Sunshine salad

Post-party, post-very hot walk, piles of laundry ironed and put away, kitchen floor and kitchen terrace well and truly mopped. Phew, what a day.

After that lot, I was struggling for inspiration as to what we could have for dinner, preferably something that didn’t involve a trip to the supermarket and most definitely didn’t involve a lot of standing over the stove. In fact, something very quick that would allow me maximum time to settle down on the sofa with a cat and Mr Don Draper. Obviously Don Draper won’t actually be on the sofa – he’ll be playing along in the box set of Mad Men that Robin bought us for Christmas, so it’ll be just me and Marmalade really.

A quick trawl through the cupboard and the fridge revealed all the contents for a Salade Niçoise. Just the ticket – yum yum.

Now then, I do realise this hardly constitutes a recipe, more of a reminder of something simple, but very tasty, that you can make with mainly staple ingredients. Obviously you can tailor your salad according to what you like and what you happen to have to hand. The all-important element here is the dressing – it needs to be punchy, mustardy, garlicky, salty and sweet all at the same time, so don’t skimp on the ingredients. I find that introducing the tomatoes and onions to the dressing while you get on with everything else makes a huge difference to the end result – the lovely sweet tomato juices seep into the dressing, and the vinegar and salt take away the rawness of the onion. Just 15 to 20 minutes is all that is needed for this miracle to occur.

Here’s how I make mine:

Salade Niçoise

The amounts given here are approximate and will feed two to three people – all you need to accompany it is some crusty bread to mop up that delicious dressing.

For the dressing:

1 teaspoon honey or brown sugar
1 heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard
A really good grinding of black pepper – at least 10 grinds of the pepper pot
A generous pinch of salt
1 clove garlic, finely grated or minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil

For the salad:

A Cos lettuce or 2 or 3 Little Gem lettuces
6 small tomatoes (more if they are the very small cherry type), halved
½ of a red onion, thinly sliced
5 – 6 anchovy fillets, either the type from a tin or the type preserved in salt
A few new potatoes – however many you want to eat
A big handful of French beans or runner beans, cut into bite-sized pieces
½ of an English cucumber or 1 small Turkish cucumber, peeled, halved lengthway and each half sliced into half-moons
1 tin tuna – I like the type in olive oil for this, but any kind will be fine
2 – 3 eggs
A handful of black olives
1 tablespoon capers
Flat leaf parsley chopped

First make the dressing. Put all the ingredients into a jam jar, put on the lid and shake very well indeed, until it thickens. If you don’t have an empty jam jar, put all the ingredients into a small bowl and whisk very thoroughly until thick and unctuous.

Halve the tomatoes and put them into a small bowl with the sliced red onion and pour over half of the dressing. Cut the anchovies into small pieces (scissor work well here) and add to the mix – give it all a good toss around and set aside while you do the rest.

Wash the potatoes (no need to peel if they are new season) and cut into bite-sized pieces. Put into a saucepan, barely cover with water, add a generous pinch of salt, cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and cook for five minutes. Add the green beans and cook for a further four minutes – the beans should still have some bite and the potatoes should be just tender. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Drain again.

While the potatoes are cooking, put the eggs into another small pan, bring to the boil, then simmer for about 6 minutes – this should give you eggs with yolks which are just slightly creamy, but not runny – if you prefer them soft-boiled, then certainly cook them for less time. Drain and then sit in cold water for a couple of minutes until cool enough to peel.

Arrange the lettuce leave on a large serving plate – if the leaves are large, tear them into smaller pieces. Scatter over the potatoes and green beans, and then the cucumber, before spooning the tomatoes and onions in their dressing over the top. Drain the tuna and flake with a fork if necessary, then add to the other ingredients. Peel and quarter the eggs and arrange on top of the tuna with the olives, then scatter over the capers and some chopped parsley. Drizzle the remaining dressing over the top and serve with crusty bread.

Eh voila, supper is ready. Must go – don’t want to keep Mr Draper waiting.

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