Salad Niçoise

This is a salad that I have enjoyed repeatedly during my travels in Provence.  It is the epitome of summer in the south of France when the herbs from the garden or market are abundant.   The potatoes, lettuces and green beans (haricots verts) are tender and the tomatoes are juicy and ripe having been kissed by the Mediterranean sun.

Nicoise Salade

According to some purists, seared tuna is never served on a classic salade Nicoise.  It’s only canned tuna and purchase the best you can afford.  If you are serving  tuna, including anchovies is also a no no according to some.  Though I have seen both on salads in Provence.  Also, from what I have been told the classic version would only be drizzled with Provençal olive oil not combined with vinegar.

When it comes to cooking, I have never been one to follow the rules exactly and since I am not in Provence, I do not have to follow the rules of appellation d’origine contrôlée or (AOC.)  Therefore, if you have some seared tuna in the fridge or have cucumbers, but not red onions or want to add tuna and also anchovies, by all means do so.

Vinaigrette
Zest of one lemon, preferably organic
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 small shallot, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons minced fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh tarragon leaves
2 – 3 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk lemon juice, shallot, thyme, basil, oregano, tarragon, and mustard in medium bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle in oil and whisk to emulsify.  Taste with a piece of lettuce to determine balance of acidity.  Set aside.

Salad
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved or quartered (set aside until ready to assemble the salad)
12 small new red potatoes (each about 2 inches in diameter, about 1 ¼ pounds total), scrubbed
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces green beans, stem ends trimmed
2 medium heads Boston lettuce or butter lettuce leaves washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces
3 small ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges
1 small red onion, sliced very thin
¼ – 1/2 cup niçoise olives
2 to 3 cans of tuna, best quality available
12 anchovies, preferably salt packed and the best quality available
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped, preferably salt packed

Bring potatoes and 4 quarts cold water to boil in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and cook until potatoes are tender, 5 to 8 minutes, depending on their size. When cool enough to handle cut potatoes in half or quarters and transfer them to a medium bowl with a slotted spoon (do not discard boiling water). Toss warm potatoes with ¼ cup vinaigrette; set aside.

Make an ice bath. Return water to boil and add the green beans. Cook until tender but crisp, 3 to 5 minutes or better yet taste one to see if it’s perfectly cooked. Drain beans, transfer to reserved ice water, and let stand until just cool, about 30 seconds; dry beans well. Toss beans in about 3 tablespoons vinaigrette. Salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Toss lettuce with ¼ cup vinaigrette in large bowl until coated. Arrange bed of lettuce on a serving platter or individual salad plates. Toss tomatoes, red onion, 3 tablespoons vinaigrette, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.

Arrange the tomato-onion mixture on the salad greens, along with the beans, and reserved potatoes.  Next arrange the hard-boiled eggs, olives, and anchovies.  (Oftentimes the anchovies are draped on top of the eggs.) Drizzle eggs with remaining 2 tablespoons dressing, sprinkle entire salad with capers (if using), and serve immediately.

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