Salad Niçoise is one of those recipes that can start a debate. Depending on where the recipe was written and by whom, ingredients can range from red peppers to green beans, artichokes, to black olives. How it is served is also up for debate - on a bed of lettuce or tomatoes?
Recipes can unlock a dish from an unfamiliar culinary tradition. A recipe passed down through the generations is a way to retain a connection to the knowledge of the past, particularly if it is an old family recipe. I get these arguments, and yet, in spite of the fact that I share recipes of what I cook on this website, I play fast and loose with both the ingredients and instructions in a recipe, depending on what I have in the fridge, how much time I have and most importantly, how hungry I am when I begin to cook.
If I have forgotten to buy an ingredient, I’ll switch it up for something I do have which I feel follows the spirit of the dish, or I change the cooking technique – I have no working cooker at the moment, so I am sautéing instead of roasting. I don’t see a recipe as a script to follow, more like a list of suggestions as to what to use and how to use ingredients. Most of the time it works, sometimes it really doesn’t. But that is all part of the fun of cooking and exploring and testing and developing your palate.
Jacque Medecin, one time mayor of Nice, wrote “La Cuisine du Comte de Nice” (Julliard, 1972), a book of over 300 recipes on cooking from Nice, not least because of the horror he felt at interpretations of the recipe salad Niçoise. So he may look at the dish I made this week with some horror. This is my interpretation of a dish on which there isn’t a huge amount of agreement. For me, it hits all the spots I needed it to hit when I made it – the comforting creaminess of perfectly boiled eggs, a sprinkle of salty capers, earthy green spinach and a scattering of dirty fried potatoes. The vinaigrette – a perfect balance of olive oil, lemon juice, mustard and anchovy and topped with a scattering of wild garlic makes the tuna sing. Next time I have an urge for a bowl, I have no doubt I will use a different list of ingredients. In the meantime, this captured a moment in spring when it’s not quite salad weather, but it feels tantalisingly close.
A handful of baby spinach
1 tin of good tuna
1 tbsp capers
2 medium potatoes, cut into chunks and par boiled
4 sundried tomatoes, chopped
3 tbsp wild garlic, chopped
For the vinaigrette
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 anchovy fillet
1 tsp mustard
Boil water in a pan and add the eggs. Cook for 6 minutes. Sautee the potatoes to colour on each side and crisp up.
Chop the anchovy finely and add to a bowl. Add the remainder of the vinaigrette ingredients and mix together.
In a bowl, place, layer or arrange according to your aesthetic the ingredients and drizzle with the vinaigrette.