Sunday, 26 August 2007

Salad nicoise

It's early in the morning on the fourth day of my vacation, and I'm finally willing to admit that one doesn't always have to go somewhere to have an enjoyable holiday. Especially when one lives in Paris, when a certain cheese-loving Londoner is here for more days than can be counted on one hand, and when, finally, the sun has come out.

It should have been obvious to me sooner--around lunch on Saturday--when we assembled a nicoise salad that surely bested 98% of those eaten by the thousands slow-baking through August on the Riviera. Good summer tomatoes and green beans obviously helped, as did the perfectly moist and orange-yolked hard boiled eggs. (I have been producing some messy, and quite frankly, inedible specimens of late, a fact which I blame on my slow-to-heat Le Creuset, but may actually be due to simple incompetence.) But the defining element was the fish: one small (possibly too small) tin of olive-oil laden albacore tuna, another of anchovies so milky-white and clean-tasting that they deserve to be called boquerones and sold for lots of money in a stylishly simple tapas bar.

High-quality ingredients are important here; so is the timing. I like to dress the potatoes and beans while warm (in order to absorb the fishy, oily dressing), and to slice the egg on top of the composed salad as soon as it's cool enough to peel. On this occasion, from start to photo-finish, it took about 40 minutes. I think 30 is the minimum.

For two people, I usually start by boiling a handful of halved or quartered new potatoes. A similar quantity of trimmed haricot verts are added to the same pot with about 5 minutes to go. Once the potatoes are started, I drain the oil from the fish(es) into the serving dish. This, along with dijon mustard, a splash of vinegar, salt and vinegar, should make a sufficient quantity of dressing. After this, the tomatoes can be chopped or sliced (mi cuit tomatoes might make an interesting variation in the winter and spring), olives stoned and water brought up to boil for the eggs. By the time the eggs go on, I've hopefully added the fish and tomatoes, along with the olives, to the dish, and cleaned some soft salad leaves. The potatoes and beans are cooled slightly, then mixed through. I toss in the leaves just as the eggs come off the heat, adding the sliced eggs immediately before serving.

Rose or a crisp white seem obvious partners. We would have finished with goats cheese, had we not eaten it all the night before in a decadent midnight picnic.

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