Salade Nicoise – the Ultimate Summer Meal

Your backyard garden is overflowing with its summer bounty, or the CSA box arrived packed with a variety of fresh seasonal veggies.Perhaps the Co-op or farmers market has great prices on peak-season produce. It’s 100 degrees outside and dinnertime is approaching. Pour yourself a nice glass of local rose and put together a salade niçoise.

Since its creation in Nice, France during the late 19th century, salade niçoise has grown in popularity and is now seen across many continents, with variations that extend well beyond the original combination of tomatoes, potatoes, anchovies, and olive oil. Like so many of the world’s best dishes, salade niçoise started as a simple dish for the working class, using whatever was on hand. Today’s chefs offer plenty of unusual interpretation, featuring ingredients as diverse as quinoa to salmon, shrimp, or seared fresh tuna.Like the professionals, home cooks can have free reign in creating our own impressive salade nicoise with the bounty of the season.

Standard ingredients for us these days generally include lettuce, boiled potatoes, high-quality tuna, an assortment of veggies like green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, artichokes or whatever is fresh and delicious.Anchovies are traditional, as is a bright and easy vinaigrette drizzled over the top.

Assembling the salad
Assembling the salad with ingredients on hand

On a recent early evening we started with a layer of local lettuce from the Co-op spread over a large platter. A bunch of cooked broccolini, halved cherry tomatoes, and a few perfectly boiled eggs were added next. Then a jar of good imported tuna was flaked and given its spot (good tuna is worth the extra cost), along with pre-cooked Rancho Gordo cannellini beans thawed from the freezer, salty black nicoise olives, and little balls of mozzarella split in two.A scattering of anchovy fillets topped it off, and then a light drizzle of a simple and easy vinaigrette.

A more delicious early evening dinner in the backyard was not possible. The only actual cooking involved boiling eggs and cooking the broccolini. Other veggies, like small potatoes or green beans, would also be precooked, requiring very little effort for maximum success.The goal is to create a meal that is filling and celebrates the flavors of the season.

Basic Vinaigrette
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a small jar and shake well to combine.

Ingredients for 4-6 servings
2 heads lettuce of your choice
4 eggs, boiled & cooled*
1 4-oz jar imported tuna packed in oil
1 cup niçoise olives
1-1/2 cups veggies – string beans
½-1 lb veggies on hand, cherry or chopped tomatoes, green beans, broccoli
3/4 lb. small potatoes, cut into halves or quarters
4 anchovy fillets, rinsed or not
Basil leaves, shredded, for the top

1. Cook the potatoes. Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover, reduce the heat and boil gently for 25 to 35 minutes, until the potatoes are tender but still firm. Drain off the water and set the potatoes aside until cool enough to slice. When cooled, slice or cut and toss with dressing.
2. Prepare the dressing. In a large bowl, mix together the mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.
3. If using veggies that need cooking, greens beans, for instances, cook the other by bringing to a boil just enough water to cover and cooking until just tender. Immerse in a cold water bath to stop the cooking.
Assemble the salad by first distributing the lettuce leaves over a platter or large plate. Mound each of the ingredients, the tuna, veggies, eggs, etc. separately around the platter. Sprinkle the top with basil or other fresh herbs and drizzle the dressing over everything.

Try to enjoy this lovely meal outside.