My approach to summer food takes inspiration from Italian cooking and entertaining: very few ingredients, only the best, with little done to them. So I suppose none of this then, is really cooking, but rather the arranging of components, thinking of your salad as an edible bouquet. And in thinking of your food this way, it becomes not simply an experience of taste, but rather an exploration of texture, a discovery of color. Eating this salad is a practice of intimacy, taking note of the charming sticky residue tuna leaves on your teeth, the crisp green beans made interesting by the vinaigrette’s subdued pungency. This salad interacts with you, asking you not your opinion of it for approval, but to involve you in its creation.
This Salade Niçoise is the result of many recipes used over the years, Saveur, Barefoot Contessa, New York Times Cooking, and inspired by the many nights my host mother in Paris indulged in her Provençal roots, congratulating herself upon completion: Ooh la la, regarde ma petite salade, elle est belle, non ?
Hers was always pretty, yes, certainly prettier than my own. But I like to think of this as a nod to what she’s taught me, that to gather people is a talent, to be a hostess an enviable skill. To offer others food, and in turn, comfort, is to offer love. Nothing is wrong in wanting that.
I haven’t given proportions for the salad, as I find that I’m often heavy-handed with the saltier ingredients (always picking out a few anchovies for myself as reward). With the vinaigrette, of course, one should be a bit more exact, though I’m sure I add more Dijon and garlic than I admit below.
For the salad
Mixed colors of market grape tomatoes, cut in half or thirds if large
Fingerling potatoes, boiled until your fork pokes through in a tender invasion
Green beans, quickly blanched
1 small cucumber, cut into half moons
Pastene tuna, flaked into large, oil-sheened chunks
Sahli olives, charismatic in their size, challenging with their pit
Fill a large, low bowl halfway with Mesclun. This is the bed on which you artfully place all other ingredients, keeping in mind to arrange in big blocks so the variance in color is striking, but cohesive. Drizzle vinaigrette on top.
For the vinaigrette
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
⅓ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
With a fork in a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, cloves and mustard. Drizzle in oil while continuing to whisk. Add salt and pepper to taste.