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The last cooking class of the season at MOUNTAIN HIGH (formerly Shouse) is the SUMMER SOUPS class on June 18 and it’s full.  You can drop me a note to put your name on the waiting list if you like.  More classes come fall!  

There might not be an easier, tastier, more adaptable, or prettier summer grilling meal than Salade Niçoise.  Once warm weather begins in Colorado, I’m ready for this perfect fish and vegetable plate as it hits all the right notes for an elegant, simple, and healthy dinner. Did I say I love this quintessential French salad or that I’ve been making it for 35 years? That it’s as happy as food can be and just screams CELEBRATE the season?  It requires little more than a decent bottle of wine for accompaniment, though a little baguette and a scoop of sorbet or gelato for dessert would be welcome.  The addition of a cold soup starter, such as my Guacamole Soup with Grilled Shrimp, along with a frozen Margarita, are happy possibilities for larger meal. (Recipe for the soup on upcoming post.)

IMG_7623We served this up last Friday evening to a small group just before running down the hill into town to see a play together. (Colorado Springs folks, go see the Fine Arts Center’s GUYS AND DOLLS! Great show–WOW!)  Since we were celebrating the summer visit of my sister (below with our favorite granddaughter–sorry for iPhone pic), I didn’t want anything elaborate or difficult; I wanted to spend the time visiting with her, while still serving one of her favorite dinners. Preparation was minimal, mostly done ahead, and the platter of vegetables was ready and waiting for the ahi tuna Dave grilled at the very last minute.  In fact, the preparation was mostly making sure I had all the ingredients on hand. After the show, we returned home for a small, late bite of chocolate gelato served with a few berries.  Note:  If you use the linked Epicurious gelato recipe, read it through a couple of times before making and note that you’ll need to chill the mixture for several hours ahead of freezing. I’ve made it a couple of times and adore it, but always have to go over the recipe as it’s a bit convoluted.

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There are as many ways to serve Salade Niçoise as there are places to visit in France, and the word is often that only raw ingredients should be included.  I, naturally, disagree with that and once you eat my version–or your own (add radishes? skip olives??)–I think you’ll agree. If by chance you have a friend visiting who follows a vegan or vegetarian diet or who prefers chicken or salmon to tuna, Niçoise is easily and happily adapted with little trouble. (Skip eggs and add avocado and sliced almonds for a vegan take. Vegetarian? Leave off the tuna, and eat as is maybe with a few slices of hearty cheese.) Don’t want to put out the cash for fresh tuna? Make it with canned tuna as the French often do.  Like a tossed salad? Chop things a little smaller, add some greens, and toss away.  Prefer asparagus? Skip the beans and grill some asparagus with the tuna.  Whatever you do, make this salad this summer:

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SALADE NIÇOISE (sah-LAHD nih-SWAHZ) FOR 8

A large self-serve platter or tray makes this a stunning warm-weather presentation and is worth borrowing or searching out at the thrift store.  If a large platter is unavailable, the salad can certainly be served on a couple of smaller platters/bowls or on individual dinner plates or shallow bowls. You can make the vinaigrette, green beans, potatoes, and hard-cooked eggs a day ahead.  Bring everything to room temperature before grilling tuna and serving.

  • Mustard vinaigrette (recipe below)
  • 16 small fresh, ripe tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 8 hard-cooked eggs, cooled, peeled, and cut into wedges
  • 8 small-medium cooked unpeeled, red potatoes, sliced into wedges
  • 1 pound fresh, cooked green beans or haricots verts (skinny green beans)
  • 1 cup mixed, pitted olives (or Niçoise olives, if available)
  • 2 cups marinated artichoke hearts, drained
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 8 anchovies, optional
  • Olive oil, kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 pieces tuna (4-6 ounces each–steaks or fillets) grilled or cooked to order (see below)
  • 2 Lemons, cut into wedges, for garnish

On a very large platter or tray, place tomatoes in a mound at center and add the eggs around the tomatoes.

Toss first the potatoes and then the green beans in a bowl with a little of the vinaigrette, and, dividing each into fourths, add them to the platter at the “corners” of the eggs and tomatoes.

Divide the olives and artichokes into four groups each and add them at the edges of the platter or in between the beans and potatoes to make them pop. Sprinkle everything lightly with salt and pepper. Drizzle vinaigrette lightly over all and place the remainder of the dressing on the table.

Garnish salad with capers and anchovies, if using.  Place grilled tuna on a separate platter. Let guests help themselves to everything, including a wedge of lemon for squeezing over the salad at table.

MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE:

  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Hot sauce: a few drops or to taste, optional

Whisk together the vinegar with the salt, pepper, shallot, garlic, mustard and honey; let rest a few minutes.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking continually, until the mixture is emulsified or very well mixed. Taste, add hot sauce if using, and adjust seasonings.

COOKING THE TUNA:

On a very hot grill, or in batches in a heavy skillet, cook the oiled, lightly salted, and peppered tuna fillets or steaks for about 2 minutes on each side for rare and 30 seconds or so longer on each side for medium.  If you cook it well-done, it’ll taste like pork tenderloin, but go ahead with it if you have a guest with a fear of anything pink.  Let fillets or steaks rest a minute or so before serving.  Read more.

COOK’S NOTE:  For Gluten-Free, please check out the labels on purchased, prepared foods.

WINE:  We drank a beautiful Oregon Pinot Noir (Bethel Heights winery–2009 vintage) with the salad, but I’ve also had a cold French Sancerre or a light, inexpensive very cold rosé (Provençal or otherwise) with Niçoise.  Reading up  a little, I see FOOD & WINE offers the idea of a rosé Champagne with their Niçoise. Sounds perfect if the bottle isn’t too very dear, which it may well be. You’ll just have to make your own choice.  If you do choose a red wine, chill it for an hour to take the edge off; it’s probably too warm to drink room temperature red wine unless you’re above 7,000 feet and maybe even then.

Printable recipe here:  Recipes-Salads-SALADE NIÇOISE

IF YOU LIKE THIS, YOU MAY LIKE MY GRILLED TUNA SALAD with spicy lemon-basil vinaigrette:

Sing a new song; make a new fish salad,

Alyce