Monday, August 17, 2009

"The French Chef Cookbook" by Julia Child - Salad Nicoise

Date I made this recipe: August 16, 2009

The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child, Drawings and Photographs by Paul Child
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
© 1961 (1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968)
Recipe: Salad Nicoise – p. 17 (plus Sauce Vinaigrette – p. 5 and French Potato Salad – p. 16)
Note: these recipes are all from Julia Child’s TV show, The French Chef

I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready to start a petition to rename August “Julia Child month” because our beloved Julia is all over the airwaves and in the press.

On August 7th, the movie Julie and Julia, based upon two books – My Life in France by Julia Child and Julie and Julia by Julie Powell - was released and though I haven’t seen it yet, I’ve lost track of the number of friends telling me “You would love it.”

Then on August 15th those of us in the know celebrated what would have been Julia’s 97th birthday (she died on August 13, just two days shy of her 92nd birthday).

So this dish is a birthday homage to the great lady who turned the culinary world on its ear. And I have to tell you that as was Julia’s style, making this seemingly simple salad turned out to be a rather long series of steps to get to the goal line.

Before I get into the recipe, I have to recount (again) the tale of purchasing Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia’s culinary contribution to the world. It goes like this: There I was, minding my own business, happily shopping for cookbooks at Joan Hendricks bookstore in New York, when I spied a couple of copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Believe it or don’t, up until then, I had trouble finding a copy. There were two books on the shelf, one that was close to being a first edition and reasonably priced and another that was a second printing (and therefore less desirable to collectors like me). The second-printing book was priced at $200 (and yes, that was for one book) and that’s because it was signed by both Julia and Paul Child.

So I hemmed and hawed about what to do—buy the stack of books in my hand that probably totaled $200 or go for what’s behind the curtain and plop all my money down for this one, solitary book? Joan was clearly cheering for me to buy the $200 book but I just couldn’t justify spending that much money on one book when I had others that sounded more interesting (I mean, I ask you—would you have passed up Jack Knife Cookery? I didn’t think so.)

And so I walked away from the $200 book. And Julia Child passed away two weeks later. #$%@!!!!! You’ve gotta know that the book probably sold for double that amount but so it goes. I still think I made the right decision just as I’m sure Joan made sure that book went to a good home. As for me, I walked away with a Julia Child book, just not the one that cost me a quarter of my mortgage and that made me happy.

So to the recipe -- it was okay but not great and that was a disappointment. Julia used way (and I mean way) more vinaigrette than I was comfortable with, such that the potato salad and overall salad was just swimming in oil. So my biggest advice to those who want to recreate this recipe is to start small – I’m talking tablespoon by tablespoon – until you get the result you want. When I made the potato salad, there was so much oil in it from the vinaigrette that I had to use a slotted spoon to transfer the salad to another bowl and then back again. And then she called for vinaigrette on the lettuce…and then again once the dish was made. If you ask me, too much of a good thing is still too much.

Plan on this recipe taking just a bit to pull together because you must cook the potatoes and the beans and then slice and dice and whisk and…well, you’ll be busy. It took considerably less time than when I made her Boeuf Bourgignon (we’re talking hours and hours of work for that one) but you’re still in the kitchen for quite some time.

Sauce Vinaigrette – for about ½ cup, enough for salad for 6 (Ann’s Note: it made just shy of a ½ cup. You will need ½ cup alone for the potato salad and then another ¾ to 1 cup for the salad itself (although as I said, this is overkill).
1 to 2 T excellent wine vinegar or a combination of vinegar and lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt
¼ tsp dry mustard
6 to 8 T best-quality olive oil, salad oil or a combination of both
Big pinch of freshly ground pepper
Optional: ½ T minced shallots or scallions and/or ¼ tsp dried herbs, such as tarragon or basil

Either beat the vinegar, salt and mustard in a bowl until dissolved, then beat in the oil and season with the pepper and herbs, or place all ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake vigorously for 30 seconds to blend thoroughly. Taste carefully for seasoning.

Pommes de Terre a L’Huile (French Potato Salad) – for about 6 cups
Note: again, I would season as I went along. 2 T chicken bouillon is a lot of bouillon. The dish wasn’t salty but it sure could have been. I also used less of the shallots and parsley than called for as 2 (and 3) tablespoons seemed like way too much. You’d be wise to use more than 2 lbs of potatoes.

8 to 10 medium “boiling” potatoes (about 2 lbs)
2 Tb dry white wine or dry white vermouth
2 T chicken bouillon
½ cup of the vinaigrette
2 T minced shallots or scallions
3 T minced parsley

Boil or steam the potatoes in their jackets until just tender. Peel and slice while still warm. Toss gently in the mixing bowl with the wine and bouillon, and after several minutes, toss again. When liquid has been absorbed by the potatoes, toss with the vinaigrette, shallots or scallions and parsley.

Salad Nicoise for 6 to 8 people
3 cups previously cooked green beans in a bowl
3 quartered tomatoes in a bowl
¾ to 1 cup vinaigrette (I’m telling you, just say “no!”)
1 head Boston lettuce, separated, washed and dried
3 cups cold French potato salad
½ cup pitted black olives, preferably the dry Mediterranean type
3 hard-boiled eggs, cold, peeled and quartered
12 canned anchovy fillets, drained, either flat or rolled with capers
About 1 cup (8 ounces) canned tuna, drained

Just before serving, season beans and tomatoes with several spoonfuls of the dressing. Toss the lettuce leaves in the salad bowl with ¼ cup of the vinaigrette and places leaves about bowl. (Again with the vinaigrette!) Arrange potatoes in bottom of bowl, decorate with the beans and tomatoes, interspersing them with a design of tuna, olives, eggs and anchovies. Pour remaining dressing over salad (!!!!), sprinkle with herbs, and serve.

Note: I’ve had Salad Nicoise several times when in France and never did I see this much dressing but if you cut back, this is one rockin’ summer salad!

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