Salade Niçoise has its origins in Nice, Provence, France. No one really knows the complete origin story of this dish. However, there is the ongoing legend that Catherine d’Medici brought a form of it to France before her marriage to Henri II. How much credibility this has, I don’t know; but Nice is less than 20 miles across the Mediterranean from Italy.
The basis for this salad is its seasonality. You use what you have fresh and in season. Few, if any, of the ingredients are to be cooked (although, more modern versions certainly ignore this edict). And, because of Nice’s proximity to the Mediterranean (and Italy), tuna and anchovies were added somewhere along the way.
The always main components of this dish are eggs (usually hard-boiled; sometimes poached), tomatoes, black (preferably niçoise) olives, green beans, and either tuna, anchovies, or both. It is always dressed with a vinaigrette. There are recipes that include artichoke hearts, white beans, radishes, potatoes, beets, corn, bell peppers, asparagus, cucumbers, green olives, mayonnaise, mushrooms, basil, tarragon, rosemary, and scallions. Just to name a few.
So, basically, a French Cobb Salad made with whatever the chef has fresh in their kitchen.
I myself prefer a much more simplified version. I try to stay as close to the traditional as possible. By keeping it simple, I feel, each component can come through. According to David Lebovitz’s post on Salade Niçoise (http://tinyurl.com/4rfsgjf), the original recipe stated that you don’t use anything cooked in the salad except for the eggs. Nor are tuna and anchovies ever in the salad together. Well, I certainly bucked that tradition. I think it’s all right in this case since cooks in Provence skirt the rules on this as well.
A few notes:
1. You can use canned tuna in place of the tuna steak. 2 cans should be sufficient (but you can use more if you like). Be sure to use a good quality brand packed in olive oil. Be sure to read the label and avoid any that have extra flavoring (StarKist comes to mind). Drain off the oil before you add the tuna to the salad.
2. if you can’t find Niçoise olives, you can use Kalamata. Just be sure to chop them a bit before adding to the salad.
3. If you are using pitted olives, be aware that pits can still occur (especially with Kalamatas). Whether you’re using whole or pitted olives, warn your guests about the pits.
4. If you want to make this dish vegetarian/vegan, omit the anchovies, tuna, and eggs. Use chopped garbanzo beans in place of the tuna (or, use a good recipe for “garbanzo tuna”; there are many available) and soft or firm-silken tofu cut into bite-sized pieces in place of the eggs.
5. Some will lay the salad components on the serving dish separately, while others make more of a tossed salad-style. It’s up to you how you like to serve.
2 tbsp. red or white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 cl. garlic, minced
1 tbsp. shallot or onion, minced
1/2 tsp. each salt, black pepper, sugar
3 – 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
About 1 lb. fresh tuna steak -or- 2 to 3 cans good quality olive oil packed tuna
2 tomatoes, seeded and chopped -or- 1/2 pt. cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 c. red onion, very thinly sliced
1 c. black olives, preferably Niçoise (if you can get pitted, all the better)
1 c. green beans, preferably haricot vert, cut into 1/2-inch pieces -or- fresh fava beans -or- edamame beans
1 bu. Italian parsley, chopped
4 ea. hard boiled eggs
4 ea. anchovies, minced
4 c. mixed greens (any you like; my personal preference is baby spinach & arugula)
1. Make the vinaigrette: In either a medium bowl (if making by hand) or in a food processor or blender, mix together all of the ingredients except for the oil. Either constantly whisking the mixture by hand or with the food processor or blender turned on, pour in the oil in a slow, steady stream. (You don’t want to add the oil too quickly; it won’t incorporate and the vinaigrette will separate.)
Once you have mixed in all the oil, taste for seasoning and adjust if you like. Set the vinaigrette aside.
2. Prepare the fava beans (if using): As you probably noticed in the main ingredient photo, fava bean pods are quite large. To open them, you will need to press the pod lightly on the seam and pry open with your fingers (it’s easier than it sounds). Remove the seeds and place them into a bowl.
Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the fava beans and blanch for 3 – 5 minutes. Drain the beans and either run them under cold water or plunge them into ice water. Drain.
Here’s how to remove the skins from the beans in 3 easy photos:
If you can’t get fava beans (they’re still fairly seasonal), you can either use blanched French green beans (haricot vert – a very thin green bean) cut into 1/2″ lengths or edamame beans (If you use frozen, just cook them according to the direction on the package and let cool.)
3. Boil the eggs: There are no doubt a thousand ways to boil and peel eggs. Some work, some don’t. For me, the best way I’ve found is to place the eggs in a saucepan filled with water and bring it to a boil. As soon as the water comes to a boil, turn off the heat and let the eggs sit for 10 minutes.
Drain off the water and immediately place the eggs into ice water and crack the shells (leave the eggs under the water). This allows the water the get between the shell and egg and make it easier to peel.
Cut the eggs into quarters lengthwise and set aside.
3. Cook the tuna: Lightly coat the tuna in olive oil and sprinkle on some salt and pepper on each side. Heat a skillet over high heat on the stove. When the skillet is hot, lay the tuna steak in the skillet and let it sear until the side is lightly browned. Turn the steak over and sear the other side.
Now, if you like your tuna very rare, you can stop at this point. If you prefer medium-rare to medium, continue to cook the tuna on the stove, turning once more, until it’s done to your preference.
If you prefer your tuna well-done (as my husband does – at least for this), have your oven preheated to 450F. If your skillet is oven-proof, take the skillet off the heat and place it in the oven for 5 – 7 minutes, depending on the thickness of the tuna steak.
Remove the skillet from the heat, take the tuna out of the skillet and set it on a plate to cool slightly. When it is cool enough to handle, either cut the tuna into bite-sized pieces (as I prefer), or you can chop it so that it resembles canned tuna.
4. Place all of the vegetables (except the mixed greens), olives, eggs, anchovies, and tuna into a large bowl.
Pour over the vinaigrette and mix thoroughly.
5. Place a large handful of the greens on a plate. Take a couple of large scoops of the salad and place it on top of the greens. Be sure to get a little of everything. Serve immediately.