Salad Niçoise evokes visions of lazy lunches in France, holidays, sunshine, the beach……please excuse me while I drift into hazy memories of camping in the Vendee with my kids….my first visit was with Rosie (the teen) when she was 11 months old. We camped next to the beach, bought fresh bread from the boulangerie, shopped in the Super U (French supermarket chain) and the market in Ile de Noirmoutier. Even in the supermarket the produce was fresh, local and a reflection of the warm, sunny climate. I returned again when my youngest kid was exactly the same age as Rosie had been on the first trip. This time we camped in an area of woods and forest, the smell of pine and sea air heightened our appetites and although at that point money was tight (eating out every night was beyond us), we filled our baskets once again with all the amazing produce grown in the area. I vividly remember that the campsite take-away sold home-made boeuf bourguignon, not any old take away this! The beef melted in the mouth, the sauce thick, rich and supremely tasty with all the lingering flavourings from the wine in which the beef had been marinated.
Memories aside, I don’t think I ever actually ate a Salad Niçoise while in France. Soft boiled eggs are generally not my thing (I have a strange aversion to runny egg yolks, the only thing I physically cannot eat) and I know the kids would never have chosen a dish with anchovies or olives. These days that has changed (except for the anchovy bit) and the kids will eat it and I make nicoise a fair bit for parties and buffets. With the eye-catching colour contrast of the scarlet tomatoes, green lettuce and bright yellow eggs it really stands out.
With so much fresh local produce in my veg box, a glut of cute pink bantam eggs and a craving for a pretty salad to make me think summer will never end I set about making this slightly cheaty Salad Niçoise. I used runner beans (of which there is an unending supply at the moment) and not green beans, crisp lettuce hearts, beautiful and sweet deep red tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic and lots of (hard) boiled eggs. sorry, I know they should really be soft, but as I said I have this aversion. The missing ingredients were olives (which some people include, while others don’t) and anchovies, but I improvised with a can of green olives (stuffed with anchovies) found on the shelf of my local shop. This is not the perfect choice at all; they should really be the beautiful purpley French olives, or nice juicy fat black ones but in the absence of these (you can’t have Niçoise without olives) it worked all the same.
Locally grown lettuce, tomatoes, basil and pretty pink bantam eggs from my hens
add olives, anchovies, blanched runner beans and a basil garlic dressing made with flaked (Halen Mon) seasalt
Recipe: Salad Niçoise (to serve 4 as a main or up to 6 as an accompanying dish)
1 or 2 heads of crisp cos or little gem lettuce
5 ripe tomatoes quartered
5 eggs boiled (to your preference, mine were hard-boiled)
250g green beans or runner beans
6-8 nice fat anchovies (preferably from a fishmonger in a pack or tin packed in salt and washed before use). Jarred anchovies in oil should be washed before adding, and are not as tasty as the former.
100g purple or black olives
2 good tablespoons of red wine vinegar
100ml olive oil
1 fat clove of garlic chopped finely
a small handful of fresh basil leaves finely chopped
half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard
a good pinch of Halen Mon sea salt and ground black pepper