Gorgeous, satisfying, fresh, nutritious, satieting and perfectly complete. That’s a Salad Nicoise for you. It’s a classic salad, a signature piece that every good cook personalises, only to incur the wrath of traditionalists. The key elements of my favourite version compliment each other so brilliantly and are so simple that I rarely mess with them. Boiled eggs, a can of tuna and green beans. Soft lettuce leaves, black olives, chopped tomatoes. Dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Learn those ingredients by heart.
Salad Nicoise – A Main Meal Salad
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The traditionalists, apparently, say no to tuna, green beans and potatoes. They want to keep it simple: anchiovies, eggs, and no cooked vegetables at all. Blanched green beans and potatoes, they say, are a travesty. Sacrilege. Change happens, I say, and sometimes for the better. Over it and on with it. That Salad Nicoise has evolved to include a can of tuna rather than salty anchiovies is, in my book, a fine thing.
We’re up in the hills at the moment, so the ingredients used for these salads are cheap and easy. Discount supermarket tuna. The pitted black olives are also out of a can. The tomatoes, admittedly, are fresh off the vine – it’s midsummer. And the eggs were from a girlfriend’s Mum – the chooks went a bit silly for a few days. But the lettuce, the green beans and the potatoes are all about as normal as you can find.
You could go all upmarket gourmet with a Salad Nicoise and write an essay about it: Char-grilled baby tuna steaks sprinkled with sea salt scraped off the rocks of Normanby. Taggiasche olives picked from century old Ligurian olive trees by 4th generation Pugliese contadini. Organic, slow-roasted cherry tomatoes, each piece blessed with award winning, 70 year old Balsamic Vinegar. New season spuds whose flaky skins and delicate flesh are somehow poetic, and turn the conversation to Van Gogh and the French Impressionists. You get the idea.
Fiorenzo and I, we just want to eat. We buy the best quality ingredients we can afford, which usually isn’t organic. We grow our own vegetables and salads in spring, and for the rest of the year forage around for anything home grown or home raised.
Balsamic Vinegar – Worth Every Drop
But a half-decent bottle of Balsamic Vinegar is something I splurge on. The one I buy isn’t 70 years old, but it’s syrupy and naturally sweet without having been boosted with caramel and added sulfites. Even here in Italy it’s difficult to find Balsamic Vinegar that hasn’t been adulterated with preservatives and sweeteners.
Balsamic vinegar isn’t part of a classic Salad Nicoise, but I’m happy to take the renegade path. A few drops of Balsamic goes so well with green beans and with fresh tomatoes. It’d be a pity to use any other.
The salad takes it’s name from the city of Nice, France. It’s one of those regions which has changed hands many times over the centuries. I imagine back in the 1300’s when it was under the dominion of the Savoy’s, bottles of Balsamic vinegar were preciously stoked into the bags of iterinerant merchants from Modena, keen to present the sweet-sharp, barrel aged nectar to their clients, over a late lunch, the ingredients of which would have been quickly gathered from the kitchen garden and yard by a bustling cook: boiled eggs and soft lettuce leaves, blanched green beans, olives and toms, topped majesticly with char-grilled tuna steaks, freshly caught from the unpolluted sea.
No, you’re right, The traditionalists, in this case, win hands down. It would have been anchiovies – freshly caught or salted, either way. I’m happy to give it a go. But the Balsamic vinegar stays.
More Main Meal Salads
Better Than Waldorf – Crisp and crunch, sweet and tart, nutty and creamy, all going off in your mouth, all at the same time.
Octopus Salad with Lemon, Parsley and Thyme – Fresh, fragrant, exotic and super easy to prepare. Go get yourself an octopus.
Chicken, Green Bean and Beetroot Salad – With a Ginger Balsamic dressing. Yum.
What’s your favourite version of Salad Nicoise?
I hope you love this one. If you do, be a love – scroll all the way down and rate it!
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- 2 large handfuls soft lettuce leaves
- 200grams/7oz green beans
- 6 cherry tomatoes
- 2 cans of tuna in olive oil
- 2 hard boiled eggs
- 6 baby potatoes
- 10 pitted black olives
- extra virgin olive oil
- balsamic vinegar
- course sea salt for grinding
- Rinse and spin the lettuce.
- Top and tail the green beans. Blanch in boiling, salted water for about 5 minutes, or steam for 8 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
- Boil the potatoes in salted water for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
- Halve the cherry tomatoes, drain the oil from the tuna, peel and halve the boiled eggs.
- Arrange the lettuce, beans, tomatoes, tuna, eggs, potatoes, and olives on individual serving plates.
- Dress with the extra virgin olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, and a fresh grinding of salt.