You don’t need to wait for summer for the ultimate summer salad.
To me, a Nicoise salad is the beau ideal of a main dish salad, with its vegetables, potatoes, and plenty of protein all in one. It also represents the way I like to eat: In-season, veg-heavy, do-ahead, with something for everybody. Including a bunch of anchovies, for me. The classic French version features peak-summer vegetables — tomatoes and green beans — and is, of course, delicious, but it’s also ripe for improvisation. Use the basic template—tuna, potatoes, hard-cooked egg, olives, anchovies, along with something red and something green—to build out versions that take advantage of what’s in season in your world.
Spring (full recipe below): Radishes and asparagus get the spotlight. Use a lime juice vinaigrette and sliced almonds, along with a ton of fresh herbs.
Summer: Heed the classic, and go with tomatoes instead of radishes, green beans instead of asparagus. Make your vinaigrette with red wine vinegar instead of lime juice, and swap capers for the almonds.
Autumn: Tomatoes are still on the scene in late autumn, so roast some and swap them for the fresh. Substitute roasted red peppers for the radishes, and dress a bit of arugula or other assertive salad greens to use in place of the asparagus. Add some chunks of feta or mozzarella, just because you can. Make your vinaigrette with red wine vinegar instead of lime juice, and swap capers for the almonds.
Winter: Instead of boiling the potatoes, cut them into chunks, toss in olive oil and fresh thyme and roast in a 375°F oven until tender, about 25 minutes. Do the same thing with chunks of beet, which will take about 40 minutes to cook. Instead of the radishes, use grilled radicchio: cut into thin wedges, brush in olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and grill on each cut side until softened and slightly charred around the edges. Make the vinaigrette with pine nuts instead of almonds.
Bonus for any season: Turn the hard-cooked eggs into deviled eggs, either with traditional mayo and mustard, or with some tahini and lemon juice, tapenade and olive oil, or mayo and spicy harissa.
- 3 tablespoons sliced almonds
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon minced shallot or onion
- ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt (plus more to taste and for cooking)
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (plus more to taste)
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound small (preferably new) potatoes, scrubbed and cut so they’re even sizes
- 4 eggs
- 8 ounces asparagus
- 1 bunch radishes (about 8)
- ½ cup pitted kalamata olives
- Plenty of anchovy filets
- 2 tablespoons lightly packed chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
- 2 tablespoons lightly packed chopped mixed delicate fresh herbs: choose from dill, tarragon, chervil, cilantro, mint, basil (optional)
- Heat the oven to 350°F. Spread the sliced almonds on a baking sheet and toast until lightly golden and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool and then pulse in a food processor until the almonds are very fine, but not yet pasty. (Or chop them by hand, but get them quite fine.)
- Whisk together the lime juice, shallot, mustard, sugar, and about ¼ teaspoon salt plus a few twists of black pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings so that this vinaigrette base is zingy and delicious. Gradually whisk in the olive oil; taste again and adjust the seasonings. You want the dressing to be highly seasoned because it’s going to flavor some mild ingredients.
- Put the potatoes in a large pot of water, add a good palmful of salt, and boil until fully tender, about 20 minutes once the water comes to a boil. Scoop out and reserve about ½ cup of the cooking water, and then drain the potatoes. Crush them lightly with a potato masher or a wooden spoon, just enough to create some crevices that will suck up the vinaigrette. Gently toss with about one-third the vinaigrette and a spoonful or two of pasta water. Add more water as needed to create a lightly cloaking consistency; set aside.
- Scrub the radishes, trim the greens and root end, reserving the greens if they’re young and tender. Cut the radishes into wedges and toss with a tablespoon of the vinaigrette; set aside to marinate a bit. If you’ve reserved the greens, wash them to remove all grit, and steam or wilt in a sauté pan until tender. Chop roughly and fold into the potatoes.
- While the potatoes are boiling, cook the eggs: put them in a medium pan, cover with water by two inches, and then remove the eggs (this step is to calculate the right amount of water in the pan). Bring the water to a boil and then gently lower the eggs back into the water. Adjust the heat to a lively simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the eggs (a slotted spoon makes this easy) and run them under cold water for a few minutes to stop the cooking.
- While the eggs are cooling, trim or peel and cook the asparagus. You can steam it or grill it. To steam: heat about a half-inch of water in a wide skillet with a lid. Season the water with 1 tablespoon salt and arrange the asparagus in the skillet in as even a layer as possible. It’s okay if some of your spears are piled on top of others. Cover and cook until the spears are just barely tender at their thickest part. Scoop out of the skillet, blot dry on paper towels, and let cool slightly. To grill: heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high and cook the asparagus until they’re slightly charred and tender at the thickest part of the spear, about 5 minutes depending on the thickness.
- Toss the asparagus spears gently, or brush them, with a tablespoon of the vinaigrette, just to glaze them.
- Now it’s time to assemble the salad, or, as the French say, to compose it: Choose a platter that’s large enough to accommodate all the components. Arrange the potatoes, asparagus, radishes, and tuna chunks in mounds or rows or whatever looks pretty on the platter. Nestle the egg halves into the arrangement, scatter some olives over everything, arrange anchovy filets over the top, and moisten everything with any remaining vinaigrette. Finish by showering with the parsley and other herbs.