Lizzie Skurnick, poet, YA novelist, critic, and longtime (in blog years) friend to MaudNewton.com, will be publishing a book based on her marvelous Fine Lines, a weekly Jezebel column in which she takes “a sentimental, sometimes-critical, far more wrinkled look at the children’s and YA books” she loved in her youth.
I’ve been sitting on the news since she told me over salade nicoise a few weeks ago, so it’s fitting that she shares her own recipe below. Enjoy while thumbing through your tattered copy of The Secret Garden.
Unless you go back 10 generations to some Heberts in New Orleans, I’m not French. However, I am overly fond of salty oily crunchy vegetabley fatty eggy things — the ne plus ultra of which, combined, is the salade nicoise, which in my estimation stands even above frisee aux lardons. (Which has BACON!)
I chanced upon the best recipe for the divine assemblage this winter, as I fighting off a series of fevers that made me alternately crave malted milk balls and Omega-3 acids. One December evening, having slept off the worst of a fever, I woke starving, starving, craving crunch and oily snap. I would like to say I immediately headed to the grocery store, but I actually headed to the phone, where I called a nearby brasserie to see if it was on the menu.
The owner and maitre d’ informed me it was out of season — “You know, thees is a beautiful salade for summer, when zee vegetables are beautiful” — but then thoughtfully took charge the moment I said I was willing to forge ahead anyway.
“You ‘ave shallots? Some shallots in the house?”
“I have nothing,” I said.
“Okay, you put together a pen,” he said briefly, and covered the phone. I heard the voice of a waiter, anxiously querying. “I am on zee phone!” he said angrily, and came back. I immediately put together a pen. “You are still there?”
Salade Nicoise (Whole Foods, my opinion, organic actually tastes better edition)
1 head Boston bibb lettuce (that organic Whole Food plastic box one is good)
1 handful haricot verts (make sure they’re skinny and fresh)
1 egg (organic)
3-4 small fingerling potatoes, red or yellow (organic!)
5 cherry tomatoes (you know the drill)
3 teaspoons capers
6 black olives, with pits
1 can anchovies (I like the Genovo brand, rolled with capers)
1 can tuna (Genovo brand is nice, in OIL, light, not white)
Any other crudite you desire
3-4 heads of garlic
2-3 teaspoons red wine or champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon mustard (I like the yellow polish kind, but you can use Dijon if you must)
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
Glass jar with lid
Since they need to be chilled, immediately start the potatoes boiling on high and the haricot vert steaming. Chop your garlic and shallot very fine, and place in empty glass jar (an old jelly one works best). Add one or two teaspoons vinegar, enough to just cover the pulp without much extra liquid. Add your teaspoon or two of mustard. You should have a yellow-ish mass the consistency of chewed grapefruit. Cover, and set aside.
By now, your haricot vert should be steamed. Place in fridge, or, if it’s December, outside on the window sill. Check your potatoes — they may well be done. If so, follow suit. Either way, start your egg. Use the Patti LaBelle* method.
Take your Boston lettuce, rinse, dry, chop or tear into bitable bites, place in large bowl.
Did you check your potatoes? Okay, they should be done now. Place those in fridge/outside now too.
Go back to your dressing. Open the jar, open your olive oil. Fill with a LOT of olive oil — say, two-three inches above the pulpy mass. Grind some salt and pepper in, a few rounds. Cover and shake until it they emulsify, maybe 30 seconds. Taste, and add more of anything that seems off to you. Set aside.
How are your potatoes and beans? Are they chilled enough? Probably. Go back to your lettuce, and add your dressing, as much as you like. Toss the lettuce. Add it whatever receptacle you’d like. Take all your crudites — tomato, haricot vert, potato, olives, capers — and place them on top of the lettuce. Don’t mix — put them each in a little area, like a patchwork quilt. When you add the tuna and anchovies, glop some oil on too, you wuss. Slice egg into quarters and place on top too. Eat an anchovy, just for the hell.
Now, cover it all with a bit more dressing. Assess for oily crunch. Eat!
* Place egg in pan, cover completely with water, cover. When water is on high boil, turn off, move off burner, and let sit, covered, for about five minutes. Drain and set aside.