Nicoise is what we like to have in the evening when we are feeling veggie starved because it is light, digestible, and full of flavors. It is a dish that is built upon the marriages of different bitternesses.
What we use: Green lettuce, green beans, cooked artichoke hearts, a ripe tomato, a couple of baby potatoes, anchovies, tuna, salt, pepper, vinegar and olive oil. All of these ingredients are predominantly bitter. The dish is designed to be perfectly balanced between dry and moist; the tomatoes, lettuce and vinaigrette are essential in balancing the dryer textured elements like the potatoes and tuna.
I toss the washed lettuce with the green beans with some vinaigrette (which I make spooning out, right on to the salad, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of vinager and add salt and pepper.) I put this in the bottom of a salad bowl.
Then I place the cooked artichoke hearts, slices of tomatoes, a couple of baby potatoes and the anchovies on top to the bed of greens.
Finally, I like my fresh tuna to be pan seared (the searing gives another bitterness that marries well). And I place it, warm, on top of the ingredients ready in my salad bowl.
A key ingredient which must be used to taste is pepper. I like to use both black and white for added complexity. The pepper (also a bitterness) links all of the other ingredients together.
Nicoise purists might want to throw in some red peppers, olives, a couple of hard boiled eggs…some people even put in raw garlic. I dot use peppers because I don’t digest them. I don’t use olives because I usually forget to buy them and never have any on hand. I don’t use eggs because I feel that hard boiled egg is usually so dry and crumbly in the mixture that it makes it unbalanced and I don’t think it adds much to the taste. I like this salad because of all the veggies and the little amount of fat that it needs to make it delicious.
What do I drink with this? This is a definite red. A real tannic red to put up with all the wonderful bitternesses that make up the dish. I think Bordeaux works well. That is probably my first choice. Or else I would pick a Southern Provence wine that is Cabernet styled or signatured. Southern Rhones that are Grenache signatured tend to be a little to sweet and spicy for this dish. Reds to be served cool, especially in the summer (Yep-room temperature is not the same in the summer as in the winter) I cool them off in the fridge- or even the freezer depending on how quickly I need it. The coolness brings the fruit out and makes the wine fresher.
The last time I had this dish, the only red wine I could get my hands on was The Bourgogne Rouge 2006 from Vincent Dureuil-Janthial. It was a surprisingly good marriage. These vines coming from his Nuits St Georges in-laws, are located very near that village and express some of the tannic aspects of Nuit St Georges terroir. The pinot fruit in the wine was still very precise and pure, but the structure of the wine was surprising for both its appellation and vintage.
That being said, Nicoise is also delicious with some structured Rosés. I say this because I happened to drink a lot of Rosé with Nicoise and two very good friends not too long ago. It was a Mas de Gourgonnier 2007 Baux en Provence Rosé which has more Cabernet than usual and was a very good match for the Nicoise….but I think it helped that we were in the Alpilles (baby Alp-like mountains at the borders of the Baux wine appellation).