Salad Nicoise, Eating in Season?
October 22, 2017
Ever since reading Peter Mayle’s witty account of his experiences moving to Provence, this region of France has fascinated me. While not quite ready to sell my house and move to a 200-year-old farmhouse, I enjoy living vicariously in my kitchen. This is a region of the world where the seasons dictate what appears on the table, yet somehow one of Provence’s most famous dishes, Salad Nicoise, is equally at home in summer heat and autumn’s cooler temperatures. This is a very good thing right now as it feels more like August than October where I live, and the temperature continues to surprise me daily as it yo-yos between summer and fall.
Regardless of the weather, Salad Nicoise is one of my favorite meals. This salad of green beans, egg, tomato, cucumber, capers and tiny Nicoise olives is both homey and simple, yet perfect for company. Top it with grilled or seared salmon, as I have here, or choose the traditional accompaniment, tuna. Chicken also makes a delicious choice. Please don’t forget the rose!
Secrets to Success:
For the hard-cooked eggs, bring the water just to a boil and turn it off. Put the pan on the back burner for the eggs to rest.
Don’t forget the salt when you are cooking the green beans, they won’t keep their gorgeous color without it.
Soaking onion in cold water takes away most of the bite, giving you the taste you love without the lingering results.
For the vinaigrette, I have given you a range for the quantity of oil as vinegars vary in acidity. Taste the dressing after using the lowest amount, if it is too acidic, keep adding the oil a little bit at a time and tasting until you like the result.
This is also the proper procedure for adding salt.
Add the oil very slowly to the vinegar and mustard in the vinaigrette, shaking or whisking vigorously in between.
The tarragon mixed into the salad is my favorite thing: please don’t leave it out.
4-8 small red potatoes, scrubbed well
1-2 large handfuls of green beans (1/2 lb.), washed well and trimmed
2 tablespoon whole grain or Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons minced shallot, optional
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
8-12 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 6-ounces pieces of salmon filet
1 box baby greens
1 box tarragon!!
1-2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 Persian cucumbers, halved lengthwise and cut into half moons
3 tablespoons capers
1/2 small red onion, thinly-sliced and soaked in cold water for at least 15 minutes, and drained well
¼-1/2 cup nicoise olives
1/4 cup roasted peppers, optional
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
Hard cook the eggs: Gently place the eggs in a saucepan with water to cover by an inch or so and bring to a boil, over medium-high heat. Immediately turn off the heat, cover, move to a cool burner, and let sit for 12 minutes. Transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water and allow to rest for 7 minutes. Once cool, peel and slice.
Cook the potatoes: Place the potatoes in cold water, bring to boil, add ½ teaspoon of salt, lower to simmer, and cook about 15-25 minutes, until a knife slips easily into the center but the potatoes are not yet falling apart. Cool in an ice bath, pat dry and slice.
Cook the green beans: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add 11/2 teaspoons salt, return to a boil, and then add the green beans. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until crisp tender, remove from the pot and plunge immediately into an ice bath to stop the cooking. Pat dry and cut into one-inch lengths.
Make the vinaigrette:
In a metal bowl secured on the counter with a damp paper towel or alternatively, in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, mix or shake together the mustard, shallot, if using, and the vinegar.
Gradually add the oil, whisking or shaking vigorously, to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside while cooking the salmon.
Cook the salmon: Heat a cast iron grill-pan or smooth skillet over high heat for 5 to10 minutes. Remove the skin from the salmon if desired. Coat the fish lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper.
When the pan is hot, add the salmon, presentation-side down, and cook for a minute. Without flipping the salmon, place the skillet in a preheated 350^F oven to finish cooking for 5-8 minutes, depending on thickness of salmon and desired degree of doneness.
Alternatively, heat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat. Coat the fish with oil and season with salt and pepper. Oil the grill and place the salmon, flesh-side down, on the grill. Cook until just done in the center, about 5 minutes per side for medium.
Assemble the salad: This is the fun part! This colorful salad is beautiful set up buffet-style. Give each diner getting their own bowl of greens and piece of fish, and let them create their own masterpiece. Alternatively, divide all of the ingredients between 4 plates or bowls and serve with the dressing the side.
Serves 4, generously.