The Niçoise Salad is said to have been created in the late 19th Century and probably contained tomatoes, anchovies and olive oil. These days there’s much debate over the correct ingredients – Jacques Médecin, ex mayor of Nice and traditionalist, states in his cookbook (Cuisine Nicoise), that the salad should be, “Predominantly of tomatoes, salted three times and moistened with olive oil,” along with hard boiled eggs and anchovies or tinned tuna – but not both. Raw vegetables could be incorporated, “Such as, cucumbers, purple artichokes, green peppers, fava beans, spring onions, black olives, basil and garlic, but no lettuce or vinegar.” The salad should be served in a bowl rubbed with garlic and should never contain boiled vegetables – “Never, never, I beg you, include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable in your salade niçoise.” Such was Jacques Médecin’s conviction, though having served as mayor for 24 years, he fled Nice for South America in 1990 over accusations of corruption and tax evasion. He was arrested in Uruguay three years later, deported and then convicted in France.
I made a variation on the traditional Niçoise Salad, a few weeks ago and when it turned out to be delicious, kicked myself for not photographing it. As there’s currently a heatwave in most of the Northern Hemisphere I set out to remake and record my interpretation of the salade niçoise.
Salade Niçoise recipe (serves 4 as a starter or side dish):
1/2lb fresh asparagus cut into pieces about one and a half inches long
1lb broad beans in pods (remove the pods)
12 santa tomatoes cut into four (or other small varieties with a lot of flavour)
1/3 cucumber cut into one inch lengths, halved, deseeded and chopped into sticks
2 spring onions finely chopped
1/2 red pepper cut into bite sized pieces
12 black olives
2 hard boiled eggs quartered
a tin of anchovies
12 basil leaves (torn)
1 teaspoon capers
The Vinaigrette dressing:
6 dessertspoons homemade olive oil infused with garlic and rosemary
olive oil from the anchovy tin
1 dessertspoon red wine vinegar
1 dessertspoon sherry vinegar (or balsamic)
a teaspoon of French whole grain mustard
black pepper to taste
I put my hands up – this not traditional and contains cooked vegetables, however, many niçoise recipes include boiled potatoes and green beans. Chop the asparagus into one inch pieces and remove the broad beans from their pods. Cover with cold water, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Simmer for a minute or so until they are al dente. Plunge into cold, or better still, iced water to stop the cooking process. Similarly, boil two eggs until they reach your preferred state of viscosity or solidity. Combine all the vegetables in a large bowl, but hold back 8 whole anchovies and the eggs until after tossing the salad the dressing. Chop the leftover anchovies and add them to the vegetables.
I used Kalamata olives from Greece. These have a good flavour and while I could have got some decent French olives, finding some of the tiny black ones from Nice might have been difficult.
For the dressing: I used extra virgin olive oil infused with garlic and rosemary. If you don’t have something like this to hand, crush a a clove of garlic with a mortar and pestle and add it to the dressing. Whisk all the dressing ingredients listed above. I use the olive oil from the tin of anchovies in place of salt. Do test the dressing and add pepper to taste.
Toss the salad in the dressing – I recommend using clean hands. Arrange the 8 whole anchovies like the face of a clock and place the quartered eggs on top.