Thursday, August 27, 2015

Niceoise salad and memories of kindness

Here's another salad recipe but this time it doesn't come with a side order of complaints about the Irish weather. (Lest you think this means the weather has improved here on the Dingle Peninsula; it's done no such thing. We may have spent the past few weeks crossing our fingers for an Indian summer but those clouds have remained resolutely in our skies.)

No, this salad comes with a more personal story...

My partner Richard is quite a bit older than I am and when we first got together, there was some disapproval from our family and friends. With this as background information, you'll understand why I felt nervous the first time I met Richard's mother. By that stage, she was an old lady in her late seventies and I thought that if anyone were going to react in a judgemental way to our age difference, it was going to be her.

How wrong I was. I came to see that Anne was someone who prized love above all else in this world. She immediately saw and understood the strength of the love we shared. Her eyes shone with happiness for her son and from that moment on, she welcomed me warmly into her family.

She prepared a Niceoise salad for us to eat on the evening of that first visit. It was the first time I'd ever tasted this clever combination of green beans, tuna, anchovies, black olives and eggs but it definitely wasn't the last. It's become one of my go-to recipes for simple suppers ever since.

Anne died in 2007 but whenever I make this salad, I think of her and how kind she was to me on our first meeting.

My memory of Anne Smallwood's Niceoise Salad
This recipe feeds two greedy adults (with some leftovers for lunch the following day). Like all salad recipes, it's pretty adaptable. You can add more or less of any of the ingredients, according to your own preference.

400g small baby potatoes
250g green beans
1 medium-sized green pepper
15 black olives, the small puckered ones are best for flavour
250g tuna in olive oil, brine or water
8 anchovies
4 eggs

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
A pinch of salt

  • Wash the potatoes and place in a saucepan. Sprinkle with salt and cover with boiling water. Simmer over a medium heat until a knife passes through the potatoes with ease. This should take between 15 and 20 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes. Strain out the water and set aside to cool.
  • Prepare your other ingredients while you're waiting for the potatoes. 
  • Top and tail the beans and then cut them in half.
  • Place them in a saucepan and sprinkle with salt. Add a centimetre or two of boiling water to the pan. Cover with a lid and simmer the beans over a medium to high heat for four minutes or until they are tender but still retain a slight bite.
  • Cut the top off the pepper and scoop out the seeds and pith inside. Cut the flesh into bite-sized pieces.
  • Remove the pits from the olives and cut them in half.
  • Place the eggs in a small saucepan. Cover them with boiling water and simmer over a medium heat for seven minutes. Then place the saucepan in your sink and run cold water over the eggs until they become cool enough to handle. Set aside until it's time for assembly.
  • Make the dressing by adding the olive oil, cider vinegar, honey, mustard and salt to a jam jar, screwing on the lid and shaking the jar vigorously until all the ingredients have combined.
  • Your potatoes ought to have cooked at this stage. You could cut them in three and add them to the salad as they are but I like to fry them in a little olive oil to give them crispy edges. Simply heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add your potato slices and a sprinkling of salt. Wait for a golden crispy skin to develop before turning each slice over and doing the same again.
  • It's time for assembly. Add the beans, potatoes, tuna, olives and green pepper to a salad bowl. Toss together until they are well combined.
  • Peel the eggs by tapping them gently against a chopping board or counter top until cracks appear in the shell. Carefully peel the shell off the egg and cut each egg into quarters. Arrange the eggs and anchovies on top of the salad.
  • It's up to you whether you dress the salad before it is served or not. I usually serve the dressing alongside and allow everyone to add as much or as little as they like.

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