Salad Niçoise with a Twist or Two
I love a composed salad! It is like creating a miniature salad bar on a platter, everyone gets to pick out what they like best, take a little of this or that, and make their own creation. These salads are also quite beautiful!
The classic Niçoise uses straight little French haricot vert or green beans, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives, and oil-cured jarred or canned tuna, decorated with what else was on hand such as tomatoes, artichokes, and radishes, all served with a classic French white wine vinaigrette.
This salad is served at room temperature
My first big swap one Sunday brunch for guests was using soft boiled eggs rather than hard. I love the flavor so much more than hard-boiled, which I find dry and unappealing. These were an instant hit, with drippy yolk and appealing taste.
I roasted my heirloom fingerling potatoes of multi-colored flesh – blue, and pink, and yellow. These potatoes have considerably more minerals and vitamins than white-fleshed varieties, and they are quite tasty as well. I also roasted some fennel bulbs alongside because I had them on hand and the oven was hot!
Fresh tuna is best!
But perhaps the biggest change was using lightly seared fresh tuna rather than jarred or canned! It made this an instant crowd pleaser and transformed the dish into something really special.
Rather than serving with a vinaigrette, I made homemade mayonnaise for this and seasoned it with lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, and lots of black pepper. This takes about two minutes to make in the food processor! The mayonnaise was especially delicious on the potatoes, and added a silky richness to the platter.
On any particular day, it depends on what else you want for accessories. On this particular day, I made a bed of purple lettuce, and used regular old blanched green beans, jarred seasoned artichoke hearts, and the lovely fennel that I roasted along with the potatoes. I served the olives on the side.
And don’t be afraid of homemade mayonnaise, it is one of the simplest things to make!
1 lb. sushi-grade tuna
1 -2 tbsp. olive oil
3 large local organic eggs
1/2 lb. green beans, stem end cut off
1 lb. fingerling potatoes, multi-colored if possible
1 bulb fennel or baby carrots
Marinated artichoke hearts or sun-dried tomatoes
Cherry or grape tomatoes
Homemade mayonnaise or vinaigrette
Heat your oven to 450 degrees and place your large roasting pan or cooking sheet on the middle rack. Slice your potatoes in half and your fennel bulb into quarters or eights depending on size. Coat all with olive oil. You can throw in any other vegetable you would like on this plate, some baby carrots perhaps, or even roast a few radishes!
Once the pan is hot, scatter your vegetables over all, taking care to put the potatoes cut side down.
Bake for 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the potatoes tells you they are done. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside.
One pot, two uses
In the meantime, bring pot of water to boil and immediately plunge in your room temperature eggs. Set your timer for 5 minutes. Remove the eggs and place in iced water for another five minutes. Don’t dump out the water! Immediately submerge the green beans in the water and blanch for two to three minutes, or until the color has deepened and they are crisp/tender. Submerge them in iced water as well.
Peel the eggs, pat the green beans dry, and set both aside.
Heat your cast iron frying pan over high (you can also use your roasting pan that you just cooked your potatoes in if you don’t want to dirty another pot, just make sure it is a heavy one). Rub the tun with more olive oil and place in the pan, pressing down. Sear all side for about 2 minutes each. You want the fish to be well seared for flavor, but the interior still raw. Remove from pan and set aside.
Now you are ready to assemble. This salad does not need greens underneath, but I think it is lovely on a bed of colorful lettuce. Arrange the selections any way you like, in blocks of color. Slice the eggs in half just before you plate, and I always add the tuna last.
Sprinkle all with some coarse sea salt or flakes and nice grinds of pepper to taste.