Thursday, July 08, 2010

Salad Nicoise

All right, I have been waiting to post on this because I think it's the best summertime dish I've ever made. Salad nicoise is cool, beautiful to look at and has a thousand little flavors going on. It's also pretty simple--just get each ingredient ready and assemble everything on a big platter. I'm looking forward to making it for a dinner party--I think it would be really fun to make a huge one and have people over for a casual get-together. Some bread and a fruity summertime dessert plus a crisp wine (maybe vinho verde, my new favorite cheap summer drink?) and you're in business. Please enjoy! Salad nicoise is a composed dressed salad usually with tuna, potato, green beans, tomato, egg, nicoise olives and some other tangy thing, like capers. Some people, like Julia Child, also use anchovies but Phil is anchovy adverse, so I left them out. It is also typically made with oil-packed canned tuna, but I used a fresh filet instead, seared outside and quite rare in the middle, as you'll see. It would be great grilled too. Anyway, start by prepping the potato and green beans because you'll need to boil them and it's good to get the hot stove part out of the way first. Trim your green beans on the diagonal if you like, to french-ify them. Wash the potatoes (I used Yukon Gold because that's what I had but red potatoes are more traditional and hold their shape better) and prick them a few times all over with a fork. Bring a big pot of well-salted water to a boil and drop in your potatoes, then turn the heat down to simmer them. Boil them whole because you'll be slicing them up later--and they'll get all mushy and water-logged if you cut them up to cook. By the way, the ingredient amounts here are for just two people. This is a very flexible dish that you can just increase the amounts on for as many people as you like. Count on about 1 potato per person, 1 egg per person, 1 tomato per person, about 1/4 pound green beans per person, and so on. While the potatoes are simmering (it should take about 30 minutes) you can prepare the dressing. Slice one small onion into very thin slices and mince up 2 cloves garlic. In a jar, combine 3 tablespoons cider vinegar with 1 tablespoon dijon mustard and a little less than 1/2 cup olive oil (about 6-7 tablespoons). Add salt and fresh ground pepper. Dump in your thin slices of onion and the minced garlic and then shake it all up together and set aside. You can taste and see at this point, since we're just waiting on the potatoes anyway--does it need more vinegar or olive oil or maybe some salt? Oh, here's a done potato! Don't drain, but fish them out with tongs and bring the water back up to boil... ...and add in your green beans, just for long enough to turn them bright green--about 2 minutes. Now you can drain the water! After your potatoes are a bit cooled off and you can handle them, slice into thin rounds. You'll need some hardboiled eggs, which I happened to already have on hand. If you don't have them handy, you can cook them before the potatoes--just add them to the boiling water, then turn off the heat and cover for 10 minutes. Fish out the eggs and let them cool off in the fridge while you bring the water back up to a boil for the potatoes and proceed from there. Peel the eggs and slice into wedges or rounds. Slice up some tomatoes (I used 2 big romas) and now we're ready to assemble! By the way, can you imagine this salad at the very peak of summer made from the best stuff at the farmers market? Perfect tiny green beans, the sweetest tomatoes, maybe even with some little new potatoes...delicious.
Drizzle a little bit of the dressing on a serving platter. And sort of turn the green beans around in there to get coated nicely. Then you get creative! Sometimes people make designs with the components of a salad nicoise, or sometimes they group stuff together--a pile of green beans,a pile of potatoes, and so on. Me? I'm into making a design. Spokes of green beans, then lay out potatoes in between... Then dot with the eggs... And tomato wedges... And scatter about olives! Sadly I did not have real nicoise olives. For some reason Whole Foods doesn't carry them? Should have tried Alon's instead, I guess. Anyway, use small black olives, if you can't find real nicoise ones. And I added capers! Small ones and big ones! This is a big caper berry up close! I like them. Phil does not. But I had already sacrificed the inclusion of anchovies (which, by the way, if you are using, you would just lay out in strips here at this point) so I wasn't going to give up on caper berries as well. They just taste like salty, huge olives, so I don't know why he doesn't like them. And now that our salad is pretty much assembled, let's take care of the tuna! I used a very small piece of fresh tuna (a little less than 1/2 pound) for two people. Get a heavy pan, coat well with olive oil and heat up on high heat until very hot. Salt and pepper the tuna steak and set it right on the hot pan. You want to get a nice sear on the outside but leave the middle very pink. Flip it over after a minute and a half. It should have a lovely brown crust but a red center. Let it cook on the other side for just another minute or so, then remove from heat.Slice it sort of looks like tuna tataki!
And fan it out in the center of your composed salad. Beautiful. Just check that out, will you? Drizzle a bit more of the dressing over all and sit yourselves down for a lovely night.

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