Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Autumn Picnic - Featuring Salad Nicoise

Vibrant colors, a variety of textures and rich, briny flavors make this salad Nicoise one of my favorites.

If you're wrapped in an afghan
and shivering in the cold or watching snow flurries or cursing the thought of your next budget-breaking gas bill, then you may not be able to imagine a late-November picnic with temperatures in the 70's.

It's been so unseasonably warm here in Southern California, that I had to change both the site and menu for our al fresco autumn meal. We abandoned the "top of the world" location with no shade and settled on a tree-lined site in the lowlands. And I gave up on the idea of a hearty beef stew in favor of heat-friendly salad Nicoise.

It's beginning to look a lot like autumn - finally.

And, of course, this wasn't just any picnic. It was another trespassers picnic, where crossing the line is part of the fun. My motto is the food always tastes better when you're being just a little bit naughty.

There seem to be as many opinions about the components of a proper salad Nicoise as there are opinions about getting us out of this financial crisis. Should the tuna be packed in oil or water? White or dark meat? What about the restaurant trend of serving rare ahi tuna? Should tomatoes be included? What about anchovies or capers? Are greens included in a proper salad Nicoise? This is one controversial salad.

In an effort to please almost everyone, I included both a water-packed albacore tuna and an oil-drenched Italian variety, both already on my pantry shelf. I added tomatoes for color, even though they are close to tasteless this time of year. And I left out the greens due to forgetfulness (I left them behind in the refrigerator), not for a desire to be authentic.

This recipe is adapted from the one posted by Tea and Cookies, who modified the recipe from the Silver Palate cookbook.

All mixed up - not as pretty, but just as yummy. It's better (and prettier) to add the eggs after tossing and then drizzle the dressing on top of the eggs.

Salad Nicoise (Pronounced "nee-SWAHZ")

8 small red potatoes, cooked in salted water until tender but not mushy
2 lbs green beans, trimmed, blanched in boiling water until bright green but still crispy
4 small ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 small purple onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Nicoise olives
pinch of salt
1 tsp pepper
3/4 cup dressing (recipes follows)
6 hard boiled eggs, quartered
12 oz oil packed tuna
2 oz anchovy fillets

Assemble all ingredients, except eggs, tuna and anchovies, in a large bowl or on a serving platter. Toss With dressing. Arrange eggs, tuna and anchovies on plate or platter and drizzle with dressing.

1 tbs dijon mustard
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or champagne vinegar)
1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
1 small shallot, minced

(I've experimented with lots of different dressings for salad Nicoise, and this was the best complement by far.)

Put the mustard, vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and pepper into a small jar and shake. Mix in the parsley and shallot.

Enjoy this classic dish in a serene, pastoral setting, preferably without the humming of leaf blowers and the din of trash trucks.

La Menu
Tuscan white bean dip with blue corn chips
Pomme frites
Salad Nicoise
French baguette
Fresh berries with cassis liquer and orange zest
Red and white wine


Pam said...

I am going to make this salad. I love all the ingredients! Happy Thanksgiving.

altadenahiker said...

And I'm going to make this salad. Happy Thanksgiving. Red and white wine.

Susan C said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Pam and AH.

Red and white wine? Oh, yes, that makes any meal great!

Ronni Gordon said...

I made a variation of this on my own when I was not allowed to eat any fresh vegetables. I never tried homemade dressing on it, though. I think I'll give your recipe a try even though I can now eat fresh salad because it sure looks good.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Susan C said...

Ronni, You can eat fresh veggies and fruits now? Hurrah! This would have been a good salad for low-bacteria diets. I even saw one version where the tomatoes were roasted.

Petrea said...

You went on a trespassers' picnic???? OH!! I wanna know all about it! Can you tell us a little bit about where without giving away any secrets? Did you climb fences? Did you have to hide? Did you skulk?

Nelle said...

I simply love this salad but I would have chosen the capers. I love capers! I have made similar salads to this. Thanks for sharing.

Margaret said...

I'm printing out this recipe ASAP. Yum, yum. And I'm on the prowl for sneaky trespassers' picnic spots, and you know how hard it is for me to embrace my inner rule breaker.

Susan C said...

Petrea, A hint - a high-income community with horse property. And you'll be on the guest list for the next picnic.

Nelle, I love capers and usually include them. I left them out this time because the anchovies are so darn salty.

Margaret, OMG, That would be great, you little rebel you.

Petrea said...

Yeehaw! Or, "Tally ho," as we say in high income communities with horse properties. said...

We could scale the walls at the south/east end of the Huntington (at night) with my leftover Smirnoff sodas. Karin can show us where they grow the Peyote.

Jo said...

that salad looks so good I could cry. I want some.. no... I NEED some. Soon... very, very soon.

Petrea said...

Ruins. AH knows what I mean.

Susan C said...

Petrea, PA and Jo - You all are tickling my funny bone.

Can't wait to pick the spot for our next trespassers picnic. (I think I should copyright that :)

PstLyfDiva said...

You just made me so homesick for my adopted teenage home!
I am almost positive my partner has never had a proper Salade Nicoise and now I am going to have to make her one in homage to my memories!

Susan C said...

PLD, How nice to hear that this evoked memories for you! Have fun making it for your partner.

Carolyn Jung said...

One of my all-time fave salads. Whenever I see it on the menu, I almost always order it. Bistro Jeanty in Yountville features a masterful one on the lunch menu during the summer.

Susan C said...

Carolyn, thanks for the tip about Bistro Jeanty. I hope I can make it to Sonoma County this summer.

I used to have a client in Sonoma, but no more.

Clare said...

That is one beautiful salad! I will have to make this (sans olives, which I do not like). Gorgeous!

Susan C said...

Thanks, Clare. I hate black or green olives, but I have a soft spot for the purple ones, both Kalamata and Nicoise.

goodeda1122 said...