June 20th is the summer solstice. That means the sun poised at the highest point of the sky, and the longest day of the year: but is it also a harbinger of impending autumn? Are we going glass half full with this one? Or half empty? I’m a half glass full kind of a person. I’ll lay all my cards on the table now. So yes, technically speaking, the longest day of the year means that as of June 20th the days are only going to get shorter. I’ll give you that one. I won’t even try to fight it. But I’ll also tell you that between me and my heavy winter boots stand the Wimbledon season, some beach time on the Venice Lido, white peaches and a hell of a lot of gelato. Fact.
Right now, today: it’s all about the bunch of peonies perched on our piano, the dawn chorus waking me up in the mornings, and the garden strawberries. And the clotted cream – not technically seasonal fare, but oh so very good with the strawberries. Today, it feels like full blown, deep summer. With the whisper of more to come. Glass very much half full. Frankly – glass outright brimming. With metaphorical Pimms and lemonade.
Round about this time of year, Midsummer, I inevitably find myself having a ‘new potato’ moment. It happens every year. Baby potatoes, served cold – with lashings of good olive oil and fresh herbs - and guised as a salad. Though anyone who lived through the Atkins mania of the Noughties knows better than to speak of carbs and salad in the same sentence without inverted comments loaded with irony. The potato salad – you see – is to summer what the roast potato is to winter. If you are the kind of person who forgoes seconds of Christmas turkey, only to nibble on the really crispy bits of potato that you’ve surreptitiously scraped off the bottom of the pan – and, let’s be clear, I am that kind of a person – then, you too are probably having a new potato moment right now. And you will want – let’s rephrase that, you will need - a potato salad at your summer picnic. At your summer barbecue. At your summer pretty much anything loosely involving food. Along with your asparagus tart and your strawberry and mascarpone galette. I’m just saying.
Therein, of course, lies the tricky question of how to cook and dress these baby potatoes. Some subscribe to the mayonnaise school of thought – a sort of creamy sauce with chopped chives. But I like to go for something a little lighter - and it was in the quest for a delicate dish that this recipe came about. I was in the kitchen, playing with samphire. Very small pun intended – couldn’t resist. Seeing what I could make with this seasonal delicacy. Turns out that the samphire salty sea green perfectly compliments the earthy new potato. Match made in heaven. I heaped in a pile of roughly chopped, verdant parsley – for good measure. And sliced up a lemon. The lemon cooks ever so slightly as you toss it with the piping hot potatoes, its zest and rind tenderise and the juices make for a delicate vinaigrette. All in all - irresistible.
To me this salad says Midsummer. It says long days, short nights. It says Ray-Ban sunglasses, a vintage cotton dress and the patter of the tiniest red suede moccasins. But that’s just me. I like potatoes and I’m a full glass kind of a person. How about you?
- 1kg baby new potatoes
- 70ml olive oil
- large bunch of fresh parsley generous pinch of Maldon salt
- 90g samphire
- 1 lemon
- Steam the potatoes for 20-25 mins, depending on size, until they are tender if you pierce them with a fork. When cooked, toss them in a large boil, drizzle generously with the oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss well so that all the potatoes are coated. You want to make sure to do this while they are still warm so that they absorb all the flavour of the oil and seasoning. Roughly chop the parsley and add to the mix. Slice them lemon as thinly as you can and add to the salad. Meanwhile, steam the samphire for 4-6 mins until tender, but not wilted, and add to the potatoes. Serve warm or at room temperature.