It’s deliciously liberating to stand over a heat-radiating grill on a 95-degree day, turning a sizzling steak or halibut filet or stirring a fragrant tumble of fresh vegetables over the coals. Free from the chains of the indoor kitchen where breaking a sweatin summer’s relentless temperatures isn’t my favorite way to get a good meal on the table, I love firing up the Weber for satisfying sustenance. Sometimes my kitchen oven remains idle from Memorial Day until the blanket of Midwest heat miraculously melts after Labor Day (except for that pan of brownies or berry tart to satisfy my aggressive sweet tooth). Even in the midst of a brutal heat wave that covers your body in a film of shimmering, drippy humidity just walking to the mailbox, I’d rather be out on the patio, grilling.
This year I decided to join a CSA—each week a bag of locally grown produce, fruit, herbs, beef, dairy and poultry is delivered—and if there’s time to go to the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings to supplement my cache, all the better. A favorite simple summer supper is a variety of grilled veggies—squashes, peppers, beets, eggplant, onions—sliced or chunked, tossed with olive oil and kosher salt and cracked black pepper, along with a thick slice of grilled bread, glass of fresh-brewed iced tea and a microgreens salad drizzled with lemon vinaigrette.Salads are a summer mainstay, too. Easy to imagine and prepare, they’re a natural way to put the bounty of garden produce to good use—and keep the kitchen cool. An intriguing main-dish (or luncheon) saladI consume during my self-imposed respite from rigorous indoor cooking is a Salade un-Niçoise—a departure from the classic canned tuna version. The star is sashimi-grade tuna, seared on the outside and raw or rare on the inside—and of course, I choose to do that on the grill. The creamy dressing with Dijon mustard and sherry vinegar isn’t for Niçoise purists who prefer no-frills vinaigrette—and neither are the cooked potatoes or the absence of lettuce (butter-lettuce was Julia Child’s favorite foundation).
Although the debate rages about the ingredients and preparation of a proper Salade Niçoise, I remain neutral. In the dead of summer when I’m interested in expending as little energy as possible, this reimagined recipe suits me just fine.
Time to go fire up that grill.
-Kimberly Winter Stern
This striking contemporary rendition of Salade Niçoise from the Dean & DeLuca Cookbook uses the summer harvest of peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. Replace the haricot verts with homegrown green beans, if you prefer. Pair the salad with a glass of wine, bakery-fresh bread and sweet butter and a slice of pie—a la mode, of course. It’s a five-star summer meal.
STACKED SALADE NIÇOISE WITH SEARED FRESH TUNA AND CREAMY VINAIGRETTE
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, very finely minced
Salt and pepper to taste
8 anchovy filets
2 pounds fresh tuna steaks
Coarsely cracked black peppercorns to taste
1 pound haricot verts (thin French green beans) or green beans
8 plum tomatoes
Coarse salt to taste
1 green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
8 small red new potatoes, peeled and cooked
6 hard-boiled eggs, shelled
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
32 niçoise-type olives, pitted
Prepare dressing: In a medium-sized bowl, add mustard, then vinegar. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in olive oil a little at a time (the dressing should have a creamy consistency). Add garlic, and season with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl of cold water, soak anchovy filets for 5 minutes to remove excess salt and oil. Cut each fillet into 4 pieces.Brush tuna with a little olive oil, then press cracked peppercorns into the tuna. Grill over an open fire until seared outside and still raw inside (you may cook it further, but not more than rare). If no grill is available, cook the tuna under a broiler. Brush tuna with a little of the dressing, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a large handful of salt. Cut stems of beans and cook until just tender, about 4 minutes. Refresh in ice water. Strain, cut each bean into 3 pieces, and reserve.Cut tomatoes into large dice. Sprinkle with coarse salt and set aside.
When ready to assemble the salad, cut the strips of green and red pepper into 3 pieces each. Cut the potatoes into 1/4-inch-thick slices, and then cut each slice into 4 chunks. Cut the eggs into 1/4-inch-thick slices, and then cut each slice into 4 chunks. In a large bowl, mix together the anchovies, tuna, beans, tomatoes, green pepper, red pepper, potatoes, eggs, parsley, and olives. Mix with dressing. Taste for seasoning. Divide among 8 plates, stacking the salad in as high and narrow a tower as possible on each plate. Serve immediately.
Overland Park, Kan.-based freelance writer Kimberly Winter Stern writes travel, food, lifestyle and design. Also known as the gregarious and cuisine-informed Kim Dishes, listeners tune in weekly for her on-the-road segments on “LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen,” a popular Kansas City radio food show. Prolific in eating, writing and discovering, this foodie satisfies an innate desire to sample the world’s gastronomic rainbow by meeting food artisans and trendsetters, gaining insight into the culinary points-of-view of everyone from cheese makers, chocolatiers and chefs who set their city’s locavore pace to farmers who are passionate producers. Stern is a sought-after writer, with work appearing in Better Homes and Gardens, Unity, KANSAS! Magazine, 435 South magazine, KC Homes & Gardens, Generation Boom, Shawnee Magazine, KC Magazine, KC Home Design, KC Business and Midwest CEO. Stern is a national blogger for the Dean & DeLuca Gourmet Food Blog where she cooks, styles, shoots and writes about life and cooking … and loves to lick the bowl clean. This writer may have been given product and/or other compensation from Dean & DeLuca for this post.