When the weather is hot and the produce is gorgeous, there’s nothing I like better for dinner than a freshly composed Salade Nicoise. It’s a French classic, simple, flavorful and substantial enough to make a one dish meal.
The traditional version from Nice on the Cote d’Azur is built around high quality tuna canned in olive oil, the slender green beans known as haricots verte and a lively vinaigrette. Potatoes are not included and the vegetables are never cooked.
The version Julia Child popularized on these shores, however, features boiled potatoes and lightly steamed green beans. More recently, chefs have substituted grilled tuna for the canned as well.
As long as the ingredients are fresh, I like them all. The only bad Salade Nicoise I’ve ever eaten was at a tourist trap on St. Germain des Pres in Paris where someone decided that cold leftover rice would be a good replacement for potatoes. It was horrible.
When I can find fresh local albacore, this variation is my favorite. It’s almost as good, however, with a nice can of tuna.
1 pound slender green beans
1 pound small Yukon Gold potatoes
2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 tablespoon capers
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups mixed salad greens
2 heirloom or 16 cherry tomatoes, cut up
4 hard boiled eggs, quartered
8 anchovy fillets
1/3 cup Nicoise or other black olives
4 small albacore tuna steaks
Steam green beans over boiling water until crisp tender. Remove beans from steamer and let cool. In the same pan steam potatoes until they are easily pierced by a small sharp knife. Let cool, then halve or quarter, depending on the size.
Make a vinaigrette by whisking together the vinegar, olive oil, shallots in a small bowl. Set aside.
Start charcoal or preheat gas grill. Meanwhile, divide the greens, tomatoes, eggs green beans and potatoes among 4 plates, arranging them in a pleasing pattern. Garnish with anchovies and olives.
Brush tuna with a little of the vinaigrette and grill over high heat, 3 to 5 minutes for medium rare. Place a tuna steak on top of the salad greens on each plate and serve, passing the vinaigrette for diners to drizzle over the salad as they please.