June 21, 2010
I think my first encounter with nicoise salad was when D and I were living in Davis. There was this cute little new wine shop/restaurant tucked in a corner of downtown, right across from the train tracks, that served bistro-type fare and sold wine at retail. Inside was small with warm lighting and most of the tables were high and you sat on stools. In a small town, it felt very international and sophisticated. Now that I'm trying to recall everything, I realize I don't actually remember much besides my tuna nicoise salad and this really yummy bottle of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir we bought. You'll have to excuse me, this must have been 5 years ago.
I didn't grow up eating tons of seafood (although I think there's a story floating around about me asking for shrimp on my 4th birthday) or at least that wide of a variety, so I was pretty slow to the whole "fish is delicious" scene. Couple that with being a vegetarian for my teenage years, and I'd say I was real late. When I did eat seafood, it was the safe stuff, like fish tacos or tuna - usually from a can and usually in the form of tuna salad - or unadventurous sushi. I might have had mahi-mahi too. 5 years ago, I was still getting used to the idea of eating meat and kept my fish choices to those previously mentioned.
Back at the restaurant, like I said before, all I can remember of the meal was the nicoise salad and the bottle of pinot noir. Tuna enrobed in fruity olive oil, roasted fingerling potatoes, just crisp green beans, hard boiled eggs with the center still creamy, salty olives, butter lettuce and a tart shallot vinaigrette. It was really phenomenal. I never would have expected to be that impressed with a salad. It was late summer when we were there, celebrating D's birthday and it's never failed since then that when the weather turns warm I start craving this dish. This sandwich is an easy-going take on that meal. I don't know, composed salads can seem so stuffy for the everyday. Put all the same ingredients into a sandwich and you've got something you can take on a picnic, or to the beach and it won't be out of place.
Tuna Nicoise Sandwich
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Here I substituted dill for basil in the sandwich. The basil is probably more "authentic", but I really dug the flavor from the dill and will probably make this a permanent change. I made the sandwiches in the afternoon and they probably sat wrapped in plastic wrap and pressed for 5 hours in the fridge, which was a perfect amount of time for all the flavors to get friendly with each other but not enough for the bread to become soggy (yick! soggy bread).
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 cans tuna (6 ounces each), drained
1/4 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 square ciabatta rolls, about 5" across, or small ciabatta loaf
3 tablespoons jarred olive tapenade
1 scant cup fresh dill
2 hard-cooked large eggs, sliced
In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil, white-wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard; season with coarse salt and ground pepper. Toss with drained tuna.
Cut ciabatta rolls in half horizontally. Spread 3 tablespoons jarred olive tapenade on bottom half. Top with dill, then tuna mixture and any remaining dressing, the hard-cooked eggs, red onion and finally the cucumber and close sandwich. Wrap sandwich tightly in plastic and place between two baking sheets. Weight with a heavy skillet. Let stand 1 hour (or refrigerate, up to overnight). To serve, cut into quarters.