Salade Nicoise

This is a summertime favorite.  The ingredients for this salad trickle into the farmstands at various times during the summer, but they’re all in by late July–green beans, potatoes, tomatoes and lettuce.

This is the PERFECT dish for summer entertaining–you can prepare all of the ingredients ahead and assemble the plates at the last minute.  It’s colorful, impressive, and substantial enough to be a late night supper with some great bread.

The big question is whether to buy fresh tuna and cook it ahead, or to use good imported canned tuna in olive oil.  I often will make my own olive oil poached tuna  or simply grilled tuna for this salad.  In the south of France, however, the authentic salade Nicoise is made with good olive-oil packed canned tuna.  Tonight, I’ve decided to go with the imported tuna from Spain (in a jar).

The green beans must be blanched and drained ahead of time.  For fresh baby green beans, boil only for about 3 to 4 minutes in heavily salted water (helps keep them green), then drain and shock in cold water.

Potatoes (yukon golds) must be peeled, sliced and dropped into the same heavily salted, boiling water for about 7 to 9 minutes (until slighty soft but not mushy).

Then dress the potatoes with salt, pepper and olive oil until ready to use.  Toss them gently (with your fingers or a wooden spoon) to prevent breaking and set aside (better to leave them at room temperature rather than the fridge until you’re ready to serve the salad).

The eggs must be boiled and cooled (see my foolproof method of boiling eggs in my recent Cobb Salad post).

You can use lettuce or more assertive greens such as arugula, but right now, my farm stand is brimming over with irresistable oak leaf lettuce–my favorite variety of lettuce.  I’ve mixed red and green oak leaf for this salad.

The dressing for this salad can vary–you can use a lemon/oil dressing or add a touch of mustard for a true french vinaigrette, but since I’m Italian, my preferred method of dressing this salad is with red wine vinegar and olive oil.  I find lemon juice a bit timid for the assertive ingredients in this salad.

Simply toss the lettuce with the oil, vinegar and salt, and begin arranging ingredients on top and around it.  Make sure to start with an abundant pile of greens as your base, since the greens shrink and wilt under the weight of the ingredients, and it’s nice to savor the flavor of the oily greens themselves after the other ingredients have been eaten.

Salade Nicoise

serves 4

4 medium heads of oak leaf lettuce (or whatever variety you choose)

1 pint cherry tomatoes

4 boiled eggs

1 lb baby green beans, blanched, shocked and cooled

2 large yukon gold potatoes, sliced boiled, then dressed with salt and oil

1/4 c pitted nicoise olives

8 – 10 anchovies packed in olive oil

12 oz. imported tuna packed in olive oil

1 tbl re wine vinegar

2 tbls extra-virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste.

Dress greens with vinegar and oil, and season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Arrange remaining ingredients on and around the greens and serve.

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