sacré bleu!

Many years ago I lived in the south of France. After a long day in the kitchen I would literally have to survive on Gauloises, café noir and Pastis, but on the occasions the sulky, sullen French Chef would let me escape the hot, steamy kitchen for an hour or so in the afternoons, I’d head straight to a tiny, little food stand down the road that served the most amazing sandwiches I’d ever tasted…the “Pan bagnat”.  Literally meaning wet bread, all you have to do is cut a small, round loaf or a ciabatta in half and scrape out most of the inside. Fill this with chopped tomatoes, spring onions, peppers, olives, capers and anchovies and drizzle with a little olive oil and red wine vinegar. Replace the top and serve. It's basically a Nicoise salad in a roll and it was utterly delicious. A simple salad Nicoise is still one of my favourite summer recipes.

Even today there still seems to be so much debate about what actually constitutes a true Nicoise salad. According to Niçoise lore, the true Niçoise Salad should not have any cooked vegetables or lettuce in it, no potatoes and no beans; just tomatoes, green peppers, shallots and artichokes (the small purple ones that you can eat raw), or broad beans, (raw, shelled if they are too big), anchovies and Niçoise olives (the little black ones) and some torn basil leaves. But order a salade niçoise anywhere along the Riviera and you will probably get a different lunch every time.

Whatever the ingredients, for me a Salade niçoise should have the salty robustness of the French coast. It should shout the loud flavours of the area, the sort of thing you tuck into on a beach with the sun in your eyes and salt on your lips. I’m sure that many French Chefs would argue that my recipe is something close to sacrilege but I personally adore a nicoise with crisp lettuce leaves, tender new potatoes and slightly crunchy green beans. Once you add baby plum tomatoes, soft-boiled quails eggs, capers, salted anchovies, black olives, sliced red onion and the best, tinned tuna you can afford, I honestly believe it’s one of the best combinations of salad ingredients ever invented. 

Ingredients:         Serves 4

2 baby lettuce hearts, sliced
150g good quality tinned tuna
30g   black olives, stoned
150g fresh French beans, trimmed and blanched
8 Salted anchovy fillets
20 Ripe baby plum tomatoes
8 Quail eggs, boiled for 2 minutes and peeled
2 tsp capers
12 new potatoes, boiled and cut in half
½ small red onion, finely sliced
50ml  olive oil

Cut the tomatoes in half and place them in a large bowl, add the French beans, new potatoes, black olives, lettuce hearts, capers, tuna, red onion and anchovies. Drizzle with the olive oil and gently mix all the ingredients together. Season with freshly ground black pepper and add the quail’s eggs. Serve immediately.