Monday, March 8, 2010

Salad Niçoise Bar

I love composed salads and I love the Oscars!  Last night, the two went hand in hand beautifully.  We had some extra gals over for dinner to play amateur Joan Rivers with us, and I wanted to make something a little special, but still easy and healthy, for dinner.  The weekend's warm, sunny weather put me in the mood for a summer dish, so my mom and I put together a DIY Salad Niçoise Bar... one of my very favorite dinners in the summer months.
I stole this idea from my idol, The Barefoot Contessa, basing my version loosely on the Grilled Tuna Niçoise Platter concept in her original cookbook.  You basically take all the components of a traditional Salad Niçoise, brighten and modernize them a bit, and let your guests construct their own plate.  This dinner is always a hit!  My version contains the following elements:
Seared tuna steaks (about 1/4 lb per person)
Hard boiled eggs (figure on 1 per person)
Haricots Verts (tossed with a bit of Champagne Vinaigrette)
Cherry tomatoes
Roasted potatoes
A generous wedge of yummy blue cheese
Niçoise olives
Baby greens and Boston Bibb lettuce
Champagne Vinaigrette

A couple notes to ensure the success of your salad bar:
1) Searing is a tricky business.
Searing is a simple method of cooking, but it requires a leap of faith.  You have to crank up the heat under a pan all the way to high, heat a splash of olive oil until it sizzles when you toss a bit of water at it, and then put the fish (or scallops, or meat, or whatever it is you are searing, but in this case it was tuna steaks seasoned with salt, pepper, parika and garlic powder), in and DO NOTHING.  That's right... for 5 minutes you do nothing.  Don't touch it, don't smoosh it, don't lift it; this is where home cooks often mess up when searing things.  If you lift it too soon, it will just stick to the pan and be a mess.  Be patient, have faith and DON'T TOUCH for 5 minutes.  Then flip the steaks and do the same on the other side.  With tuna steaks that are about an inch thick, you should come out with a perfect sear - carmelized and cooked on the outside, almost raw and pink on the inside.  Thinly sliced over the top of your salad, it is a perfect protein.
2) Take the time to prepare a pretty presenation.
This is a simple dinner, really, so part of what makes it special is making everything look beautiful.  Quarter the eggs and the tomatoes lengthwise.  Use a mix of red, white and blue new potatoes for colors that pop on the plate.  Create a bed of Bibb lettuce with a handful of baby greens over it on each plate, and then let your guests choose their own toppings.  It's the little things...
3) Make a killer dressing.
You want a dressing that ties the whole dish together and makes each flavor pop.  I adjusted the ingredients in this one about a dozen times, and in the end it was probably the best part of the dinner, but any exact recipe for it would only be a guess.  I think the best I can tell you is to throw a mix of the following in a food processor and adjust each ingredient until you love what you taste:  extra virgin olive oil, champagne vinegar, torn fresh basil, dijon mustard, honey, chopped green onions, sliced shallots, fresh lemon juice, sea salt, fresh ground pepper.  The bright green color and sweetly acidic flavor made this the showpiece of the buffet!

Et voilà! Salad Niçoise Bar!  Perfect for an Oscar party, or any warm evening when you want a tasty and unique dinner for guests. As for the Oscars, with my new mom status, I hadn't seen a SINGLE ONE of the movies that were nominated, but that didn't stop me from soaking up all dresses and the pageantry, or from enjoying tearing apart every look to come down the red carpet (Charlize Theron, what's with the purple boob circles, lady?!). With this yummy dinner, a passion fruit cheesecake from Beach Pea, and some Spanish white wine, it was a perfect Oscar night in Maine.

No comments:

Post a Comment