I knew a girl in college who loved shoes so much that every morning she’d select a pair of shoes from her hundreds of pairs and then try to construct an outfit.
That’s sort of how we are with cooking living in Florida. We have a constant supply of fresh seafood, where the fishmongers either caught the fish themselves or directly know the person who did. We start by looking at what fish are available and then build a meal around that. For lunch we made a curry out of mutton snapper. For dinner I made a salad niçoise with swordfish. This truly is paradise.
I’d say nothing says summer like salad niçoise and chilled wine, but that’s another great thing about living here…. It is the land of eternal summer. Well, it’s usually great. Going out to get the fish today was the only time anyone left the house. When we are not being thrashed about by the squalls, it is so humid that it feels like you are walking around in a cloud. It wasn’t even nominally hot today, but the moisture in the air gave us a heat index of 110 degrees. Not exactly gardening weather.
Anyway, back to the salad…. This is pretty basic if you love to cook, but someone is going to ask me how to make it, so here you go.
I make a vinaigrette of 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, juice from three or four lemons (just try to get about half a cup), 1 minced shallot, a bunch of fresh basil (finely chopped), fresh oregano, fresh thyme, a couple teaspoons of Dijon mustard, and a pinch or two of kosher salt. (It is important to use fresh herbs, and a lot of them – they really are part of the salad.) Let the vinaigrette sit for a while as you cook the rest, so the flavors have a chance to mingle. This makes a lot of dressing, but trust me…. You are going to want that much.
The salad itself is made of 1 and 1/2 pounds of small red potatoes, quartered and boiled with a pinch of salt until they are just tender (watch them closely so they do not get so tender that they break apart or start to lose their skins); trimmed green beans (boil for three minutes and then transfer them to an ice bath); a few medium tomatoes, cored and sliced; a few hard boiled eggs, sliced; a couple tablespoons of capers; and some anchovies (though you could add a touch of anchovy paste to the vinaigrette for the same effect). And of course, olives (you are supposed to use niçoise, but I use kalamata because they are easily available and I love them) and fish. Traditionally, the fish is tuna, but I often switch it out for swordfish. We eat a ton of tuna here, especially when we go out to eat. Ahi is everywhere along the beach.
There is a fantastic restaurant in Flagler Beach called the Flagler Fish Company that makes an outstanding salad niçoise with ahi. I wish I could replicate their Dijon vinaigrette – it sounds simple, but I’m not sure what I am missing. The taste of potatoes and Dijon mustard that is sublime, so I am always pretty heavy on the Dijon.
(It’s hard to explain to people who have tried Dijon straight and hated it that Dijon subtly improves many foods and often in unpredictable ways. For example, when I make quiche, I coat the crust with a heavy layer of Dijon mustard before filling it and putting it in the oven. This has an absolutely transformative effect on pie crust. It does not come out tasting like mustard, but it an unreal improvement. I’ve gotten to where I don’t tell people my trick until they’ve tasted the final product first. Every Southern woman needs a signature dish that people associate with them specifically. My signature dish is quiche, and the grand secret – lol – is Dijon.)
And of course for dessert… A key lime pie. The perfect summer meal. These are good days.