What a Niçoise is, is a question, we’ve learned, not to be settled by any tribunal in black robe and white toque. When we had a salad of this title at Da Bouttau in Nice in ’69 there was celery, radish and sliced onion in the mix along with the tomato, egg, anchovies and olives of the recipe on this page — and no tuna, string beans and potatoes. A tad austere, perhaps, but we were satisfied. A good French recipe we know adds green peppers to some Bouttau items as well as several favored by the Bloomfields. Radicals, meanwhile, insert . . . but we won’t go into that. And there you are, viewing from the sidelines as many interpretations of Salade Niçoise as you’ll find of Beethoven’s Fifth in Mr. Schwann’s catalog. And Nice itself doubles (triples?) as big city, resort and hill town: it’s an enchanting place, full of flowers, benign in temperature, port of call for romantic ferry rides into the Mediterranean, yet a bit unsatisfying in its multiplexity-by-the-sea, one attribute nibbling at another. In former Nizza you have, of course, a chance of being served your salade by an arugula Romeo who uses French but seems to talk it in Italian, as if to give any visiting linguistics professors a challenge.
…Our Baby Niçoise is for days when you pine for the zip of a complex Provençale salad but don’t want to muster all the ingredients. And the rice opus I’ve lifted from our daughter Alison’s diary of her aromatic, sandy summer with a French family near Agde. I’ve always commanded the girls to keep good gastronomic records.
In a rather large salad bowl arrange a hub-and-circle of more or less equal opportunity components:
1/3 pound of steamed, cooled Blue Lake string beans,
in half lengths
2 cooled hard boiled eggs, halved
2 boiled and cooled red potatoes, cut in two and sliced
2 tomatoes, quartered
some butter lettuce leaves
tinned tuna (3 to 6 ounces),
preferably “solid,” packed in olive oil, and drained
several filets from a tin of anchovies,
drained of course, and some baby Niçoise olives
Display your pretty-as-a-picture salad, then toss it gently with a dressing composed of red wine vinegar and after that olive oil whisked into a bit of Dijon mustard; pressed garlic to taste; and some dill weed or tarragon. The proportions of oil to vinegar would be 2 or 2-1/2 to 1. If you’re of the school believing a garlic clove should be peeled before putting it in the press, just smash it with your fist: I don’t think Jacques Pépin would berate you.
Simply combine — with the dressing just above — 3 or 4 “Niçoise” items, for instance tuna, potatoes and string beans. Consider employing that wild card, broiled oil-brushed artichoke halves (previously boiled, of course). Onion rings might play a role as well.
NIÇOISE RICE SALAD
Combine the tomatoes, eggs, anchovies and olives of some Niçoises with boiled, cooled rice. Toss with the above dressing.