This weekend was a gorgeous sunny one that found all of D.C. running about outside or lying prone on the grass busily manufacturing Vitamin D after a long, grey winter. After a busy day of brunching and monument-viewing and other important activities with Mrs. T and Dr. T, everyone felt like a nice salad would be just the thing for supper. (We brunched at the Tabard Inn. There were doughnuts…) As I often do, I turned to the South of France for my very favorite entree salad (sorry Chicken Caesar, you’re just too corporate lunch box for me). Salad Niçoise is a pleasing mix of the fresh, the savory, and the piquant–and a perfect way to extend the sunshine of a glorious day out.

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A “salade composée”, it can be composed of just about anything, though the tuna, potato, egg, and green bean are pretty elemental. My version has swung between many poles, depending on the vagaries of mood and market. I actually used sugar snap peas this time since the green beans looked abysmal. And I only put in the asparagus sometimes. If you’re feeling luxurious, you can use oil-packed tuna instead of water-packed or if you’re feeling extra-fancy, poach some salmon and flake that over instead.

Salade Niçoise
Yield: 6 entree servings

5 large eggs
3/4 lb small fingerling potatoes
1/2 lb green beans
1/2 lb asparagus
4 medium tomatoes
10 oz baby salad greens
1 bunch red radishes
1 9 oz can tuna, drained
1/2 c mixed pitted olives
2 tbs capers, rised & drained
Shallot Vinaigrette (below)

Fill a small saucepan with cool water and add the eggs. Bring to a boil, cover, turn off the heat, and let sit 14 minutes. When done, remove from pot and set aside to cool.

While the eggs are cooking, get on with the other vegetables. Examine the potatoes, rinsing if needed, and cutting any larger ones in half so they’re all about the same size. Fill a larger saucepan with water and add the potatoes. Cook till tender, about 8 minutes, depending on the type and size of the potatoes. They’ll pierce easily with a knife when done. Using a spider or slotted spoon, remove the potatoes from the water and set aside to cool and dry on a (paper or kitchen) towel-lined baking sheet.

Pour out half of the water, returning the pan to the boil and dropping in a steamer basket. After topping the beans, drop them in and steam till crisp-tender, about 4 min. While the beans are cooking, fill a large bowl with ice water (lots of ice) and set by the stove. Once the beans are just tender, remove them to the ice water to stop the cooking. Once cooled, remove from the beans from the ice water and spread on the baking sheet. Add more water to the pot if need by and return to a boil. Trim asparagus and steam till just tender, about 3 min. Remove the asparagus to the baking sheet to dry.

Peel the eggs and slice them in 6 wedges. Core and slice the tomatoes in wedges. Thinly slice the radishes and roughly chop the olives.

Prepare the vinaigrette (below).

In a large bowl, toss the greens with about 1/3 of the vinaigrette. Pile on a large platter. In turn, toss the potatoes, green beans, and asparagus with a tablespoon of the vinaigrette in the bowl before arranging over the greens on the platter. Continue layering the rest of the ingredients, undressed, and drizzle some of the remaining vinaigrette over the completed salad to taste.

While Martha (and/or Ina, I can’t remember) likes to cluster each ingredient together over the greens, I like to spread everything out–it may not be quite as visually striking, but it’s easier for people to get a bit of everything and less hassle to serve. And you get less dressing on your tablecloth too.

Shallot Vinaigrette
Yield: ~3/4 c

1 medium shallot (~2 tbs minced)
1/3 c good white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp honey
1 tsp table salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
~1/2 c good extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbs minced fresh dill (or tarragon, or basil, etc.)

Mince the shallot. In the carafe of a blender or tall narrow vessel if using an immersion blender (I use an oversize travel mug…) combine the shallot, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt, and pepper. Blend until completely combined and the shallot is totally obliterated. Add the oil and blend till fully emulsified. Stop to taste, adding a bit more oil if you want a creamier dressing.  Add the fresh herbs and blend just to combine–a couple of pulses. Set aside. Keeps well in the fridge, covered, but will thicken and separate a bit.

You can use dried herbs too, but add them to the vinegar mixture at the beginning to give them time to soften up a bit.