Whilst wandering my local farmer’s market last weekend, I noticed a large basket of dark, speckled tubers labelled purple congo potatoes. They were fascinating, thin and knobbly like kipflers wrapped in dusty black strips of parchment.
Being a sucker for new ingredients, I soon filled a bag and squirreled it home with fresh asparagus, artichokes and golden cherry tomatoes. Four days later, I threw together my default potato salad as a contribution to a barbecue at a friend’s place.
This potato salad isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill mayonnaise fest. By incorporating creamy goats cheese, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic and a splash of bacon fat, the salad retains just the right amount of creaminess without masking the freshness of the boiled potatoes, herbs and cherry tomatoes.
Salty bacon adds some savoury complexity whilst toasted pine nuts add a sprinkle of necessary crunch. It’s the kind of salad that I can’t get enough of, as there’s variance in every bite.
As you can tell from the photographs above, purple congos aren’t the most attractive of the tuber family. They’re rather squat, ribbed and speckled, bearing more resemblance to excrement than food. Their flesh is dry and rather floury after cooking so I definitely wouldn’t recommend them for roasting or chips. When boiled, they retain a firm but dry texture that soaks up butter or olive oil beautifully. They’re also wonderful in creamy (purple) mash.
This salad doesn’t have to be made from purple congo potatoes; in fact, it works even better with other waxy or all-rounder potatoes such as spuntas, Ruby Lou, Dutch creams, kipflers or bintjes. The only advantage of the purple congo is its inky colour variance that emerges upon cutting to luckily be retained after cooking.
As with most other dark-pigmented vegetables (e.g. beetroot, red cabbage) purple congos stain terribly. I’d encourage you to use an old chopping board whilst preparing them. Wash all utensils as soon as possible to prevent staining.
My Favourite Potato Salad
Serves 6 as a side dish
- 500g waxy or all-rounder potatoes (I used a mixture of purple congo and royal blue)
- 200g punnet cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
- 175g bacon rashers, finely diced
- 1/2 Spanish onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 4 spring onions (shallots)
- handful of washed Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped
- zest of 1 lemon (plus some juice)
- 100g goats cheese, crumbled
- 50g pine nuts, toasted
- 1-2 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt
- cracked black pepper
Wash your potatoes and remove any eyes or blemished skin. Chop into even pieces (about 2cm x 2cm) and place into a pot of fresh salted water.
Boil over medium heat until the potatoes are firm but tender (easily pierced with a knife but not falling apart; don’t worry if your water turns blackish-green, that’s normal with purple congos). Drain and place into a large bowl.
In the meantime, heat a good splash of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, bacon and Spanish onion, then cook on low to medium heat until the bacon is crisp and the onion is translucent (about 10 minutes; agitate the pan as required).
Add to the still-warm* potatoes (including the residual fat from the pan) with the lemon zest, a squeeze of lemon juice, a good drizzle of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and some salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside to cool slightly.
*adding the dressing to the potatoes whilst they’re still warm allows them to soak up a lot of gorgeous flavour in the dressing. If your potatoes have cooled completely, warm them in the microwave briefly before adding the olive oil, lemon, balsamic and residual bacon fat.
Add in the rest of the ingredients alongside another squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Mix well and season to taste.
I like to serve this salad alongside some simple grilled meat or fish with another bowl of fresh green leaves.
*It’s also perfect as an abstract take on potato hash: Splash a little bit of oil onto the base of a medium heavy-based pan. Add in enough salad to cover the bottom of the pan. Make a couple of ‘indents’ into which you can crack a couple of eggs. Cook over medium heat until the bottom is crisp and golden and the egg whites are set. Serve with a green salad.