Salade Niçoise

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In 1960, a lady friend and I drove down the old route Cordon Bleu from Paris to Marseilles. Famished after climbing to the Roman ruins atop Les Baux and viewing the Paleolithic cave paintings at Lascaux, we stopped at Le Beaumanier. At the time it was one of only five restaurants outside Paris granted *** in the Michelin Guide. Paris had but three restaurants rated ***, so you can imagine....

Filled with anticipation of what surely would prove the greatest gastronomic event of our tour, we arrived shortly after two in the afternoon. The kitchen had closed at two. Le maitre d' sensed our disappointment. In a manner characteristic of southerners most everywhere - but especially peculiar to Provence - he said, "pas d'quois." (It doesn't matter.) "I can serve you a salade niçoise." Neither of us knew the dish, yet though it hardly sounded like the grand fare we had anticipated we weren't about to decline so gracious a gesture.

Today, even without the romantic ambiance of empty tables dressed in their finest white linen, seated across from a dearly beloved and looking out over a panoramic view of the blinding vibrance of Van Gogh's Provence, salade niçoise remains a favorite.

Per person:    3 small new red potatoes       1 cup haricort vert or green string beans
½ can solid tuna or 3 oz. grilled fresh tuna        1 hard boiled egg       4 anchovy fillets
8 oil cured black olives      2 red Roma tomatoes      a few leaves of romaine lettuce
2 T. white wine vinaigrette   1 tsp. capers    1 tsp. chopped tarragon   salt and pepper

Steam or boil whole potatoes till done. Drain and dry them. When cool enough to handle but still warm, halve them. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.

Cut the beans into 2" lozenges. Blanch them in a small amount of boiling water until crisp-tender. Immediately plunge them in ice water to stop the cooking. Marinate them in the vinaigrette while still slightly warm, but only until they cool.

If canned tuna is used, try to find a good European brand canned in olive oil - it has a better flavor than American brands. Though not traditional, I prefer grilled fresh tuna when available. Brush the tuna with olive oil and grill over charcoal until medium rare. Let it cool completely, then break or cut into bite-size bits.  

Place large eggs in enough cold water to barely cover. THEY MUST BE FRESH. Bring just to a boil over med. high heat. Lower heat to a constant simmer and cook for exactly four minutes – the yolk must be opaque but remain translucent in the center. Stir occasionally to turn them – this will hold the yolk in the middle. Put them in a pan of cold water. When completely cool, shell and quarter them.

Place a few leaves of romaine on individual 12" oval serving platters. Arrange the potatoes, quartered tomatoes and the eggs draped with anchovies all around. Distribute the tuna, green beans, olives and capers in between. Drizzle vinaigrette over all and sprinkle with tarragon.

Vegetarians can eliminate the tuna and anchovies.