Is it possible to be bored with summer food?
I mean, I love zucchinis and tomatoes and ears of corn and tons of peaches and the peppery smell of basil. I love the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings, the hipster guys that sell heirloom marinara sauce for $14 a jar (really, guys?), the cranky plant dude who told me the rosemary plant I bought from him in April wouldn’t grow in my kitchen window (it did, thank you very much).
But, it’s fall. Okay, not according to the calendar, but my cooking mindset has already turned the page. I want to roast winter squash, make big pots of soup and bake huge loaves of dark, whole grain breads to go with them. I want apples and pumpkins and deep, rich, gutsy spices. I’m craving a bowl of mushroom barley soup with rye bread and butter and apple cake for dessert. I love cooking what I call “cozy food”.
This week, however, has been anything but cozy. A late season heat wave, the first consultation at Fox Chase, driving to-and-fro getting medical records sent to Fox Chase, making more appointments and nap-taking.
So, let’s have Tuna Nicoise for dinner. It’s easy, it’s quick to make and it’s not all that “foo-foo”, either.
The traditional tuna nicoise calls for tuna, steamed baby potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, anchovies, oil-cured black olives, hard boiled eggs and a soft lettuce (like a butter, Boston, red or green leaf ) and it’s all dressed with a classic French vinaigrette. It’s a composed salad, meaning that every salad ingredient is arranged on top of the lettuce individually with the cooks’ eye towards artistry. I remember watching an episode of Julia Child’s “The French Chef” where she made this dish. The lettuce was tossed with the vinaigrette and laid out on a big platter. Then every element was placed on the lettuce, so that no matter where you sat at the table, you’d be sure to get a nice portion of everything.
My recipe isn’t nearly that “foo-foo”, but I do make my own vinaigrette. And I do fuss a bit and make a composed salad. I also swap out the potatoes for chick peas because it’s easier, and drop both the anchovies and the olives; I love them, but my boyfriend doesn’t.
The original recipe calls for “oil-packed tuna in cans”, but you can use whichever seafood tickles your fancy. I’ve used domestic oil-packed tuna, which is fine, and if you want to use a water-packed one, go for it. We also like smoked trout and I’ve used leftover poached salmon. As long as it’s good, you really can’t go wrong.
And please, please don’t use a bottled dressing. It takes no time at all to make the one I’m giving here.
With some great bread and fruit, it’s done. Now say “Bon Appetit!” in your best Julia Child, and you’re good to go.
- 2 cans (about 12 oz.) of tuna packed in olive oil, drained.
- 1 pound of green beans, trimmed, sliced, cooked and drained
- 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced into quarters
- Really ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced (if it’s not tomato season, grape tomatoes are fine)
- About a head of lettuce, cleaned and dried and torn into bite-sized pieces
- French Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- little bit of honey
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ tsp Dijon mustard
- small pinch of salt
- freshly ground pepper
- ½ cup of olive oil
- Put everything into a little glass jar, screw the lid on and mix it up for about 30 seconds or until it’s all well blended.
- Place the lettuce into a bowl, and toss it with just a bit of the dressing and some pepper. Lay it out on a plate or platter and put it in the fridge until later.
- When you’re ready to eat, pull the plate out and lay out the rest of the salad ingredients on the lettuce. Drizzle with the rest of the vinaigrette. And please use a light hand with it. Please don’t drown this with the vinaigrette or Julia’s ghost will haunt you forever.