The idea for our “Invite Mom to Lunch” – Salade Nicoise program actually started with a disagreement amongst sisters over what to do for Mom for Mother’s Day. I wanted to go out to lunch so no one would be “stuck” cooking - and of course the requisite “cleaning of the house because company is coming” ordeal. One sister wanted to have everyone over to her house so that her daughters could prepare lunch for everyone (I’m not really a food snob but I have eaten her daughters’ culinary delights...) And one wanted everyone to go to Mom’s house to clean out her overgrown perennial garden and order take-out. Cleaning Mom’s garden was a treat any garden loving sisters would embrace but I thought we could do better than take-out. So then who arrives on my doorstep but Martha Stewart (the magazine, not the celebrity) and there I found the inspiration for our cooking studio program, and the solution to our Mother’s Day dilemma. Right there, in the “Good Things” section of the June issue, was a “to go” Niçoise terrine, a layered salad with all of the typical ingredients found in a Salade Niçoise packaged in a beautiful canning jar. It was a cooking studio program and our Mother’s Day lunch all on one colorful page.
Niçoise Salad, popularized by Julia Child, is literally a salad from Nice, France. While foodies can and have debated the actual ingredients that belong in a classique or authentic version, it is considered a luncheon or dinner salad because it is a full meal in and of itself. Served with a crusty round or two of bread, this salad would certainly satisfy the hunger of several garden weary sisters and their mother. The appealing part of this salad is how easy it is to prepare with ingredients that can be purchased in any good grocery store. It starts on a bed of lettuce with a ripe tomato and hardboiled egg wedges, canned tuna packed in olive oil, and anchovies and olives dressed with a garlic seasoned olive oil. The authenticity debate begins here. Recipes have included boiled potatoes and blanched green beans, "haricot verts” (Julia’s version), vinaigrette (instead of just olive oil), artichoke hearts, red or green onions, roasted red and yellow peppers, fava beans and/or white beans. Are you exhausted yet? The salad can be tossed but is its most beautiful “plated,” dressed and then served. It is an antioxidant, vitamin, mineral, protein, omega-3 fatty acid, monounsaturated fat, fiber, flavor packed meal; a winner in both gastronomic and nutritional terms. And as if that wasn’t good enough, all you have to do is find a big, beautiful, flat bowl, buy the ingredients and then assemble. Voila!
Just a few words on the ingredients. While available in most specialty markets, good olives (Kalamata, Niçoise, Gaeta) are difficult to find already pitted in a grocery store. Resist the urge to purchase pitted, black, canned olives. They’re all wrong.
Instead, get an olive or cherry pitter and pit the good ones yourself. It’s actually kind of fun. You can also cut the pit out with a paring knife. As far as the tuna is concerned, look for tuna packed in olive oil. We’re looking for flavor here. It is more moist and flavorful and you won’t need to use as much oil in the dressing. While it may be a little more expensive, you can purchase sustainable canned tuna that is pole or line-caught in managed waters. Just read the labels. We ended our meal with the Strawberries with Ricotta Cream and Toasted Pistachios. It’s like an open faced cannoli without the fried pastry tube. One word of caution. When you purchase the ricotta, look for part skim brands that contain these three ingredients only: milk, vinegar and salt. Avoid those with gums or thickeners! Blend the ricotta well and it will reward you with a creamy, smooth consistency.