My uncle, master potter David Walters, gave me this beautiful hand-thrown celadon platter last year, and I immediately made it the official family fruit bowl, perching it in a convenient spot at the end of a kitchen counter for all to admire.
|Hot & Cold Salad Niçoise, and a very naughty boy.|
Apricots, peaches, litchis, nectarines, plums, grapes, figs, pomegranates, quinces, kumquats and naartjies have filled it to overflowing as the seasons have passed, but I never thought until last weekend of using it for its intended purpose: a platter for presenting a bright and plentiful salad.
I feature many of these versatile crowd-pleasers on this blog because I’m a huge fan of complex salads with all the bells and whistles, but I’ve never posted a recipe for one of my favourite family dishes: Salad Niçoise.
This salmagundi of glistening Mediterranean ingredients is one of the world’s greatest salads, in my opinion, and I could happily eat it every day.
It’s the epitome of summer food, but in this recipe – because it is winter here in the Cape – I’ve adapted it so that it contains four piping-hot ingredients: steaming little potatoes, perfectly boiled eggs, blanched baby beans and hot blistered vine tomatoes. (I am most intrigued by cold and hot salads – my version of Gado-Gado, for instance.)
I have left anchovies out of my salad, as everyone in my family loathes them, but I can highly recommend that you drape a few of these over the tops of the eggs.
Do take the time to parboil the beans properly, because this will ensure that they do not fade to a muddy olive-green. (See caption below).
|I took this picture of my salad the day after I made it, to show you how correctly
blanched green beans will retain their lovely colour for many hours. For this pic,
I changed only the leaves (which wilted overnight in their dressing) and I
added a freshly boiled half-egg (because my teens had gobbled the lot).
I like this dressed with a generous spritz of fresh lemon juice, and just enough olive oil lightly to coat the leaves, but you can serve it with a classic vinaigrette made with mustard, garlic, salt, and the like. If you want something really extravagant, take your Niçoise to the table with a big bowl of basil mayonnaise or aïoli. Both are heavenly dobbled all over the boiled eggs.
Every now and then, I make this with fresh seared tuna, but I don’t think this is necessarily an improvement on tinned tuna, which is a superb store-cupboard ingredient with a character that is quite distinct.
And the photo-bombing basset? Our pup, Harley, is just over a year old, and he’s a velvety-eared, thieving menace. All he can think about is food. He is obsessed with eating to the point of mild mania. (Not unlike, come to think of it, his adoring owner.)
|A very naughty pup.|
Harley spends much of his day plotting ways to nick food from plates, cupboards, counter-tops and dustbins. If I stagger through the gate tugging packets of groceries, he launches himself from a good two metres away, glides through the air (ears flaring, Dumbo-style, in order to achieve extra lift) and swipes the bags straight out of my fists.
Not once, but twice, while I was standing on an outside table photographing this salad, he sailed from floor to chair to table, as silent as an owl at midnight, and appeared in my frame at the same instant I clicked the shutter.
A swift clip to the chops (okay, I will admit I used my foot) disabused him of any idea that he could sneak off with a boiled egg.
This is very easy to make, but it does require some careful timing. I’ve given you quite detailed instructions, in a numbered timeline, so you can nail that perfect balance of cold and crisp / warm and steamy.
Hot and Cold Winter Salad Niçoise
350 g cherry tomatoes
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil, for sprinkling
4 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and milled black pepper
350 g new potatoes
a large cucumber
a small bunch of spring onions
2 tins of tuna in oil
350 g slim green beans
6 extra-large free-range eggs
2 packets of mixed salad leaves: watercress, rocket and baby spinach
½ cup pimento-stuffed green olives, or pitted Calamata olives
6 anchovy fillets [optional, and to taste]a small bunch of fresh basil
For the dressing:
the juice of a large lemon
5 Tbsp (75 ml) olive oil, or more, to taste
1. First roast the tomatoes. Heat the oven to 210 ºC. Put the tomatoes onto a roasting sheet covered with a piece of kitchen paper. Sprinkle with olive oil and scatter with thyme sprigs. Season with salt and plenty of milled black pepper. Place the sheet in the heated oven and roast for 20-25 minutes, or until the tomatoes are just collapsing.
2. In the meantime, put the new potatoes into a pan, cover them with cold water and set over a medium-high flame. Set a timer to 15 minutes.
3. Cut the cucumber in half lengthways and run a spoon down the middle to remove the seeds. Slice into neat 5 mm crescents and set aside.
4. Finely chop the spring onions and set aside.
5. Open both the tins of tuna and drain off any oil. Set aside.
6. Fill a bowl with cold water and add a few generous handfuls of ice cubes. Set to one side.
7. Heat a pot of salted water in a large pot. Top and tail the beans, throw them into the rapidly boiling water and cook for 6-7 minutes, or until they are just tender crisp. Fish them out with a pair of tongs (leave the water on the boil) and plunge them into your bowl of iced water.
8. Slip the eggs gently into the simmering water and set a timer for 9 minutes. To prevent the eggs from cracking, put a teaspoon into the water, or wrap each one in tin foil.
9. Check that that baby spuds are tender by poking them with the tip of a sharp knife. Drain them, then return them to the pot in which you boiled them. Cover and keep warm.
10. Remove the roast tomatoes from the oven.
11. Arrange the salad greens, cucumber and olives on your platter, and scatter with chopped spring onions. Now tip the tuna tins over to invert their contents, as shown in the picture.
12. Just before you serve the salad, arrange all the warm and cold ingredients over the leaves, tucking in sprigs of basil here and there.
13. Squeeze the lemon over the salad and sprinkle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and take the salad straight to the table, with a warm baguette.
Serves 6 – 8.