I don’t know if it’s just me, but I associate potatoes more with fall and winter than with summer. When I think of potatoes, I imagine some deliciously roasted chunks, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with rosemary, baked to perfection, with a soft, moist inside and a somewhat crusty outside. And yet, potatoes appear in salads all through the summer, from tuna and potato salad to ensaladilla rusa, a popular Spanish tapa. One of my favorite summer salads, in fact, has potatoes as one of its main ingredients, and it is my mom’s summer potato salad, whose recipe I’m sharing today. It is fresh and light, and you could perfectly have it as a first course, or as a side. It’s easy to make, and very versatile. You could add some small capers to the version I’m sharing today, adding an extra layer of flavor.
Salads and easy to make dishes like this one are what I cook most when vacationing on the coast. As much as I like cooking, and eating good food, the last thing I want to do when I’m at the beach in Spain is spend more time than necessary in the kitchen —the beach is right outside the door, luring me to it. And in the evenings, excursions to town, with its lively streets, or to the nearby towns, are always in the plan.
One of these towns is Peñíscola, just north of Alcocebre, in the province of Castellón, a coastal town that since 2013 is listed in the network of “most beautiful towns in Spain”. Peñíscola is often called the Gibraltar of Valencia, and locally, The City in the Sea. The old town, with its castle, is a fortified seaport built on a rocky peninsula about 220 feet above sea level, and joined to the mainland by a narrow strip of land (in fact, the word Peñíscola is an evolution of the Latin word peninsula, and the word peña, or crag). This narrow strip of land, or isthmus, divides Peñíscola into two very different areas, but with long sand beaches on both sides. Sierra de Irta, on the south side, is a protected area, and the most virgin and unspoiled park in the Valencian Community.
Peñíscola is not only beautiful, but it has a fascinating history. As witnesses of it, it’s monuments and attractions tell the story of the city. The one that strikes you first as you approach the old town is the castle, perched above the cliff, overlooking the deep blue sea. It is not hard to imagine that it served a vital purpose in the defense of the city and of Spain itself, against invasions by sea.
The castle was built between 1294 and 1307 by the Knights Templar, over the remains of the the arab alcazaba, or citadel, and reverted to the crown of Aragón in 1420. But what it is most famous for is for being the home of the schismatic Avignon pope Benedict XIII, Pedro de Luna, also known as Papa Luna. Benedict XIII was installed as pope at the same time that another pope was installed in Rome, starting the Western Schism. In fact, the castle is known as Castillo del Papa Luna, as Benedict XIII lived there until his death in 1423. The church that is attached to the castle is famous, too, as the church where Alonso de Borja, Borgia pope later installed as pope Calixtus III, was named bishop.
Nowadays, the castle is an imposing tourist attraction, and it has been the stage for some memorable productions, like Anthony Mann’s El Cid, with Charlton Heston and Sofia Loren, and more recently, Game of Thrones. Many other events are held there, including yearly jazz, baroque, and classical music festivals, as well as film and classical theatre festivals. When you stand in its balconies and overlooks, and walk its rooms, you can feel and imagine what an experience is has to be to attend any of those events, in such a venue.
Leaving the castle you’ll find yourself in the narrow, picturesque streets, and will be greeted by the numerous bars and restaurants, many displaying the famous jamón serrano legs, hanging side to side, and the ceramics and local craft stores and art galleries. You won’t be able to leave town without trying one of its delicacies, or acquiring some souvenirs (I always find a serving plate or bowl that I just have to have!)
Summer is slowly coming to an end, and as much as I long for the food of the sea, there are some dishes that transition very well from summer into fall, and I find this summer potato salad to be one of them.
SUMMER POTATO SALAD
Ensalada de Patatas
6 medium potatoes
For the majado:
2 cloves garlic
4 tablespoons packed parsley
1 pinch salt
8 tablespoons olive oil
Run the potatoes under cold water to clean them from any soil. Place the unpealed potatoes in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until cooked but still relatively firm (check with a fork). Drain in a colander and rinse under cool running water. When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes, then slice them into 1/3-inch-thick slices. Arrange the potatoes on a platter.
Make the eggs:
Fill a pot halfway with water and bring to a boil. Gently lower the eggs into the water, making sure the water covers the eggs by at least an inch. Bring the water to a gentle simmer and start timing for 12 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a bowl with ice water. After 12 minutes, remove the eggs from the hot water with a strainer or slotted spoon or carefully drain the water from the pot. Place the eggs in the ice water and let them cool down for 6-8 minutes. Remove the eggs from the ice water and peel immediately, tapping gently on the counter to crack the shell. Start peeling, making sure to get under the membrane as you remove the egg shells.
Slice the eggs into 1/8-inch thick slices and, with a large blade knife, procede to mince them. Reserve.
Make the majado:
In a mortar, pound the garlic, salt and parsley with a pestle until you reach your desired consistency. This will be your base. Add the olive oil to the base and stir to blend.
Drizzle the majado over the potatoes and top with the minced boiled eggs. Refrigerate until ready to serve (the salad is best when tempered 10 minutes before ready to eat).
Any leftover majado can be stored in the refrigerator in an air tight container for a few days.
The peeled eggs can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for several days (alternatively, you can also store the unpeeled eggs in the refrigerator for a few days).