When The Artist was young, he and his mother used to drive into San Francisco for special mom and son days. They would have “drinks” at the Hyatt Regency while listening to the musicians, they went out to Lands End to watch the sunset, and they ate Niçoise salads together. He still loves Niçoise salad and orders it when he sees it on the menu.
Niçoise (nee-swahz) is a term used for dishes served with foods used by the chefs in Nice, France. The most often utilized are garlic, tomatoes, anchovies, black olives, capers, and lemon juice. Niçoise salad is usually made with potatoes, olives, and green beans tossed in a vinaigrette dressing. There is some debate about how to plate the salad, with some using a bed of lettuce to hold the other ingredients, others use a sliced tomato as the base, and still others toss everything together. Use whichever method works best for you!
Somewhere along the line tuna became a standard ingredient. This was originally canned tuna, usually dry and unappealing. If you can find it, tuna canned in oil, especially if it is imported from Italy, is a much better option. With the growing popularity of sushi around the globe and people’s diminishing aversion to eating raw fish, lightly seared tuna steaks are now becoming the norm much to my husband’s delight. If you are a vegan, you can leave out the fish and eggs.
The first recipe today is from Julia Child, our fearless leader when it comes to discovering French food. Back in the dark ages of food appreciation in this country, she shined a light on the beauty of cooking with fresh ingredients using techniques she learned at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. Her favorite main course salad was Niçoise. She loved the contrast of the halved hard-boiled eggs, ripe red tomatoes, and black olives. She gives detailed directions on how to lay out the ingredients so that your presentation is just like you would see in a restaurant.
Today’s second version comes from Ina Garten, one of the most popular hosts on the Food Network and an amazing cook. She has a way of breaking every recipe down so that nothing is complicated or beyond our capabilities. When planning a luncheon for a baby shower, she chose to make her Niçoise with roasted salmon in place of the tuna. I love the beautiful pink salmon, tender and moist.
A staple of Mediterranean cuisines, olives grow profusely in the region, creating a distinct look to the landscape. One of the most common and a major component of today’s salads are Niçoise olives. They are small, purplish-black, with a distinctive sour flavor. They are close to Kalamata olives in taste and texture. Green olives are picked while unripe which makes them denser and more bitter than brown or black olives. Those stay on the tree until fully ripened and then are cured in a brine.
The “Mediterranean” diet has historically been an extremely healthy way to eat. Full of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and olive oil, it provides a substantial amount of healthy Omega-3 fats. These help protect our brain, reducing strokes, prolonging our vitality and cognitive function, as well as helping reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Including more of these foods in our everyday menus is a smart and healthy move. If you would like more information, The Mediterranean Foods Alliance (MFA) is a great source.
During the summer when you are looking for cool dinner options, if you are hosting a ladies luncheon, or just want a healthier alternative to burgers and fries, either of these salads are a terrific choice. Enjoy!
Kitchen Skill: How to make Perfectly Hard Cooked Eggs
Place a single layer of large eggs in a large saucepan. Cover with enough cool tap water to cover by at least one inch and add 1 tsp salt. Bring to just below boiling over high heat. The water will be steaming and small bubbles will regularly break the surface.
Remove pan from burner and keep the eggs in the hot water for about 15 to 20 minutes.
When time is up, place them in a bowl of ice water until completely cooled. Store hard-cooked eggs unpeeled in the refrigerator and eat them within one week.
For the easiest peeling, roll the eggs on the counter under the palm of your hand, cracking them all over. Place them back in the bowl of water and let sit for about 10 minutes. The water will work its way between the shell and egg, loosening it and making it easy to peel.
- 1 large head Boston-lettuce leaves, washed and dried
- 1 lb green beans, cooked and refreshed
- 1-1/2 tbsp minced shallots
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup basic vinaigrette
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 or 4 ripe red tomatoes, cut into wedges (or 10 to 12 cherry tomatoes, halved)
- 3 or 4 "boiling" potatoes, peeled, sliced, and cooked
- 2 (3 oz) cans chunk tuna, preferably oil-packed
- 6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved
- 1 freshly opened can of flat anchovy fillets
- 1/3 cup small black Niçoise-type olives
- 2 to 3 tbsp capers
- 3 tbsp minced fresh parsley
- Arrange the lettuce leaves on a large platter or in a shallow bowl. Shortly before serving, toss the beans with the shallots, spoonfuls of vinaigrette, and salt and pepper. Baste the tomatoes with a spoonful of vinaigrette.
- Place the potatoes in the center of the platter and arrange a mound of beans at either end, with tomatoes and small mounds of tuna at strategic intervals. Ring the platter with halves of hard-boiled eggs, sunny side up, and curl an anchovy on top of each. Spoon more vinaigrette over all; scatter on olives, capers, and parsley, and serve.
- Yield: Serves 6
- Marinade for Salmon
- 4 lemons, zested and juiced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 6 lb skin-on fresh salmon fillets
- 3 lb small Yukon gold potatoes
- 1-1/2 lb haricots verts, stems removed (very thin French green beans)
- 3 lb ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges (6 small tomatoes)
- 12 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and cut in half
- 1 bunch watercress or arugula
- 1/2 lb large green olives, pitted
- 1 can anchovies, optional
- 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup good olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 500°F.
- For the marinade, whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, mustard, garlic, 1-1/2 tbsp salt and 1/2 tbsp pepper in a small bowl and set aside.
- Place the salmon on a sheet pan that has been covered in aluminum foil, and drizzle the marinade over the salmon. Allow the salmon to sit for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the potatoes and 2 tbsp salt in a large pot of water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are barely tender when pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes in a colander, and then place the colander with the potatoes over the empty pot off the heat and cover with a clean, dry kitchen towel. Leave the potatoes to steam for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender but firm. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in thick slices and set aside.
- Place the salmon in the oven and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, or until it is almost cooked through. Remove to a plate and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. Remove the skin and break into large pieces.
- Blanch the haricots verts in a large pot of boiling salted water for 1-1/2 minutes only. Drain immediately and immerse in a bowl of ice water. Drain again and set aside.
- For the vinaigrette, combine the vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to make an emulsion. Set aside.
- Arrange the salmon, potatoes, haricots verts, tomatoes, eggs, watercress, olives and anchovies, if used, on a large flat platter. Drizzle some vinaigrette over the fish and vegetables and serve the rest in a pitcher on the side.
- Yield: 12 servings