Recently, when good friends asked at the last minute if we wanted to eat out together, I suggested instead that our pals come to our house for a light supper. I knew exactly what I would serve—salade niçoise. Only a few days earlier, my longtime culinary assistant, Emily Bell, had mentioned that she had prepared this classic Provençal specialty, adding a few extra touches, as the centerpiece of a summer supper for a small group. When she brought the salad of colorful vegetables anchored by tuna steaks to the table, one of her guests pulled out a phone and began taking a video!
Typically, salade niçoise, is prepared with tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives, tuna (usually canned, but very good quality) and anchovies, but there are countless versions and variations. My friend chose baby red skin potatoes, haricots verts, and cherry tomatoes, and also included hard boiled eggs and Kalamata olives. In place of canned tuna, she grilled tuna steaks, and garnished them with lemon zest and thyme sprigs before setting them atop a bed of mixed greens.
It is the lemon herb dressing that gives this salad its zing. It is prepared with fresh herbs–basil, thyme, parsley, chives, and rosemary—available in most markets, or perhaps from your own garden. The potatoes, beans, tomatoes, and eggs are all marinated in the dressing for an hour or more, before the salad is assembled.
For serving, you simply arrange the grilled tuna dotted with golden specks of lemon zest atop a field of salad greens in the center of a large platter. Surround the steaks with vegetables, olives, and hard boiled eggs, which together form a vibrant mosaic.
For dessert, I offered a bowl of local strawberries and blueberries along with ginger molasses cookies purchased at a nearby bakery. The salade niçoise, though, was the showstopper of the night!
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Emily’s Salade Nicoise
Lemon Herb Vinaigrette (Recipe follows.)
12 oz baby red skin potatoes, 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter, scrubbed but not peeled
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 oz haricots verts, trimmed
2 pints cherry tomatoes, red, orange, and yellow if available
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered (often available at the salad bar of supermarkets)
1/2 cup black olives such as Niçoise or Kalamatas, pitted or unpitted
6 to 8 cups mixed greens such as mesclun
4 tuna steaks, 1-inch thick and about 6 oz each
1 large lemon, zested and juiced
8 thyme sprigs
Equipment needed: several shallow nonreactive (glass, ceramic, or stainless steel) bowls
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add potatoes plus 2 teaspoons salt. Cook until tender when pierced with a sharp knife, 12 to 15 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer potatoes to a colander, but leave pot of water boiling. Place potatoes under cold running water and when cool, pat dry, then put them in a shallow bowl. Salt and pepper them, then toss with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette.
2. Add haricots verts to the pot, and cook until tender, 5 to 8 minutes depending on their size. Drain in the colander and place under cold running water until cool. Pat dry and transfer to another shallow bowl. Salt and pepper and toss with 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette.
3. Quarter eggs and add to another bowl. Salt and pepper them, then drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the vinaigrette. Place cherry tomatoes in another bowl; salt and pepper them and toss with 1 tablespoon of vinaigrette.
4. Let potatoes, haricots verts, eggs, and tomatoes marinate in the vinaigrette for at least 1 hour or up to 3 hours. Meanwhile, place tuna steaks in a medium glass or ceramic pan (such as pyrex) and pour lemon juice over them. Marinate 30 minutes. Then pat dry, and salt and pepper on both sides.
5. Toss salad greens in a mixing bowl with 3 to 4 tablespoons or just enough of the vinaigrette to coat lightly. Season with extra lemon juice and with additional salt and pepper if needed. Arrange salad greens in the center of a large serving platter and surround with clusters of potatoes, haricots verts, eggs, tomatoes, and olives.
6. Oil a stovetop grill pan and set over medium high heat until quite hot. (You can use a large, heavy skillet; coat the bottom with oil and heat until oil is quite hot.) Add tuna, and cook 3 to 3 1/2 minutes per side for steaks that are rare in the center. When done sprinkle them with lemon zest and lay a couple of thyme sprigs on each.
7. Arrange tuna over the lettuce greens, and drizzle them, the vegetables, and eggs with some of the remaining vinaigrette. Transfer any extra vinaigrette to a small bowl for passing. Serves 4 as a main course.
Lemon Herb Vinaigrette
1 tsp minced garlic
3 tbsp finely chopped shallots
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed when tossing salad greens
1 1/2 tsp grainy Dijon mustard
3/4 tsp kosher salt and freshly ground and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp chopped basil
1 tbsp thyme (scraped from thyme sprigs)
1/2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp chopped chives
1/2 tsp chopped rosemary
1.Place garlic, shallots, lemon juice, mustard, salt, and several grinds of black pepper in a medium nonreactive bowl. Whisk well to combine. Gradually whisk in the olive oil. Stir in the herbs. (Dressing can be prepared 3 hours ahead; cover and leave at room temperature. Whisk well before using.) Makes about 3/4 cup
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2019