It’s mid-October and we are still making Salade Niçoise a most delicious assemblages of fresh, seasonal vegetables that comes straight from the culinary annals of Nice and its surroundings. It is a reflection of the landscape and the season, and of the region’s history.
It also ranks as one of the most misunderstood dishes in the pantheon of Mediterranean cuisine. Misunderstood? Mais oui! Because the Salade Niçoise made and served in so many places is, according to Henri Cagnoli of the restaurant L’Escalinada in Nice, a self-appointed and widely recognized defender of authentic Niçoise cuisine, a falsification of something sacred.
The Original Was Simple
The original Salade Niçoise was a simple blend of tomatoes, olives, perhaps basil, maybe fava beans, anchovies, drizzled with olive oil. As time passed, a few other ingredients were added, including the local onion cebette, hard-cooked eggs, radishes. It was Auguste Escoffier, originally from the Cote d’Azur but the OTHER side of the river Var from Nice, who added the offensive green beans and potatoes. When he did this, a collective shiver ran through the city of Nice at the sheer audacity of tampering with such an august, local recipe.
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Just Don’t Call it Salade Niçoise
No matter that the addition of green beans and potatoes made a lovely salad. Even M. Cagnoli admits this but says, “Don’t call it Salade Niçoise, but Salade de Saison, or seasonal salad.”
To defend their salad, those in Nice who want to protect its purity have joined forces with the local administration and come up with a plaque that is put on the door of restaurants serving authentic Niçoise cuisine, including the Salad Niçoise. So, when next you are in Nice, look for a small plaque with a woman holding a basket of local vegetables and the words Cuisine Nissarde on it. There, you will experience authentic Niçoise cuisine.
You Don’t Have to Go to Nice to Get the Real Thing
But you needn’t go to Nice to get an authentic Salade Niçoise. Follow the video and the recipe, and that’s what you’ll have on your plate. You will find everything in season now, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, except fava beans which you can use from their frozen state. Let them thaw in the fridge for an hour or so, then toss them in the salad. Honestly, they will be perfect. It’s a big exception, I know, and if you don’t want to, simply leave them out of the salad. If you include them shhh! Don’t tell anyone in Nice!
Here are the Ingredients
Ingredients in a Salade Niçoise (you don’t have to include them all):
- Bell peppers
- Fava beans
- Hard-cooked eggs
- Salt (sea salt)
- Olive oil
- Mesclun (mix of seven different lettuces including arugula)
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- 1 pound (500g) cherry tomatoes, trimmed and cut in half, lengthwise
- 1 cucumber that weighs about 12 ounces;360g, peeled and thinly sliced
- Fine sea salt
- 2 pounds (1 kg) fava beans in their husks, shucked (frozen fava beans work perfectly here; you’ll need about 1-1/2 cups worth)
- 12 anchovy fillets, or 8 ounces or 8 ounces (250g) canned albacore tuna (in oil)
- 1 cup (10g) basil leaves, gently packed
- 1 garlic clove cut in half
- One 4 ounce (120g) green pepper such as cubanelle or shishito, trimmed, kept whole, seeded and cut in thin rounds
- 4 small, round spring onions or 8 scallions cut in half lengthwise and very thinly sliced
- ½ cup; 3 ounces (90g) black olives such as Niçoise, with pits
- About ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 large eggs hard-cooked, peeled and cut in quarters
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Fine sea salt
- Basil leaves – for garnish
- Place the tomatoes and the cucumber slices in a sieve set over a large bowl. Salt them with an even shower of salt (about 1 teaspoon), shake the colander so all the vegetables are evenly salted, and reserve while you prepare the rest of the salad.
- Bring a small saucepan filled with lightly salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the shucked fava beans, let boil for 2 minutes, then remove the fava beans from the water, leaving the hot water in the saucepan. Carefully make a slit in the outer skin of each fava bean and squeeze or take out the tender green been inside. Discard the skins. If the outer skin doesn’t easily cut and peel off, return the fava beans to the hot water for a minute or two. (if using frozen favas, they’re already peeled but will benefit from a quick plunge into boiling water, literally less than a minute. Drain, and use them in the salad).
- Cut the anchovy fillets into large dice. If using canned tuna instead, crumble it into bite-sized or smaller pieces. If using fresh, seared tuna, slice it thinly.
- Tear the largest basil leaves into bite-sized pieces. Reserve several sprigs of smaller leaves, for garnish.
- To serve the salad, rub a large salad bowl with the garlic clove. Place all the ingredients (except the tuna if using, and the eggs) in the bowl.
- Mince the basil leaves and add to the bowl, then pour over the olive oil and toss all the ingredients together, very gently, so they are all coated with oil. Taste for seasoning. Garnish the salad with the crumbled or sliced tuna (if using) the eggs and additional basil leaves and serve immediately.