Friday, August 2, 2013

'Salade Nicoise'

Adventure calls...booked a ticket to France for the fall.  Can't wait!

Our plan is to fly into Paris, spend a few days there, and then catch the TGV to Bordeaux.  Thereafter, we'll rent a car and head south to explore Basque country (French and Spanish), and then east to Provence.

It's been 12 years since I was in France, which was the starting point for a whirlwind backpacking trip through France, Italy, and Greece.  With such an overly ambitious itinerary (which we had [thankfully] paired down considerably), only had a few days in Paris and the south of France.  Not nearly enough time to even skim the surface of what France has to offer.

Back then I was in my 20s.  Can't believe how time flies, which underscores the importance of slowing down and enjoying life, be it at home with friends and family, or venturing out to explore the world.  The key is to relax, slow down, and have some fun.

In anticipation of my forthcoming trip, I've prepared a Salade Nicoise of sorts.  I say of "of sorts" because there are many versions out there and, depending on what you read, some have strong opinions as to what constitutes a true Salade Nicoise.  Not sure if there is a clear consensus regarding what's authentic or not.  Tuna?  Anchovies?  Lima beans? Potatoes?  Artichokes?  Olives?  Capers?  Maybe yes?  Maybe no??  In my mind, you can't go wrong if you just use the freshest of ingredients, fresh vegetables, fresh herbs, the whole nine yards...

Traditional or not, this salad is a feast for the senses -- a celebration of the best of what summer has to offer.  That's good enough for me.  Bon appetit.

If you can, try to track down some good quality tuna and anchovies.  Am a big fan of the Ortiz brand tuna from Spain and Agostino Recca anchovies from Italy (that's the best quality I can readily find in D.C.).  May need to stock up while I'm in Europe (and should probably think about buying a bigger suitcase).

I like the presentation on a big platter with all the ingredients separate, though you could just as easily toss them all together in a large bowl.

Salade Nicoise
These are just a few suggestions for a Salade Nicoise.  Add olives, lima or fava beans, artichokes, onions, radishes...if you're not a fan of anchovies, omit them.  Although roasted bell peppers are not traditional, I like them in salads.  Bottom line, tailor this salad to suit your tastes and what's in season, and you can't go wrong.

3 to 4 large eggs, room temperature
pint of cherry tomatoes, halved, drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper
8 ounces haricots verts (French green beans), stems removed
3-4 red, orange, and/or yellow bell peppers
5-6 small potatoes, boiled until fork tender, sliced in half or quartered
2 small cucumbers or 1 large, thinly sliced
1/2 head of lettuce such as bib, romaine
2 (3-ounce) cans of tuna, packed in oil, drained 
5-6 anchovies, chopped in thirds
2 tablespoons capers
handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped
Chapons/croutons (recipe to follow)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Medium-to hard-boiled eggs: Bring a pot of water to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and carefully drop in the eggs.  Cook 8 minutes for medium-boiled or 9 minutes for hard-boiled.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to an ice-water bath.  After a few minutes, peel.  Slice in half or quarter.

Preparing the haricots verts: Bring a pot of water to a boil, lower to a simmer, drop in the haricots verts for 1 minute.  Transfer to a ice-water bath.  Drain.

Roasting the bell peppers: Roast the peppers on an open flame (on your gas range or bbq) until charred on all sides.  Place in a paper bag for 10 to 15 minutes (to help loosen the skins).  Scrape the charred skin, remove the seeds, and slice into thick strips.

Assembling the Salad: Arrange all ingredients in separate rows on a large serving platter; drizzle dressing over all the ingredients, season with salt and pepper, and garnish with basil and chapons just before serving.
2 small garlic cloves
8-10 basil leaves,  chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Using a mortar and pestle, smash the garlic with a pinch of salt.  Add the basil leave, olive oil and vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper.  Whisk until well combined.
Chapons (croutons)
day old bread (such as a baguette)
extra virgin olive oil
garlic powder
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Soak the bread (whole baguette, torn in half lengthwise) in a large bowl with hot tap water until soft and pliable, about 1 minute.  Squeeze out as much water as possible, without crushing.  Roughly tear into bite-sized pieces.  Place on the baking sheet.  Toss liberally with olive oil.  Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste.  Toss until well combined.  Bake for 20 minutes, give the pan a good shake, and continue baking another 15 to 20 minutes, until the pieces are well-browned and crisp.  Remove from over and let cool.


Amy (Savory Moments) said...

France will be amazing! How exciting!! This salad looks lovely. I've actually never had one of these salads before, but it looks like a perfect summer meal.

Diana Holbert said...

Fabulousi recipe. I made this for my book club when we discussed the equally fabulous "All the Light We Cannot See."

Anonymous said...

This was the best salad I have ever had. New favorite I will leave out the green beans next time. Otherwise perfect I love the garlic and the basil really elevated everything.