With green beans at their peak, tiny new potatoes coming in fast and tomatoes hanging ripe on the vine, it’s time for salade Niçoise. Niçoise, the French term for “in the style of the city of Nice” means a dish flavored with black olives, garlic, lemon, olive oil and anchovies. The Minnesota version, inspired by the farmers market, switches out the anchovies and canned tuna with local smoked whitefish, which is meaty enough to sub for tuna and salty enough to replace the briny anchovies. The whitefish is a North Shore twist on the classic from Provence-Côte d’Azur.
Though ever so humble, silvery-brown whitefish is delicate, yet firm, with a mildly sweet flavor that many who claim they “don’t like fish” appreciate. It is fabulous sautéed, broiled or baked, and it contains just enough fat to smoke wonderfully. You can find local smoked whitefish at food co-ops and farmers markets.
Smoked whitefish is best kept tightly wrapped in plastic on the coldest shelf of the refrigerator and used within five days or frozen for up to two months. It makes a terrific appetizer, nice addition to scrambled eggs, and can be used instead of fresh fish in fish cakes.
The beauty of this salad is its composition of the fresh seasonal vegetables with colors and textures that shine in the light lemon/olive-oil/garlic vinaigrette. When at market, choose firm green beans that are not wilted, marked or limp. Make sure to cook those just beyond the tender-crisp stage so that their flavors open up. I like using a mix of tomatoes for flavor and color. Cherry tomatoes are tart and snappy, the larger beefsteak tomatoes are lower in acid and slightly sweet. (Yellow tomatoes pretty up a plate, but they tend to be bland.)
Choose waxy firm, thin-skinned new potatoes. Freshly dug, they are brought to market without being cured for storage. They are moister, cook quickly and taste a bit earthy and a tad sweet with a slight mineral finish. The best way to identify truly new potatoes is to rub the skin with your thumb — it should be delicate enough to scrape clean; there’s no need to peel. Store new potatoes at room temperature, but only for up to a week.
Serve this main-course salad as the sunset and heat fades into a soft breeze. Paired with crusty bread and a glass of chilled rosé, this salade Niçoise is salade complete.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.