Friday 5 November 2010

Hot Garlicky New Potatoes with a Cold & Silken Tuna Sauce

I am an ardent fan of new potatoes, especially if they're dug fresh and tender from the earth (or, at least, if I can buy them within two or three days of Farmer X digging them up all fresh and tender).  With their lovely waxen flesh and squeaky little skins, baby potatoes are, to my mind, a prince among vegetables. What a shame, then, that new potatoes are so often treated as Cinderellas, and edged to the side of the plate, where they become a supporting act to the main meaty event. This recipe - a revamp of one of the earliest dishes I devised for this blog - celebrates new potatoes, and elevates them to what I hope is a starring role.
Hot garlicky new potatoes with a tuna sauceThis beautiful salad/soup bowl was made by master potter David Walters of Franschhoek.

This recipe is inspired by the sublime Italian dish Vitello Tonnato - thin slices of cold poached veal coated in a silken sauce of mayonnaise, tuna, capers, lemon juice and olive oil. I'd tasted pale imitations of this dish once or twice, but it was only when I went to Italy for the first time in 1991 that I experienced (in a small, nondescript B&B in the Aoste region) the full glory of this dish. We were exhausted, my husband and I, having driven and argued all day, heading in our rented car for the Swiss border, with a shrieking and wet-nappied toddler strapped to the back seat. We checked grumpily into the first B&B we found en route, and to our fortune, Mama - a genuine, muttering, black-stockinged genius of a grandmother - was in the kitchen that night, weaving her particular Italian magic.

I can't remember many details of that meal, but I do remember Mama's Vitello Tonnato, and how my eyes rolled dreamily back in my head as I ate it.

I made the dish a couple of times in the years after our trip, using veal, but as this ingredient is not easy to find in South Africa, and scandalously expensive, I came up with a recipe with the same - or as close as I could get to Mama's original - sauce, but using,  instead of veal,  boiled baby spuds, which are briefly tossed in hot olive oil and garlic.

In my earlier recipe, I insisted on peeled potatoes. I've changed my mind about this since. Half the fun of eating a new potato is enjoying the earthy taste of its pale, papery skin. Peel the potatoes if you must, and good luck to you.

Three other changes to my earlier recipe: I've added snipped chives for a little oniony bite, and also lightened up the heavily mayonnaised dressing with some natural yoghurt. As a final improvement, and to add a little texture, I've deep-fried some capers so they open up into little crunchy flowers.

I suggest you serve this as a starter.

Hot New Potatoes with a Cold & Silken Tuna SauceThe sauce little dish, on the right, by master potter David Walters of Franschhoek, has a handy indented rim, designed so that you can rest a spoon on it.

Hot New Potatoes with a Cold & Silken Tuna Sauce

For the potatoes:
1.2 kg baby potatoes (or enough for six)
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
30 ml (2 T) olive oil
2 small cloves garlic, peeled

For the dressing:
1 tin tuna in oil, drained
2 large, good-quality anchovy fillets
3 T (45 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup (125 ml)  good mayonnaise (Hellman's, or home-made, but not salad cream)
½ cup (125 ml) thick natural yoghurt
50 ml olive oil
14 capers, drained of their brine
a pinch of salt (but taste the sauce first; the anchovy fillets may be salty enough)
freshly milled black pepper
a little hot water

To garnish:
36 capers, drained of their brine
2 T (30 ml) sunflower oil
finely snipped fresh chives

First make the dressing. Put all the ingredients, except the hot water, into the goblet of a blender and whizz at high speed, adding a teaspoonful of hot water at a time, until you have a smooth, silky sauce. The dressing should have the consistency of thick cream, or a thin custard. Process the dressing until it's absolutely smooth. Pour into a bowl, cover and chill for two to three hours.

Put the new potatoes into a large pot, cover with cold water to which you have added a teaspoon of salt, and bring quickly to the boil. Turn down the heat slightly, and boil the potatoes briskly for 10-15 minutes, or until they are tender and cooked right through, but not falling apart.

While they are cooking, crush the garlic to a fine paste. Heat the olive oil gently in a pan and stir in the crushed garlic. Fry gently for a minute or two, but don't allow the garlic to brown. Drain the potatoes thoroughly and cut each one in half.  Tip them into the saucepan containing the oil and garlic, and toss well to coat.

Pile the potatoes into a warmed dish, cover loosely with a tea towel and keep hot.

Now make the fried capers. Using a piece of kitchen paper, pat the capers quite dry.  Heat the oil in a small sauce pan until very hot, but not smoking. Drop the dried capers into the oil and fry  for a minute or so, or until they open up like flowers, and become very crispy. Remove the capers from the pan with a slotted spoon, drain well on kitchen paper, and pile into a little dish.

Using a pair of scissors, finely snip the chives and place them in a separate small dish.

Divide the hot potatoes between six warmed plates (or pile them on a big platter). Remove the cold tuna sauce from the fridge, decant into a small  jug, and pass it around the table, along with the fried capers and snipped chives..

Serves six.
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8 comments: said...

Luv 'the uncle's' little sauce dish!

Koek! said...

This certainly is intriguing... If there are any new spuddies at the market tomorrow, you can bet they are going to get this treatment!

Nina Timm said...

so elegant Jane, this could well be served at a very fancy schmancy hotel luncheon!!!

Anonymous said...

what a treat, I love new potatoes any which way :)

Joanne said...

There are a lot of veggies that I think need to be upgraded from supporting actor to lead role status. Potatoes are for sure one of them. THese sound delicious!

olive oil lover said...

Good hot garlic potatoes! I don't like yogurt or mayonnaise so I didn't try the sauce.

Marisa said...

I saw a recipe for tonnato a while back (think it was in one of Tessa Kiros' books actually) and it look delish, but the veal part of the ingredients list stumped me too. Think this is a great riff on that - will be trying it out.

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

OMG that looks good!! And oh how much I love crispy fried capers...