As many of you have figured out, I’ve got a megawatt crush on Southern food. It comes out with a vengeance all summer when I want nothing more than to dry-rub ribs, make corn bread and buttermilk dressing salads, dive headfirst into tomato pie and douse pretty much everything in bourbon then usually goes into a soft hibernation over the winter save a fried chicken or chicken and dumplings run-in or two.
I wasn’t kidding last week when I said that I have staged an intervention with myself and am trying my hardest to cook more things at home that can be even loosely construed as dinner. I mean, somehow the farmers markets are bursting with beans and greens and peppers and potatoes and peaches and… And I ate (average) pad thai for lunch. It doesn’t even compute.
It’s Father’s Day around these here parts which is supposed to mean one thing, really (you know, aside from hanging out with the dads, and papas-to-be in your life): backyard grilling. Alas, New York City has moved to Seattle this June, and we’ve spent more time umbrella bumping on sidewalks and avoiding street juice puddles than actually being beckoned to suburban backyards for some sun and chaise lounge napping but don’t worry, I still made you some potato salad. You know, in case the weather decides to get out of its funk for an hour or two.
If you think my slaw affliction is bad, let me introduce you to my potato salad habit. There’s that everything-but-the-kitchen-sink version, with its pickles and onions and vinegar and mayo and mustard and celery and then hard-boiled eggs, as if there were a risk of potato salad monotony. Then there’s the stepped-up dilled version, where you start by making your own cucumber pickles the night before and then finish it with radishes. It’s heaven in a Central European bowl. Oh, and now there’s this pesto too, just perfect for the mayo-phobic out there and look, it has green beans! It must be healthy.
I think that gratins get a bad rap. I mean, if you’re ordering them in restaurants, swimming in layers of triple creams and crusted with four different varieties of cheese, they might even (most deliciously) deserve it. But after coming home from the farmers’ market in our new neighborhood (!) last weekend with potatoes and shiitakes and no real inkling of what I wanted to do with them, I turned to Alice Wates — her books are increasingly become my cooking bibles these days — and realized that something I’d never much associated with easy, light meals, a gratin, was exactly what was in order.
I’ve been somewhat fascinated by the idea of putting potatoes in a pasta dish since I first saw a recipe for it a couple years ago, and my Inner American gasped “All of that starch! How totally unhealthy!” forgetting, as usual, that the people in the world that eat dishes like this are for the most part, 75 percent of the size of your average American.