To mention a Niçoise salad to some people (not just chefs) is to immediately spark a debate. As with a handful of other classic dishes, there are strongly-held beliefs as to what constitutes a proper Niçoise. Good quality canned tuna is widely agreed upon, but should there be only raw vegetables alongside? Or can there be cooked vegetables, too, like potatoes and green beans. Should there be any lettuce included, and if so, what kind? Anchovies in the dressing or on the salad, or omitted completely? Tossed or composed?
As for me, I like just about any version of a Niçoise salad as long as it doesn’t wimp out. I love the gutsy flavors here — oil-packed tuna, anchovies, briny black olives, garlic. The version I made last weekend for Easter Sunday lunch, adapted from The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook, takes a sort of “all of the above” approach, combining cooked potatoes and French green beans with tuna and red onion, tossed together with a flavorful, garlic- and anchovy-spiked vinaigrette and tumbled onto a large platter for family style serving. A border of sliced hard boiled eggs and tomatoes adds the barest touch of composition, and a base of red leaf lettuce supports it all. Warm crusty bread is a must, but the herb-flecked aioli and dish of good quality butter I also served were deliciously decadent extras.
Crisp, cold, bone-dry rosé from the south of France is a gorgeous, if rather obvious pairing for this salad named for the coastal city of Nice, France. I included one from the southern Rhône, one Vin de Pays d’Oc (Languedoc-Roussillon), but also one from California. This Toad Hollow may be one of the best, inexpensive California rosés I’ve ever had — two vintages running.
Toad Hollow 2012 Dry Rosé of Pinot Noir Sonoma County Eye of the Toad ($13). Jewel-toned, California fruity, but bone-dry. Pretty, slightly floral aromas, racy red berry fruit. Find it!
Gérard Bertrand 2010 Gris Blanc Vin de Pays d’Oc ($12). The palest blush of crisp melon, with juicy citrus and a touch of mineral. Mouthwatering and crisp. Find it!
Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2011 Côtes du Rhône Rosé Parallèle 45 ($12). Tangy cherry, watermelon, nectarine with a dry, crisp finish and a trace of stony mineral. Find it!
Recipe: Salade Niçoise
1/2 pounds haricots verts (thin French green beans)
1 pound small red potatoes
1 small red onion
12 ounces good quality canned or jarred tuna, packed in olive oil
1/4 pound Niçoise olives, pitted
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced shallot
12 oil-packed anchovies
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 head red leaf lettuce
6 hard boiled eggs, halved lengthwise
8 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
Bring a large pot of water to a boil; then add a couple of large pinches of salt. Drop haricots verts in the boiling water, blanch for about 2 minutes, then remove to a bowl of cold water, using a slotted spoon or tongs. Refresh the beans in the cold water, then blot dry and place in a large, wide bowl. Drain tuna and add to bowl along with beans, breaking the tuna into large chunks.
Peel the potatoes and drop into boiling water. Cook until just tender enough to be pierced with a skewer, drain and cool.
While the potatoes are cooking, soak anchovies in a small bowl of water for about 5 minutes to remove some of the saltiness, then drain, blot dry, and mince. Slice red onion into thin rings and also soak those in some water for about 5 minutes to remove some of the bite, then drain and set aside.
While the potatoes are cooling, make the vinaigrette by placing garlic, shallots, anchovies, lemon juice and red wine vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk in olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Add the onion slices to the bowl with the beans and tuna. Slice the potatoes about 1/4″-thick and add to bowl. Drizzle over about 1/2 cup of the vinaigrette and toss as gently as possible, to avoid breaking up the potatoes and tuna. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours to allow flavors to blend.
When ready to serve, wash and spin-dry the lettuce leaves, roughly tear them into large pieces and spread over a large serving platter. Drizzle with vinaigrette, toss lightly to combine. Arrange hard boiled eggs and tomatoes along the edges of the platter and drizzle with a little more vinaigrette. Pour remaining vinaigrette over the tuna and bean mixture in the bowl, and toss gently. Turn out the mixture over the lettuce. Sprinkle olives over it all and serve. Serves 6.