Tony and I are naturally drawn to fresher, lighter foods this time of year and often enjoy a hearty salad as our main course for dinner. We draw inspiration from the Mediterranean, where the culinary emphasis is traditionally on the use of fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits, a variety of oils and fresh herbs instead of butter and salt, and lighter proteins like fish, chicken and legumes.
With origins in the south of France, Salade Niçoise is one of our top choices for a light supper.
Salade Niçoise is one of those iconic dishes that has as many variations as there are cheeses in France (at least 450-plus), with nearly as many folks claiming that their version is the “one true version.”
Jacques Médecin (former mayor of Nice, France, cookbook author and convicted embezzler) went so far as to claim that one must “never, never… include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable” in a Salad Niçoise, while others decry the use of tuna or anchovies or both.
With so much hoopla over a simple salad, you might be inclined to skip the drama entirely and opt for something less controversial, like a humble Cobb or Chef salad. But then you’d miss out on the healthy elegance and beauty that this salad embodies.
Fortunately, we’re not nearly so strident about our food or recipes, and have no shame in presenting our version of this classic French salad, which happens to include boiled potatoes and green beans, tuna fish and anchovies.
Salade Niçoise is often presented as a composed salad, which means that each ingredient is artfully arranged on a platter and dressed with vinaigrette, instead of tossing everything together. I love this approach, as it has great visual appeal, is easy to assemble and accommodates picky eaters, who can choose which components they favor.
Since we’re showcasing each ingredient, it’s important to consider quality, color, size, shape and variety when making our Salade Niçoise.
For this occasion, we’ve chosen farm fresh hard-boiled eggs for their colorful yolks; baby gold, red and purple potatoes (medley found in local grocery store); spring onions; cucumber (cut with stripes for added elegance); fresh tomato wedges; Kalamata olives; blanched green beans and wild skipjack light tuna. The wild tuna is more expensive than an everyday brand, but it holds up better on a platter, making it better for this application.
As we progress into summer, we’ll throw caution to the wind and add garden-grown carrots, radishes, pea pods and maybe even a sprinkling of mushrooms and roasted red peppers. Capers and cornichons (small pickled gherkins) would also be great additions. Quelle horreur!
For me, one of the most important components to a good Salade Niçoise is the dressing, and the recipe we’re sharing today is one of our all-time favorite salad dressings. With its combination of good Dijon mustard, fresh herbs, shallots, garlic, oils and anchovies, this dressing is bursting with zest and flavor and brightens up the entire salad. I use a food processor to mix the ingredients, but you could also use a whisk or mortar and pestle, and then lightly drizzle over the entire platter.
I like to make enough for leftovers so that we can enjoy Pan Bagnat the next day, a traditional French sandwich made of French bread and Salade Niçoise. To prepare, chop any leftover ingredients into bite-size pieces and mix them together, adding more dressing and tuna if needed, and refrigerate for one day. When ready to serve, use your hands to hollow out the inside of the French bread, fill with the salad mix and enjoy. C’est magnifique!
“Home With the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello’s in Moorhead, Minn., and lives in Fargo with their 11-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at dine//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.
Salade Niçoise & Pan Bagnat, Nasello-Style
1 pound baby potatoes (use variety of purple, red, gold if available)
4 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and quartered
6 to 8 ounces fresh green beans, blanched (a large handful)
3 medium-large tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 English cucumber, sliced into ¼-inch thick rounds
2 5-ounce cans wild skipjack light tuna, drained
¼ cup spring onions (scallions), sliced thinly on the bias
1 cup good black olives, pitted
Garlic Dijon Dressing (recipe below)
Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and cook over medium-high heat until potatoes are fork tender, about 15 to 20 minutes if using baby potatoes; longer if larger. Remove and rinse with cold water to stop cooking, set aside to cool. Once cooled, slice purple potatoes into ½-inch rounds; red and gold can be quartered.
As the potatoes cook, place the eggs in another pot and cover with at least an inch of cold water. Set the pan over high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes for firm yet creamy yolks, 15 minutes for very firm yolks. Save the boiling water for blanching the green beans.
Fill a bowl with ice water and use a slotted spoon to transfer eggs to cold water for at least 1 minute to stop cooking. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 1 week. For easy peeling, simply place an egg in a glass and cover with about an inch of water. Cover the top of the glass with one hand, and shake glass vigorously from side to side for about 10 seconds. The peel will easily slip off once cracked.
Bring the pot of water back to a boil, add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and place the green beans and blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a medium bowl with ice and water; set aside. After 2 minutes, taste a bean — it should feel tender-crisp, not too hard or too soft. If still hard, continue blanching for 1 more minute. Remove beans and transfer immediately to ice water until cool, at least 1 minute. Drain beans and pat dry: can be refrigerated overnight until ready to use.
On a large platter, colorfully arrange each ingredient by group: Purple potatoes work beautifully next to hard-boiled eggs, with bright green beans on the opposite side. Fill in remaining area with rest of ingredients, paying close attention to color and size of each ingredient. Drizzle generously with dressing.
To make Pan Bagnat: Chop up remaining ingredients and toss together with more tuna and dressing as desired. Refrigerate up to 1 day. Use your hands to scoop out the inside from a loaf of French bread (whole wheat or white). Brush insides with more dressing and fill with Niçoise mixture. Serves 2 to 4 people.
Sarah’s Garlic Dijon Dressing
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 anchovies (oil-packed), minced
1½ teaspoons fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon water (if needed)
Freshly ground black pepper
Place all ingredients, except the oils, water, salt and pepper, in a food processor or medium bowl and mix or whisk until combined. Mix the 2 oils together and slowly add them in, mixing or whisking constantly until emulsified and dressing appears pale yellow and creamy. If the dressing is too thick, adjust with up to 1 tablespoon of water. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. Refrigerate for up to 1 week.