With heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, capers, red onion and garlic-infused olive oil, this colorful layered Italian Potato Salad tastes like the promise of summer. Recipe below.
The latest challenge to deep dish pizza’s reign in Chicago just opened in our Logan Square neighborhood. Ciao Napoli Pizzeria. We had lunch there last weekend.
The pizza was wonderful. The crust crisp and cracker thin, the toppings delicious. The space was lovely too—clean, airy and contemporary, with two walls of windows. But what really wowed us was a potato salad.
Specifically, their Neapolitan-style potato salad made with a handful of ingredients and beautifully arranged on a bright white plate, called simply “Old School Insalata.” The flavors were lively and fresh, tasting of spring or even the summer to come. What caught our attention, though, was the salad’s elegantly deconstructed construction. Slices of potato were arranged in a single layer in a golden green pool of olive oil, and the other ingredients—in Ciao’s version, tomato chunks, chopped red onion, oregano and parsley—were scattered over the potato slices. Before the pizza even arrived, I had decided that some version of this salad would be this week’s post.
My default lazy-man’s-way-to-riches research technique—Googling “Italian potato salad”—brought up a staggering variety of salads, none of which seemed anything like the one that had started me down this path. “Neapolitan potato salad” brought up a mere handful. One contained sliced potatoes, but they were tossed in the salad, not arranged. To some, this lack of road map might seem daunting. To me, it meant I was free to reconstruct my own take.
One thing that I liked about the Ciao salad was the absence of vinegar. But I thought it could use a little brightening to cut the richness of the oil. So I added capers. I livened up the oil itself, infusing it with garlic and ground pepper. And I swapped basil, another Italian favorite herb, for the oregano and parsley of the original. The beautiful thing about this salad, well apart from its looks, is how it invites experimentation. If you try it [and you really should—it's easy to make and restaurant good, if I say so myself], I encourage you to make it your own.
Deconstructed Italian Potato Salad
Serves 2 [can be doubled or tripled or…]
For garlic-infused olive oil [makes 1/2 cup]:
1/2 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil [see Kitchen Notes]
1 large clove garlic
freshly ground black pepper
For potato salad:
4 tablespoons garlic-infused olive oil
1 large russet potato
1 cup chopped tomatoes [see Kitchen Notes]
2 tablespoons chopped red onions
4 teaspoons capers [chopped if large]
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Make garlic-infused olive oil. Peel garlic clove and bash it with the side of a knife to break it up, but not pulverize it. You want big chunks. Combine with olive oil in a jar. Grind in several generous grinds of black pepper. Seal jar and shake to combine flavors. Make at least 2 hours to up to a day or more ahead. The longer you let it sit, the more garlicky it will become. If using the same day, leave it on the counter and give it an occasional shake. If making it a day or more in advance, refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.
Make potato salad. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Peel and slice the potato into generous 1/4-inch slices, discarding ends. When water is rapidly boiling, salt it generously and add potato slices. Cook until they just lose that raw potato taste, but are still firm, no more than 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, gently transfer potato slices to bowl of iced water to stop the cooking. After potatoes have cooled transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
Combine tomatoes, onions, capers and half the basil in a bowl. When you’re ready to assemble the potato salad, dress the tomato mixture with 1 tablespoon of the garlic-infused olive oil [shake the jar first to get some of the ground pepper in the mix]. Spoon 3 tablespoons of the oil into the center of a serving plate. Arrange the potato slices in a single layer in the pool of oil. Scatter the tomato mix evenly over the potato slices. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of basil over everything and season the salad with salt and pepper. Serve.
After you finish the salad, there will still be olive oil on the plate. If you have some crusty bread to sop it up with, you will be really, really happy.
Olive oil—get the good stuff. Regular readers will notice that I almost never use the words extra virgin when referring to olive oil. For everyday use, especially when cooking is involved, I like my olive oil non-virginal. Extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point and will burn, sometimes even at moderate temperatures. It also has an assertive taste. Most of the time when I’m using olive oil, I’m doing it for the health benefits, not the big flavor. For this dish, though, you totally want that big beautiful olive oil taste. So use some good stuff for this—it’s worth it. And whatever you do, don’t say “evoo.” Ugh. We’re grown-ups here—let’s use the real name.
Use the leftover garlic-infused oil for a future salad dressing—or with more crusty bread as a snack. It will keep for a week or so in the fridge. You can even add more oil to the jar to percolate with the garlic.
You say tomato, I say get creative. The chef at Ciao used a yellow tomato for his salad. It added to the visual surprise and beauty of of the dish. We lucked out and found a colorful heirloom mix of small tomatoes that I halved or quartered, depending on their varying sizes. Red tomatoes would also be absolutely fine. If you use full-sized tomatoes, seed and drain them before chopping so you don’t end up with a watery slush in your olive oil.
Got pizza? And finally, if you’re in Chicago and in the mood for non-deep dish pizza, get yourself over to Ciao Napoli Pizzeria in Logan Square. Seriously.