Saturday, July 9, 2011

Salades Composées #1: Salade Niçoise

Or something a lot like it.

One thing about summer around here is that non-cook or barely-cooked meals become imperative. It doesn't get nearly as hot here as it does in Texas, of course, and I do feel sorry for my friends there. But this is something I wish I'd thought more about when I lived there.

I discovered the salade composée on my first trip to France: it was what one had for lunch if one didn't want to walk down the street gnawing a baguette sandwich. The one I discovered first was the salade périgordaise, which featured a hunk of port-soaked chicken-liver mousse in its center. I was hooked. It wasn't the sort of thing I'd eat every day -- some days I'd just not eat lunch at all, or get something heartier in the winter -- but the idea began to form in my head that a salad jazzed up with a lot of other ingredients could be a very good idea. Thus, in Texas, I started making tortellini salad. I made one just the other night, which is why I'm not featuring it here, even though I make a great one. It occurred to me while I was making it that I should've taken pictures and blogged it. So last night, I decided to make this one and photograph it in full Blur-O-Vision®.

I'm happy to say that a couple of years ago when I ransacked my books looking for salade niçoise recipes, I came across Elizabeth David rather testily saying that there are hundreds of them and they don't agree what should be in them. So treat this as a suggestion.

Okay, first, two ingredients I always use are sliced potatoes and green beans. These have to be steamed.

It's okay to overcook them, although potatoes get mushy if you overcook them too much. Soft vegetables, though, absorb the vinaigrette in the next step:

That's left over from my last salade niçoise, and it's just a nice photo. Those are rare around here. What it's made of is lemon juice, Dijon mustard, a little bit of herbes de Provence, and olive oil.

Yes, as a matter of fact, I did use squeeze lemon juice. It's because I'm cheap and lemons cost a lot around here, for some unknown reason. Anyway, a good little puddle of lemon juice, about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of mustard, some herbs, and then you start whipping it up and notice how all those things start getting thick. At this point you drizzle in some olive oil and suddenly you have this nice yellow vinaigrette which might well remind you of horrible Kraft French Dressing -- at least in the way it looks. Anyway, you take your steamed vegetables, toss them well in the vinaigrette, and refrigerate them for two or three hours. It's imperative that the vegetables be as hot as possible so they'll absorb the vinaigrette; it's sort of a primitive pickling thing.

Yes, I use cling foil/Saran Wrap kind of stuff. You can use a plate if it makes you feel better. The thing is to get these puppies cold.

Okay a few hours later and now it's time for the next step. You will need these things, which you can't see because they're out of focus. Which is a shame: I'm proud to live in a country where you can buy a can of tuna and the art on the can is unchanged since la belle époque. And yes, those are salt-cured anchovies, although this is one instance where oil-cured anchovies also work. I don't much like them for most purposes, to be honest. Salt-cured anchovies are mild, nutty, and give you the right salt and fish notes. You have to wash the salt off, then split them open and remove the backbone, but it's worth it. And they keep almost forever. Black olives, too: a necessity. I can actually buy genuine niçoise olives, and I was about five salads in when I realized that they're bitter, have almost no meat, are tiny, and, basically, I don't like them. So to hell with authenticity, although these plain old local black olives aren't the answer, either. Try Greek cured, Kalamatas, or something. The tomato is a rarity for this salad, but I had a lot of the first beefhearts of the season and they weren't getting any younger.

Man, that's a bad photograph! I'm almost ready to go into the garbage and find the can and try it again. Except for all the other stuff in the garbage, that is. Sorry. (Wait, of course the tuna company has a website!)

Okay, now it's dinner-time. Toss some lettuce or salad greens onto your plate:

Drain your can of tuna and upend it in the middle, and surround it with anchovy filets.

Add the marinated vegetables...

Then the tomatoes and the rest of the vinaigrette (be sparing, don't drown it, and remember, you can save the rest for the next one).

Now, you've also got a good baguette from the corner bakery, right? And some of that raw-milk Camembert for dessert? And a nice bargain bottle of 2010 Chateau La Clotte-Fontaine "Louise" rosé all chilled up? You don't? Well, do your best with what you've got.

I'll come back soon with the tortellini salad, and I'm thinking hard about other salads in this genre, because it does get hot in the evening thanks to the situation of my building vis a vis the sun. But I also smell some impending miettes, so it won't be tomorrow. Bon appetit!

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