I can’t quite believe I haven’t already posted a recipe for salade Niçoise, as I must have made it every summer since I was a teenager. Deciding on what exactly should or should not be in a salade Niçoise is a contentious issue: while Simon Hopkinson thinks that tuna is redundant but includes green beans and artichoke hearts, Rowley Leigh says that the salad shouldn’t have any cooked vegetables in it. My salade Niçoise has evolved from the version I learnt from my mother, which had hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, green beans, tomato, tuna and black olives served on a bed of lettuce. I now tend to include anchovies, and variously cucumber, red pepper, spring onions and/or capers. See below for a vegetarian variant of the salad too.
Finding the sort of really ripe, flavourful tomatoes that you can buy as a matter of course in the south of France is always a challenge unless you grow your own. I find large slicing tomatoes (like Jack Hawkins) better for this than regular ones, and you can sometimes get good heritage varieties in supermarkets now as well as at farmers’ markets. I have specified ridge cucumber as they are less watery; if you’re using a standard cucumber it’s worth scooping out the seeds before you chop it. I don’t always pit the olives, though your guests will thank you if you do. I can see that cheap tinned tuna brings little to the taste or texture of the salad, but since discovering tuna bottled in oil I have become more enthusiastic about it – feel free to omit or include as you wish.
A vegetarian version can be made by leaving out the tuna and anchovies, in which case I would add some artichoke hearts (I’m not a big fan, but several recipes include them) as well as a red pepper and capers which, along with the black olives, will give the salty tang and layers of flavour you want. I’m not sure it will quite qualify as an authentic salade Niçoise, but it will be a delicious lunch.
In any case, this recipe has no pretensions to being an authentic, perfect or definitive version – it’s just what I like to eat for lunch on a sunny day, ideally sitting in the shade with a glass of chilled rosé. It looks particularly good laid out on a large platter, with good bread alongside.
4 new potatoes
120g green beans
200g ripe tomatoes
½ ridge cucumber
1 jar of tuna (optional)
4 spring onions
6-8 anchovy fillets
1 tbsp capers
75-100g black olives
Little Gem or other leaves to serve
A handful of parsley and/or basil
1 clove garlic
1 rounded tsp dijon mustard
2 tsps red wine vinegar
5 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
salt & black pepper
Put on a small pan of water to boil. Prick the egg shells at the broad end and, when the water reaches the boil, lower them into the pan, turn the heat down to a simmer and put the timer on for 8 minutes. While they’re cooking, top and tail the green beans. Wash the salad leaves – this time I used a combination of Little Gem and a few leaves of red chicory – spin to get rid of any excess water, and pop them in the fridge to stay crisp. As soon as the eggs are done, scoop them out into a colander and run under the cold tap to stop them cooking. Bring the water back to a simmer and cook the beans for 4-5 minutes. Tip them into a sieve, run under cold water (which will help keep them bright green) and set aside to drain.
You need waxy salad potatoes for this recipe – Charlottes, Maris Peer or Pink Fir Apples if you can get them. Unless you are using up left-over cooked potatoes, wash the potatoes and cut in half if large. Bring another pan of water to the boil, add the potatoes and cook for 15-20 minutes until tender to the point of a knife. Drain and leave the cool.
To make the dressing, crush the garlic in a garlic press (or with a knife on a board using a little salt). In a small bowl or jar, mix together with the mustard, wine vinegar and some salt & freshly ground black pepper, then whisk in the olive oil (or just pour in, put the lid on and shake if you are using a jar) until it is all emulsified and a glorious sunny yellow from the mustard. Everything up to this point can be done ahead of time if you wish.
Shell the eggs when they are cool enough to handle, and cut each one in half – the yolks should be only just set and deep yellow (not those nasty over-cooked, grey-ringed yolks reminiscent of school salads). Cut the tomatoes into chunks, discarding the seeds if watery. Trim the end of the cucumber and scoop out the central seeds if necessary. Cut into quarters lengthwise and then into chunks. If you are using them, thinly slice the spring onions and red pepper. Cut the potatoes into fork-sized chunks. Finely chop the herb(s).
When you are ready to assemble the salad, lay the lettuce out on the platter or plate and arrange the potatoes, beans, tomato and cucumber on top. If using the tuna, drain it thoroughly from the oil (or brine) it has been preserved in, and distribute it in chunks over the vegetables. Arrange the halved hard-boiled eggs and tear the anchovy fillets (if using) over them. I sometimes get fancy and arrange them in criss-crosses over the eggs, which looks pretty, but is far from essential. Add any other vegetables you are using, and then scatter the black olives and capers over the top. Drizzle the dressing over everything, and finish with the chopped herbs.
À table, mes amis!