In our socially distanced times, it’s amazing the comfort I’ve found in dining al fresco.
This recipe for Salad Nicoise has always been a favorite – not only because it’s delicious, but because it brings up happy memories of meals gone by. Yes, in the south of France, but as recently as a couple of years ago with my beloved book club, perched on the banks of the Maury River during a festive road trip.
Sounds glamorous? The reality, of late, is that it's just Jeff and me, on our weathered teak bench in our backyard, plates resting on our napkin-clad knees – having carried everything down a notoriously uneven set of brick stairs leading from our kitchen.
One thing I’ve discovered in these circumstances is that less is more. If I can serve one dish and augment it with some good bread (not to mention a delicious glass of wine), there’s less to risk, less to carry and much less to worry about. My new laissez-faire attitude has led to some great, stress-free meals.
For example, now that my diligent provisioning has been upended by the vagaries of what I can get delivered, I’m making do and even creating some easy work-arounds of old favorites.
For this salad, I’d usually use the Provencal olives packed in olive oil and the correct jarred Italian tuna. Desperate times call for desperate measures, though, and I’ve found that I can create a pretty passable salad using chopped Kalamata olives from a jar – and even, dare I admit it, canned tuna.
The recipes for Salad Nicoise are many and varied, so for this one (and because I had it), I decided to use the unconventional ingredient of avocado, rightly thinking it would distract from the not-quite-correct olives. What a great addition.
Eating from our backyard bench, Jeff and I have a marvelous view of both the James River and the people who enjoy it from a scenic byway that loops below our house. It’s been lovely to know we’re not the only people comforted by nature these days.
Another part of the pleasure, I suspect, is that every once in a while, our 20-something son has wended his way to the garden – albeit perched 20 feet away from his parents – and joined us for a meal. Logistics have been meticulously worked out and strictly adhered to for everyone’s safety.
On those days, I’m one contented mother, sitting above the river to enjoy a meal fashioned from whatever comes to hand – and sharing it with those I love.
CLARE'S SALAD NICOISE
Makes 3 servings
1 6.7-ounce jar of Italian tuna or 7-ounce can of good-quality tuna
2 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
3 medium tomatoes, sliced
About 9 new potatoes, cooked and chilled and sliced just before using
1 cup green beans, cooked and chilled
1 avocado peeled, seeded and sliced
½ cup nicoise olives, or other black olives, sliced
Vinaigrette (see below)
Assemble vinaigrette at bottom of salad bowl: Add a glug of extra-virgin olive oil, about a third as much red wine vinegar, a smidge of sugar and an ample spoonful of Dijon mustard. No precise measurements needed. Whisk the ingredients and taste, making adjustments to your liking.
Atop the vinaigrette, arrange the tuna, eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, avocado and olives. Toss well and serve immediately with a fresh baguette and chilled white or rosé wine.