In the news:
A summer salad that the French might recognize
City Kitchen: An easy version of salade Niçoise whose signature is a bold vinaigrette, fragrant with garlic and anchovy. Recipe: French Potato and Green Bean Salad
The New York Times
It's a good time for potato salad. I don't mean a pale scoop next to a grilled sausage. I want more of a meal: savory, garlicky, shot through with anchovy and capers and herbs, and topped with skinny green beans and hard-cooked eggs.
If this sounds like a pared-down salade nicoise, it is. Yes, there are countless variations on that Provençal classic, and many include tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and good canned tuna.
But I know a French cook who swears that the original was about potatoes, beans, anchovy and nothing more. Purists, food historians and other culinary zealots may disagree. In fact, many cooks from the region insist that only raw vegetables can make it authentic.
That's fine. Let them use their preferred ingredients. When good sweet tomatoes and peppers appear here, I might be inclined to add them myself.
My version is easy. Make a bold vinaigrette that is unapologetically fragrant with garlic and anchovy. Boil medium-size potatoes in their skins. Choose a yellow-fleshed potato like Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn, if possible. (I find the texture better than red or white boilers.) Peel, slice and dress them while they are still slightly warm.
Look for the smallest, tender beans. They can be true haricots verts or French beans, or a mixture of other runner types, like small Blue Lake or yellow wax or even flat romano beans. Give them a brief simmering and a cool rinse to keep them bright.
You can do all of the work in advance, then combine the elements on a big platter just before serving, with a lightly dressed arugula salad on the side and a bowl of olives.
Authentic, traditional or somewhere in-between, maybe we'll just call this a potato salad with a southern French accent and let it go at that. My guests the other night agreed it made for a satisfying early summer supper, served at room temperature with a bottle of crisp cold rose.
FRENCH POTATO AND GREEN BEAN SALAD
Time: About 1 hour
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Salt and pepper
2 pounds medium potatoes, like Yukon Gold or Yellow Finn
1 bay leaf
1 large thyme sprig
3 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
1 tablespoon chopped anchovy
1 tablespoon chopped capers
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound small French beans, or small romano or wax beans
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon thinly chopped chives
2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
2 tablespoons roughly chopped basil
6 to 8 anchovy fillets, optional, for garnish
8 ounces arugula, optional
Olives for serving, optional
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes, bay leaf and thyme. Simmer briskly until potatoes are firm but easily pierced with a skewer, about 30 minutes. Remove and set aside.
2. While potatoes cook, make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, stir together the garlic paste, anchovy, capers, mustard and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk again before using.
3. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins with a paring knife. Carefully slice potatoes ¼-inch thick, or slightly thicker. Put the slices in a low bowl, season lightly with salt and pepper and add half the vinaigrette. Using your hands, gently coat the potatoes with the vinaigrette, taking care not to break them. Cover and set aside at room temperature.
4. Trim the beans. Simmer in salted water until firm-tender, 3 to 4 minutes, then cool under running water. Pat dry.
5. Bring a medium pot of water to a rapid boil. Add the eggs and cook for 8 minutes for a somewhat soft-centered yolk or 9 minutes for a firmer yolk. Cool the eggs immediately in ice water, then crack and peel. Cut each egg in half and season lightly with salt and pepper.
6. When ready to serve, season the beans with salt and pepper, then dress with the remaining vinaigrette. (Reserve 2 tablespoons vinaigrette for the arugula, if using.)
7. Combine the dressed beans and potatoes, using hands to toss, and pile onto a platter. Sprinkle with herbs and arrange the eggs over the top. Garnish with anchovy fillets, if desired. Dress the arugula and send it to the table separately, with olives, if desired.
Tips on using anchovies and capers from The New York Times: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/22/buying-anchovies-and-capers/