So, while it appears that Summer (ish – the rain we’re due to get for the next few days may moderate the temperature somewhat) has come a few weeks early, we’re still at the point in Ontario Food where we’re playing catch-up, trying to pull together salads and sides and main dishes using as many of the (few) fresh vegetables we have available while filling in the holes with last year’s stores.
Even with the hothouse tomatoes (and miniature cucumbers and sweet peppers) and hydroponic lettuce and year-round indoor mushrooms that are available (albeit expensive) on top of the baby potatoes, pea sprouts, fiddleheads, and other wild greens (I’m looking at you dandilion greens and stinging nettles!) that are actually coming out of the ground, there’s not a huge amount out-of-which which to make a Significant Meal when the nights are yet on the chilly side and you still want something warm and filling even as you’re craving the sharp, fresh palate of spring.
Consequently, I find that Salad Niçoise (or some approximation there-of) is a really fitting dish for this time of year. Both because it combines long-keeping veggies like beets and (if you feel like it) cabbage with super-fresh veggies like hothouse tomatoes, pea sprouts, dandelion greens, fiddleheads, and asparagus (which I won’t be seeing for a few weeks yet, I suspect), as well as potatoes and onions – which can be the very last of the root cellar OR can be among the very first of the spring harvest, depending on what’s avialable when you make the salad. The dish is rounded out with chopped hard-boiled eggs, fish (I use tinned tuna and it works just fine – traditionally it’s made with tuna and anchovies (YUM!) – but I’ve seen it done with tuna sashimi or marinated, broiled trout and, well, you can just imagine… ), crumbled walnuts or pumpkin seeds, and even crushed crispy bacon.
Later on the the year, you can get a bit more traditionally Niçoise about it a refrain from using cooked vegetables in favour or raw green beans, vine-fresh cherry or beefsteak tomatoes, baby greens, bell peppers, and bunching onions or shallots; or else get creative with baby pear tomatoes, butter beans, hot peppers, fingerling potatoes, kalamata olives, barbicued fish, and even cooked and chilled salad shrimp.
Into the Fall, you can adapt Salad Niçoise to include diced multi-colour potatoes – even sweet potatoes – sauteed green tomatoes, steamed beans, leeks and onions, smoked trout or mackerel, and the first of the beets, complete with their leafy tops. (I’ll be posting recipes, believe me!)
But for now, I’m really enjoying this not-exactly-traditional (it’s lacking both the green beans and – – the tuna!!) spring Salad Niçoise.
So. Here’s tonight’s recipe. Just the thing for tonight annivesary meal (my sweetie and I have many anniversaries – it’s a good way to live): light and bright and just a little bit fancy.
Salad Niçoise – Variation One
4 leaves of boston lettuce (hydroponic style, with the roots still on the head) or other large, leafy greens
2 golden beets, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
2 candycane beets, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
10 VERY baby potatoes (less than an inch in diameter)
2 small balls of soft mozzerella (use chevre, or another soft, sharp cheese, if you prefer)
200g fiddleheads, cleaned and blanched
Half a flat of pre-sliced button mushrooms
2 tbsp minced white onion
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp grainy mustard
4 cocktail tomatoes, quartered (hothouse variety)
2 hardboiled eggs, roughly chopped
In a small pot, hardboil the eggs (three minutes on boil, five minutes just sitting, will – in theory – get you well-cooked eggs). Then transfer them to the fridge to chill
In a fresh pot of water, boil the beets and potatoes together until they are easily pierced with a fork
Drain the cooking water into a bowl and set the beets and potatoes aside
Remove any rough bits or brown chaff from the fiddleheads
Return the cooking water to the pot and briefly boil the fiddleheads until they are bright green (about five minutes)
Drain off the water (let it go this time)
In a frying pan, combine the mushrooms, cooked fiddleheads, onion, garlic, butter, and salt
Sauté everything together for three or four minutes
Then add the beets and potatoes and allow to heat through on low
While they are heating, shell and chop the hard boiled eggs and quarter the tomatoes
Lay two leaves of washed boston lettuce in the bottom of each bowl
On top of this, layer one quarter of the fiddleheads mixture in each bowl
Add one ball (or more, if you’ve got them to spare) of the mozzerella to each bowl
Then add another quarter of the fiddleheads mixture
Add a drizle of balsamic vinegar
Top with quartered tomatoes and hard-cooked eggs
Serve and enjoy.
So. There you have it. I think my next variation on Salad Niçoise is going to involve dandelion greens and – hopefully – some super-fresh asparagus. Beyond that, I’ll have to keep you posted!
Meliad the Birch Maiden.
 Which are slightly smaller than the end of my thumb at this point — not much past the ones that have been sprouting in my fridge drawer, I don’t mind telling you…
 YES! They came in today! 😀 Woohoo! 😀 I got half a pound, and I putting them with dinner! 😀
 NOTE: Fiddlehead greens should have super-short steps – no more than a couple of centimetres – or they’re too mature and could give you a bit of an upset stomach. To be on the safe side: You need to clean and blanch fiddleheads before you actually cook them into whatever dish you’re making. Wild greens are like that. They haven’t had their natural defences bred out of them, so they tend to be more bitter than we can handle right off the bat. Cook them twice (once fast, and once however you want) for the best, most delicious results.
 You can get them at the grocery store, but I just grab these off the fields – the NCC has been pesticide-free for quite some time, so this is A-okay — though do wash them well.