If you’ve been cooking as long as I have, you might remember the salade niçoise of the 1980s, which had a bit of a heyday on restaurant and home menus.
Artfully arranged heaps of dressed green beans, potatoes and maybe beets, with a piece of seared rare tuna at the center of the plate, amounted to a dish of note. You strewed olives and capers over all and, if you dared, a few anchovies.
I made this salad back then, usually for a dinner party, and it was delicious. But it always seemed like a project, dressing each vegetable separately and searing or grilling the tuna. Unless you put it all on a platter, the composition had to be repeated for each plate. Over time, I drifted away from that salade niçoise.
When I visited Nice for the first time last June, I was of course eager to try the city’s namesake salad–and what I found was that it bore little resemblance to the composed salad I remembered.
Of the versions I saw or tried, one of the most appealing was in Vieux Nice, the old medieval quarter. A bowlful of casually assembled greens, tuna, anchovy, tomato, celery and egg halves arrived, to be dressed as I pleased.
I realized that I regularly make something similar to this salad, often for a solo lunch–never thinking of it as salade niçoise. This salad seemed familiar, like one I might encounter in nearby Liguria or in Sicily.
Elsewhere in Nice, salade niçoise was reliably delicious, proteinaceous, easy. And made with canned tuna, always.
But it occurred to me that there might be a place for the potatoes and green beans I remembered from the fancier salad niçoise. Julia Child was a fan and made the point, in her 1989 book The Way to Cook, that Escoffier included those vegetables in his description. That esteemed culinary authority was after all, born near Nice, so he knew what he was talking about.
It’s true, potatoes and green beans with a garlicky dressing are hard to resist. Plus, a composed salad is showier. So, in addition to the dress-it-yourself salad, I offer a layered salade niçoise with potatoes and green beans. There’s room in the world of Provençal salads for two delicious alternatives.
- 4 cups Boston lettuce, torn or mixed greens
- 1 jar or can good-quality tuna (about 7 ounces) such as Tonnino Ventresca, drained
- 1 rib celery cut in thin angled slices
- Leaves from 1 basil sprig whole if small or torn in pieces
- 2 teaspoons capers
- 1 large ripe tomato cut in wedges
- 2 hard-cooked eggs halved
- 2 to 6 anchovies your choice
- Best-quality olive oil in a cruet
- White wine vinegar in a cruet
- Sea salt
- Black pepper in a grinder
Divide lettuce, tuna pieces, celery, basil and capers between two dinner plates. Arrange tomato, eggs and anchovies on top.
Serve with olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and pepper for dressing.
Potatoes and green beans in salade niçoise? I never encountered such a version during my visit to Nice itself. But it is nonetheless delicious.
- 1/3 cup best-quality olive oil
- 1 to 2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
- 1 garlic clove pressed or finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- Sea salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 medium red-skinned potatoes or other boiling potatoes
- 8 ounces green beans tipped and snapped in half
- 1 small head Boston lettuce torn, or 1 box (5 ounces) mixed greens
- 2 ribs celery angle cut in thin slices
- 2 large ripe tomatoes halved and cut in slices
- 2 jars or cans good-quality tuna (6.5-7 ounces) such as Tonnino Ventresca, drained
- 4 hard-cooked eggs halved
- 4 to 8 anchovies pinched in half
- 1 heaping tablespoon capers
For dressing: Combine olive oil, wine vinegar, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper in a small jar. Close and shake well. Taste, adjust seasonings and shake again.
Cut potatoes in small dice (1/2 inch) Break or cut green beans in half. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add potato and cook until just beginning to turn tender. Add green beans and cook until both vegetables are tender; drain. Cool until warm and mix in 2 tablespoons dressing.
Toss greens and celery with remaining dressing. Arrange on dinner plates. Ring with tomato slices. Spoon green bean/potato mixture over greens. Gently break apart tuna and layer on top. Garnish with eggs, anchovies and capers.