Side dishes are, in my opinion, very underrated and are usually somewhat of an afterthought. We have all been guilty of not paying quite as much attention to our side dishes as they so rightfully deserve.

We all prepare our steaks, ribs, chicken, etc. with the utmost care and attention. When it comes to side dishes, more often than not, we usually “throw something together.” Most people tend to pay a little more attention to the starch of the meal than they do to the vegetable, but it’s still usually not nearly enough.

Barbeque is a unique food classification where the side dishes do really matter. Maybe it’s because the proteins take longer to cook as they are smoked, or maybe it’s just because barbeque sides are so darn tasty. Either way, barbeque, or even cookout, themed sides are both tasty and important.

During the summer, barbeques and cookouts happen very frequently. If you haven’t been to at least a handful of cookouts yet this summer then that’s your clue to start hosting more barbeques. Take some action and make it happen.

Whether you are hosting or attending cookouts, chances are very good that you will be responsible for supplying the celebration with at least one food item. This makes it a good idea to always have a delicious go-to side dish that you feel comfortable making and know that pretty much everyone will love.

That being said, I am going to share my go-to summer side dish with you right here in my “Just Cook It” column. If you read my “Just Cook It” column from June, then you already know how to make perfect barbeque ribs. After reading today’s column, I am confident that you will be able to properly prepare both the main course and side dish essentials of your own barbeque spread.

My go-to summer side dish is one of the recipes from my cookbook – “The Good, The Bad, The Cookbook” which is available at JustCookIt.net. The recipe is easily one of the most popular in the book, which is somewhat surprising since it is in fact a side dish. The recipe or dish that I am referring to is my Oven-Roasted Summer Potato Salad.

Everyone is familiar with the heavy mayonnaise based traditional potato salad.

Knowing that, I set out to design a version of potato salad that is fresh, light, and packs just as much, if not more, flavor than the traditional version.

During the hot summer months I, personally, don’t enjoy eating heavier foods – especially when they are a side dish. Ribs and certain barbeque items can be heavy, so when the main protein is on the heavier side I prefer the sides to be a bit lighter.

Another factor to take into consideration is all of the great fresh produce that is available during the summer months.

I would much rather enjoy a traditional mayonnaise based potato salad during the fall or winter months.

During the summer months I want to take advantage of as many of the seasonal items as possible.

By incorporating ingredients such as green beans and fresh cherries you can enjoy more of what summer has to offer.

As I said earlier, my go-to summer potato salad is not dressed with mayonnaise or a mayonnaise based dressing. It is dressed with a very simple White Balsamic Black Pepper Dressing, which is a vinaigrette style dressing.

White balsamic vinegar is very similar to traditional dark balsamic vinegar. Both styles of balsamic vinegar are made from white Trebbiano grapes in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

The difference between the two vinegars is that regular balsamic vinegar is cooked and concentrated to produce a dark color and rich deep flavor. White balsamic vinegar is cooked at high pressure to prevent caramelization, which produces a light color and gentler flavor.

The main reason I chose to use white balsamic over traditional balsamic for this recipe is solely for aesthetic reasons.

I didn’t want the dark color of the vinegar to darken the bright vibrant summery colors of the dish.

The flavor of the white balsamic is also really nice with this recipe because it is lighter, gentler, and allows more of the fresh flavors to shine in the dish. The black pepper in the dressing adds an additional layer of complexity and flavor that works really well with the fresh ingredients.

Arguably the most important ingredient in any potato salad is of course the potato. For my potato salad I chose to use my all-time favorite variety of potato – the Yukon Gold.

The Yukon Gold is a variety of potato most distinctly characterized by its thin, smooth eye free skin and yellow tinged flesh. A great perk of the Yukon Gold potato is that it can stand up to both dry heat and wet heat cooking methods.

Yukon Gold’s have a waxy moist flesh and sweet flavor. They are almost buttery in my opinion and aren’t an overly starchy or overly waxy potato. They are ideal for boiling, baking, and frying. They are also great for grilling, pan-frying, and roasting.

I chose to roast them for this recipe for a couple of reasons. First, I prefer the flavor of a roasted or grilled potato to a boiled one. Unless you utilize the liquid in the recipe that the potato is boiled in, you actually lose instead of gain flavor. Roasting gives you a much richer flavor.

Second, the oven is generally not used as much during cookouts and during the summer months in general. The stove always seems to be a busy place no matter what’s being cooked and the grill will most likely be tied up with large pieces of meat. Being able to cook your potatoes unsupervised in the oven seems to make the most sense.

I also chose to use shallots in this recipe instead of the more traditional onions. I like the sweetness and overall flavor of shallots more than onions, but I really chose to use shallots for a different reason.

I chose shallots because of the variety of Yukon Gold potato I chose to use. I used baby Yukon Gold’s because they roast faster and are easier to slice. Shallots just so happen to be very close to the same size as those baby spuds.

This makes life extremely easy because now the potatoes and shallots can be roasted together on the same pan and are both even done roasting in just about the same amount of time. Couple this with the fact that I prefer the flavor of shallots as mentioned above and we’ve got a win-win all the way around.

To incorporate summer flavors, and also some bright colors, into the dish I chose to use green beans and fresh cherries. The trick to the green beans is to blanch them in boiling water until they are al dente and then immediately shock them in ice water to stop the cooking process to set their bright green color. That’s how chefs get their beans to stay bright green and that’s how you can too.

For the cherries, I really like to use Rainier cherries if they are available, although any variety of fresh cherries will work. You want to use a sweeter cherry for this recipe as opposed to a tart cherry.

I prefer Rainier cherries because of their sweet flavor and also because of their beautiful yellow/red color. They almost have a tie-dye effect when you look at them.

Whatever type of cherry you decide to use, it is important to remove the stems and discard them, cut the cherries in half, and remove and discard the pits. You don’t want your guests to unexpectedly bite down on a rock hard cherry pit and possibly break a tooth.

Finally, I like to tie everything together with some crumbled blue cheese and toasted walnuts. Not only do the flavors of both of these ingredients work really well with all of the other ingredients, but they also lend a needed textural component to the potato salad.

For the blue cheese, I prefer to use Gorgonzola only because I really enjoy the creamier texture that it adds to the dish. Gorgonzola is made from unskimmed cows milk and is buttery, crumbly yet creamy, and has a bit of a salty flavor profile.

If Gorgonzola had a soul mate, I am pretty certain that walnuts would be it. Walnuts not only pair perfectly with Gorgonzola, but they also go great with all of the other ingredients in this recipe.

Just as the Gorgonzola adds a needed creamy texture, walnuts add a needed crunchy element.

Toasting the walnuts creates a much deeper and richer flavor that I enjoy very much.

You don’t absolutely have to toast your walnuts for this recipe, but I highly recommend it. When toasting walnuts, be sure to set a timer and check them frequently as they will burn rather quickly if left unsupervised. As soon as they begin to give off a toasty aroma they are done.

There is a very fine line between walnuts being perfectly toasted and walnuts being burnt. It’s not difficult to toast walnuts, it just takes a little TLC to get them just right and trust me, it’s well worth the extra effort.

You are now armed with two delicious no-fail summer barbeque recipes. Invite everyone over for some Barbeque Ribs and Oven-Roasted Potato Salad and of course don’t forget ice-cold beers.

Check out the video of me making my Oven-Roasted Summer Potato Salad at Herald-Standard.com and as always – Just Cook It!

Mario J. Porreca of Belle Vernon is a food personality, author, and the host of Just Cook It Radio on WMBS Radio 590 AM.

He can be reached via his website at: www.JustCookIt.net. Twitter: @MarioPorreca

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