I am a terrible gardener.
We have friends who have gardens, and they always seem to grow bushels of beautiful vegetables. “Just throw some seeds in the ground,” they say. “Stuff just grows all over the place!”
My harvest always seems to be dwarfed by the amount of effort and care I put in to the garden. The amount of time and money put in to one tiny zucchini can be very dispiriting. However, there is one plant that I can grow reliably every year, that will tolerate my inattentiveness and ignorance.
Unlike shell beans which vine, green beans are a bush plant only growing about a foot tall. They can be planted densely, are very tolerant to disease and bugs, and are incredibly productive. For about two to three weeks in late July and early August, every day yields green beans.
The unusually cool late spring/early summer weather here in New England means that most of the garden has been delayed by several weeks, but beans are here. While there are a huge number of different things you can do with green beans, one of my favorites is a Nicoise salad. I enjoy this salad so much that I grew special French-style haricot vert just for the occasion.
The American interpretation of the Nicoise differs quite a bit from the traditional French salad composed only of tomatoes and anchovies, dressed in olive oil. What we know as a Nicoise probably originated with Escoffier, who included potatoes and green beans; Julia Child extended that in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” to include tuna and replaced the olive oil with a vinaigrette. Olives (oil-cured Nicoise variety) are also usually added to the modern dish.
While I like to incorporate lettuce and tomato from the garden into my Nicoise, I opted not to plant lettuce for the summer while simultaneously being stymied by the tomatoes because of the cool weather. Here, I have a couple of tomatoes for looks but hopefully will be able to prepare this again in a couple of weeks with a larger quantity. Nicoise is traditionally a “composed” salad, and so each ingredient should be arranged on the plate on its own.
You may notice two things wrong with the photo of this dish. First, there are no olives. The reason for this is simple – I forgot them in the refrigerator. Second, I happened to grab the wrong bag of beans out of the produce drawer and ended up not using my haricot vert as I had intended. This is what happens when you get home late and rush to put dinner on the table.
Salade Nicoise (serves 4-ish)
For the dressing:
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic
about 1/2 c. olive oil
salt and pepper
For the salad:
1 small Bibb lettuce
1/2 lb small potatoes (new, fingerling, baby…)
1/2 lb haricot vert (or plain old green beans)
8 hard-boiled eggs
about 6 oz. canned tuna (in oil preferably)
1 pint cherry tomatoes
about 1/2 c. oil-cured black olives (or Kalamata olives in brine if you like)
salt and pepper
To make the dressing:
Zest and juice the lemon. Mince the garlic and anchovies. Whisk the lemon, zest, garlic, anchovies, and mustard together. Slowly add the olive oil to make a dressing, then season to taste. (I do this with a stick blender which works quickly and keeps the dressing in emulsion quite well.)
Prepare the salad:
Boil a pot of water on the stove. Clean the potatoes and boil them until tender all the way through, about 10-15 minutes. Remove them from the water and cool. Cook the beans in the water until bright green and tender (I prefer to keep them on the crunchy side), about 3 minutes. Drain and shock them in ice water, then drain again.
Chop the lettuce and lay on plates. Halve the tomatoes and place a small pile on each plate. Halve the potatoes and arrange on the plate; arrange the cooled green beans on the plate. Peel and halve the hard-boiled eggs and lay out on the plates. Drain the tuna, flake, and add some of the dressing to it so that it is moist, then place in small mounds on each plate. Season the salad with salt and pepper, then sprinkle olives across the plate and drizzle salad dressing over everything.