab a plate and “mangia.” That’s “eat” in the Italian dialect.

The Italian-style potatoes just seemed to have a cleaner taste. Extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar, minced garlic and fresh parsley coated and flavored the potatoes, and really seemed to allow the potato taste to come through. A lot of times, mayonnaise just takes over the whole bowl; you taste the condiment more that the potato.

Anyway, I had double helpings at Dino’s. And while I intended to try making the Italian style, I kept pouring in mayo and mustard, and mixing the creamier style of spud. After re-discovering the German style, I may never buy mayonnaise again.

I was doing interviews at the German-American Club of Albany — for a story about German camaraderie and culture that will run in Sunday in The Gazette — and after I closed my notebook and clicked off my camera, I decided to sample some Spaten and some German foods. I bought a bratwurst and a side order of potato salad.

Carolyn Steuhl of Delmar is one of the club’s potato salad experts, and she told me about club methods in salad preparation. “A lot of people like it with bacon, but when you’re serving the public, we don’t do it with the bacon,” she said. “We leave it plain.”

It was still tangy and hearty, with just a hint of chicken broth used in the prep.

For my home version, I decided to make about five pounds. That meant crumbled bacon, olive oil and vinegar. I added diced onions, chives and a splash of lemon juice, for extra flavor, and included liberal dashes of garlic and herbs. So my potato salad combines ideas from both Italy and Germany.

I’ve never cooked with vinegar before — the only time we saw the stuff as kids was around Easter time, when Mom and Dad were preparing for the annual egg-coloring extravaganza in the kitchen. I always remembered the smell.

In addition to the lighter taste, I think making potato salad with a vinegar base offers another advantage — I think a batch will stay fresher longer in the refrigerator. Many have been the times where I’ve had to serve batches of potato salad to the kitchen garbage can, because the mayonnaise just couldn’t hold it together for a day or two after first helpings.

I’m anxious to try other vinegars with my German-Italian salads. Apple cider vinegar and white wine vinegar are on the schedule, and with October just a few weeks away, I’ll be ready for any Oktoberfest parties that come my way.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at wilkin@dailygazette.com.

 
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