“I want to move in with this salad,” part deux: Le Nicoise

Another salad that is a true jam: The Nicoise.

Once upon a time I’d look upon this and think, “Random assortment of boiled and brined vegetables. Plus tuna. Hm. Undesirable.” But I’ve since become quite fond of certain olives (except those gnarly black ones from a can, actually… are my tastes so subconsciously ensnobbed that I simply don’t desire anything that doesn’t come to me from the Whole Foods fresh bar? Maybe. Sue me.), and really, I never met a baby potato I didn’t like. Also, the thing is easy to prepare, easy to transport, and sort of fun to eat… you get to pick and choose what combinations go on each forkful.

So for those who are resolving to bring lunch to work more often, or those who aspire to franco-epicurean greatness (but don’t feel like going so far as to make their own mayonnaise), I present The Nicoise a la Gra:

Throw some eggs and a few of those tiny potatoes (usually reds are best for quick cooking… and they’re pretty) into a big pot with room-temp water, enough to cover everything comfortably. Let it all come up to a boil and remove the eggs when they’re hard-boiled. Toss in some french beans (eh, haricots verts) and cook for a few minutes. While the beans are cooking, fill a bowl with some ice water and throw those in the bowl when they’re just tender (the ice water will shock them, keep them crisp and make them pretty and green for the rest of their days). By the time you’ve submerged the beans in the ice water and stirred them around a bit to show them who’s boss, the potatoes will probably be ready too. Stick a fork in one to test it out, and if it’s a pretty easy stab, then they’re also good to put into the ice water (to retain the pretty color. Slave to aesthetics). Once all that is drained out and patted dry, this is what should get assembled on your plate/in your tupperware:

  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 2 little potatoes
  • a small handful of haricots verts
  • a few strips of roasted red pepper
  • a few kalamata olives (or nicoise, if you can find them. i actually like the kalamatas better– they’ve got a sharper flavor)
  • tuna*
  • dressing**

*Okay, the tuna. you can do a lot with this idea. In fancypants restaurants, if you get a nicoise, you’ll get probably a sliced seared tuna steak, which is pretty lovely. If you’re like me and go to fancypants french places four times a year and only because your work is paying for the meal, you probably won’t be searing up tuna in your galley kitchen (or your regular-size kitchen, if you are superior to me) unless you’re trying to seduce a pescatarian or something. So if you’re making this jam at home, you can do one of the two following things:

  1. Whip up a very minor tuna salad. No celery, mustard, etc necessary. Just some decent canned tuna and a little mayo or olive oil, and some black pepper should do the trick. And remember that this is going into your mouth accompanied by other highly flavorful things (or a lovely, creamy potato), so the tuna alone doesn’t have to knock your socks off.T
  2. Track down some italian tuna packed in olive oil. The only kind I can ever find– which is fine because it’s fabulous– is the ‘Genova Tonno’ with a gold/brownish label. It’s a little more expensive than regular canned tuna, but it’s super tasty. (You also don’t have to do a thing to it, most of the time.) I’ve found it at Trader Ming’s, Whole Foods, sometimes Jewel has it… if you’re ever lucky enough to venture to a Caputo’s market, they’ll have them for cheap. (They’ll also have lemon cookies and prosciutto di parma for like $8/lb. so you may feel like you’ve got better things to create than a schlep-friendly nicoise.) (You will also call me if you’re going.)

**Dressing. If you’re working with the italian tuna, you may find that the olive oil it’s packed in, combined with the brine from the olives & peppers is enough of a dressing for you. Same goes for the tuna salad method. However, if you’re like me and “pretty good” isn’t really good enough, you can whoop up the Easiest, Tastiest Dressing Ever (IN A ZIPLOC BAG, NO LESS. If you’re planning on transporting this, that is. NO WHISKING NECESSARY). Check it. You need:

  • a blob of mustard. anything but the yellow stuff. if you see it or have it, i’ve been totally loving Trader Joe’s garlic mustard aioli.
  • a splash of white wine vinegar
  • a splash of extra-virgin olive oil
  • maybe some fresh black pepper, if you feel like it

Put all of those things directly into the corner of a ziploc bag, twist the bag so that the dressing components have their own little territory, and seal the bag. Shake that shit (holding the twisted part of the bag so everything stays relatively contained and you don’t have rogue mustard bloblets heading for the northern border and bailing on their dressing duties). Done.

So, you know. Do that one up. I’m sure there’s a world of possibilities for variations with sun-dried tomatoes, perhaps a cheese selection (feta?), chicken instead of tuna (though with whole pieces of chicken I think it totally changes the soul of the dish. But then again, tupperware probably does too).

Tell me what you think...

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