Salade niçoise – a welcome to summer

Yesterday was the first of December, which also happens to be the first day of summer down here in the Southern Hemisphere. Well, in technical terms. In reality, summer comes a little later than it used to in New Zealand. The upside is that we are often still having wonderfully warm days as late as April. The downside is that summer takes a little time to get going.

But no matter. Summer is just around the corner and fortunately the temperatures have finally started to climb. A perfect time then to think about transitioning from the warm, comforting food of autumn/winter to the fresh, sprightly food of summer.

I thought this delicious salade niçoise was as good a place as any to start. When classic dishes have been around seemingly forever, inevitably several different versions pop up over time. Ingredient substitutions, removing this or adding that. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t always adhere to the strictures of “authenticity”.

Having said that however, there are some flavour and texture combinations that work so perfectly it’s why dishes became classics in the first place. Take the Caprese salad I posted last week – what could be more perfect than mozzarella, tomatoes and basil?

When I did a bit of research on what an “authentic” salade niçoise should be I discovered that there were no absolute rules on this one although there should always be a few constants – olives (yes!), tomatoes (yes!), anchovies (I prefer tuna with a few anchovies), garlic in the dressing (definitely!) and crisp lettuce (for me that means delicious cos leaves). It’s important to remember that texture is equally important when balancing a dish.

One of the more common additions is new potatoes, but I prefer to serve the salad with some crusty bread. The green beans I love, a hard-boiled egg and a few artichoke hearts. The artichokes probably aren’t that common an addition but I absolutely love them. You can buy them preserved in a jar and they’re delicious. To digress briefly, they also happen to be fantastic on a pizza – try it and you’ll see.

Now the tuna. As fabulous as fresh tuna is (and I know chargrilled tuna is the trendy thing) I most often use tinned tuna. But in my defence I always buy it from my local gourmet supermarket where I can get the Italian tinned yellowfin tuna in olive oil. I think it is important if you’re going to be using tinned to make sure you buy the best you can – in olive oil is the best.

And one final tip – when hard-boiling the eggs shave a minute or so off your normal cooking time. You want the yolk to be only just cooked, if not with a tiny bit of squidge left in it.

So here is my take on the French classic – every mouthful is a dream.

 

Salade niçoise

Serves 2

 

2-3 x 80g tins tuna in olive oil (depending on how much tuna you want in the salad)

100g green beans

4 Roma or plum tomatoes, sliced into chunks

10 black olives

6 preserved artichoke hearts

2 large eggs, hardboiled and then peeled and quartered

6 anchovy fillets

Cos lettuce leaves for serving

 

Dressing

30 ml red wine vinegar

1 scant teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 fat garlic clove, peeled and crushed

Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste

90 ml extra-virgin olive oil

Small bunch of chives, finely chopped

 

Start by getting some water on the boil for your beans. Wash the beans, trim each end and then slice in half. Once the water is boiling, add some salt and then the beans. They should only take minutes to cook and you want them just starting to soften but still with some crunch.

This is the most important part – the very second the beans are cooked, drain and then rinse well under cold water to stop them cooking. In fact I usually rinse them a few times and then let them sit briefly in cold water. This is to ensure that the beans stop cooking and stay a beautiful vibrant green.

Next make the dressing. Whisk the vinegar and mustard together and stir through the crushed garlic. Add the salt and pepper and then transfer to a jar with a tight fitting screw-top lid. Add the olive oil and chives, screw the lid on tightly and then give it a good shake. Dressing done!

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From here on in it’s really just an assembly job.

Arrange the lettuce leaves on a large plate.

Drain the tuna and fork out chunks to arrange on the leaves followed by the tomato chunks. Scatter over the green beans.

Slice the artichoke hearts in half and remove the stones from the olives. Now scatter these over also.

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Finally place the egg quarters and then the anchovies.

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Now all you need to do is drizzle over the divine dressing and you’re ready to eat.

I think this salad absolutely must be served with a crusty baguette.

 

 

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