Fresh marjoram leaves are an unexpectedly delicious addition to potato salad with walnuts and peas. The herb's delicate flavors of sage, lavender and pine combine beautifully with a tangy shallot vinaigrette.
It’s the end of May, but I‘m calling it “late spring” even if it’s so hot and muggy that I almost fell face forward into the purple clematis while trying to make it twine around the new tuteur B and I just placed in the corner of the flower bed in front of the house.
I survived but I’m not so sure about the stubborn clematis. Today it looks a bit battle-scarred.
The heat wave has given the marjoram beast a growth spurt so no matter how much I cut it back, new sprigs seem to sprout overnight. I think this may turn out to be the summer of the no-longer-forgotten herb.
I cut a few of the longest branches with delicate foliage and starry white blossoms and put them in a vase over the kitchen sink. The willowy stems wave this way and that, making a graceful bouquet. No arranging skills required.
And when I was dreaming up what to do with the freshly dug potatoes for last night’s supper, there was the marjoram, waving its sage and lavender-flavored leaves in my face: “Choose me!” it whispered. “Choose me!”
And so I did. This potato salad combines lots of fresh marjoram leaves with the last of the sweet English peas from our CSA box and toasted walnuts from the pantry. The potatoes themselves were so fresh that bits of dried dirt still clung to their papery yellow skins. They needed just 20 minutes of boiling to become fork-tender. Don’t bother to peel them.
The salad is tossed with a shallot vinaigrette, a stalwart dressing that can be varied depending upon what you have in the pantry. I used shallots, chunky sea salt and freshly ground black Indian peppercorns and whisked them together with a white balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and Italian olive oil. But you could use any onions—red, white, yellow—or green garlic or the white bulbs of green onions. Vinegars might include white or red wine, rice wine or sherry, while walnut oil or a peppery green olive oil would also be delicious.
With so much marjoram, I’m already thinking of ways to improvise.
Blandina has suggested combining it with basil for “a very special pesto,” and adding a “generous handful” to caponata, that utterly delicious Sicilian dish of eggplant, celery, onion and tomato, cooked until it is very, very soft and then seasoned with red wine vinegar and green olives.
By the way, if you haven’t discovered Blandina’s blog, please take a look at la griccia She is a textile artist and has just returned from an indigo workshop in Japan, so there are exotic posts to read—but I especially like the way she writes about her everyday life in Florence. Her point of view is elegant, reflective and moving, especially when she writes about her children. Her blog is written in both Italian and English, which certainly puts me to shame.
I’ll be trying both of Blandina’s suggestions soon, but tonight I simply must use the tender summer squash that’s flooding in from Elise’s Elysian Field Farm CSA, so I am going to adapt the recipe for Summer Squash with Corn, Lots of Basil and Sweet Butter.…substituting lots of you know what for the basil.
Late Spring Potato Salad with English Peas, Toasted Walnuts and Marjoram
Ingredients for the salad:
2 pounds small potatoes, freshly dug if you can get them
½ cup walnut halves
¾ cup fresh English peas, shelled
¼ cup finely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ cup olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh marjoram leaves, stripped off the stems and finely chopped
Fresh marjoram sprigs and flowers for garnish, if desired
Method for the Salad:
1. Scrub the potatoes well and put them in a medium pot covered with cold water. Bring to a rolling boil, then turn the heat down slightly and boil at a more moderate rate for 20 minutes or until the potatoes can easily be pierced with a fork. Do not let them disintegrate. When ready, drain through a large strainer and set aside to cool.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, combine the chopped shallots, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and set aside.
3. In a small cast iron frying pan, toast the walnuts over medium heat. Turn them often with a large spoon and keep a close eye on them to prevent them from burning. Toast 4 to 5 minutes or just until the nuts have turned a deeper golden brown. Remove from the pan, spread out on a small plate and let them cool. Than break the halves into a few smaller pieces and set aside.
4. Shell the peas if you haven’t already done so.
5. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them into slices and put them in a large salad bowl. Add the toasted walnuts and shelled peas. Whisk the olive oil into the ingredients for the vinaigrette and pour over the potatoes and other ingredients. Toss well so that the dressing is evenly distributed. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.
6. Just before serving sprinkle the marjoram leaves over the salad and toss. Garnish with fresh marjoram flowers and tender sprigs, if desired. The salad can be served at room temperature, but is especially delicious if the potatoes are still slightly warm.