We have magical elves for neighbors, I’m sure of it. Magical gardening elves. Because every day, on my way out of town, I stop at their shed on the side of the road and find fresh snap peas, or potatoes, or whatever’s been picked the day before. And my neighbors are not just magical elves because they grow and offer this stuff (lots of people have front-yard farm stands around here), they are magical elves because their food tastes magical. Take a look at this pea, for example.
It’s plump, sweet, and fresh-tasting. I couldn’t even take the picture without stealing a pea first. My neighbors’ sugar snap peas are better than any I’ve tasted from farm markets, let alone supermarkets. And once a few weeks go by, the elves will start to put out heirloom tomatoes meaty and bursting with sweetly acidic flavor. These tomatoes were what made Jim and me wonder last year, when we just moved into town, if we could ever leave.
This potato salad, made with snap peas and potatoes from my magical neighbors, and fresh herbs from my own puny attempts at gardening (why try, when you have gardening elves?), is the kind of potato salad that you can fool people into thinking is healthy. Very green, full of herbs and peas, it’s almost as if it doesn’t contain a healthy dollop of olive oil and a couple pats of butter. (Unless you are set on making a healthy potato salad, don’t leave out the butter; it melds all the flavors together and keeps it from becoming one of those ultra-vinegary potato salads—the type that make you long for some good mayonnaise.)
Use basil and chives if you can, because the basil plays up the sweetness in the peas, and chives work wonders for boiled potatoes. You must pour the vinaigrette on before the potatoes cool and don’t be alarmed if it soaks into the potatoes before you can say mum, it’s supposed to happen that way. Those potatoes will take on the sharp flavor of the wine vinegar, and be better for it. It’s okay that it seems too dry, that’s why you add the butter. The end product — with the butter and everything mashed up a bit — is soft, creamy, and rich, with a background kick. Bring it to your next barbecue. You can even tell everyone it’s healthy, I’ll keep the secret.
Snap Pea Potato Salad
The measurements here aren’t exact, I’m using volume because I didn’t weigh the peas and potatoes. You can tinker with the measurements if you like.
1 quart snap peas, string removed
1 quart new potatoes, washed
2 shallots, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1-2 tablespoons good white wine vinegar
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
pat or two of butter
basil, to taste
chives, to taste
salt and pepper
Bring a pot of water to a boil, add potatoes and a few pinches of salt. Boil until potatoes are firm-tender, adding the snap peas into the water during the last minute or two. Drain and transfer potatoes and peas to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl or measuring cup, add shallots, garlic, a pinch of salt, a few grindings of fresh black pepper, and mustard. Add vinegar and whisk with a fork. Add a drop of olive oil and whisk, adding a few more drops as you whisk. If the vinaigrette is starting to emulsify, you can add the rest of the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is creamy, otherwise keep adding olive oil in drops until it emulsifies. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour vinaigrette over hot potatoes. Immediately stir to combine. Stir in basil and chives and, once the vinaigrette has absorbed, stir in butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper (it can take a lot of both.)