Niçoise salads remind me of one particular scene from my childhood, which has been repeated throughout my life. It’s a Thursday evening. Maybe it’s a balmy evening with the smell of honeysuckle wafting through the open back door or maybe there’s rain lashing at the windows despite it being June. Either way, in the middle of the kitchen table sits an oval, green dish full of an array of salad leaves and green beans, topped with a thick tuna steak. The edges are studded with halves of hard boiled eggs, each saffron yolk the surface for a criss-cross of anchovy fillets. A Sainsbury’s part-baked baguette has been finished off in the oven and is being sliced, steaming, at the table. The lid is already off the jar of mayonnaise and rosé is generously poured into glasses. First those of my parents and as the years passed, mine and my brother’s too. Now when I make 'a Niçoise' I'm reminded of the 15 year old enjoying a glass of rosé dreaming of the French Riviera from the British countryside. —Mil Hare
The most time consuming part of prepping the niçoise is the eggs. Boil a kettle or fill and a pan of water and bring to the boil. Carefully lower all 4 eggs in, keep the lid off and set a timer for 8 minutes. This will give you slightly jammy eggs that add a lovely velvety texture to the salad.
Whilst the eggs are on gather everything else and start chopping. Lettuce, tomatoes, olives, spring onions – make sure there’s nothing too big, but no need to be too precise.
Cut the ends off the beans and add to the eggs when there’s 3 minutes left on the timer (or put it on for 5 minutes originally and then 3 more, whatever works). If you forget, no worries, pop them in once you take the eggs out.
Once cooked put the eggs in ice cold water to stop them cooking and make them cool enough to handle. Peel and cut into halves or quarters.
The assembly. Do this however you prefer. I quite like layering lettuce and leaves at the bottom and then grouping ingredients together around the outside so everyone can take a little of each, but feel free to throw everything in together. The tuna goes on last, the slightly flaked star of the show.
Add a generous helping of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to a jug, jam jar or bottle and whisk/shake to combine thoroughly. You want about 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. Slug over the salad, or add once served if you think there might be leftovers – there’s nothing worse than trying to revive a soggy salad the next day.