Monday, March 28, 2011

Elegant Life Leftovers: Salade Nicoise

We love leftovers around here but I notice that is not the case at every household.  I think two things make the difference.  First, I plan for leftovers and second, we have a gleeful attitude about them. 

For example one never hears the “Oh, leftovers,” drone in this house.  Leftovers to us mean really good food, already prepared, maybe served up with a new look, maybe not.  The work is done and all we need to do is reheat and enjoy (again). 

As with most slow-cooked meals, an encore of beef stew over rice instead of first-night noodles just gets better the second day.  Last night’s mac 'n cheese side dish takes center stage for a hot lunch with a little salad.  Maybe some cubed ham, roasted red peppers, extra hot sauce or chopped tomatoes make it taste a little different.  I know children don’t care if your work is done but you can overcome their comprehension problems by spending dinner prep time doing something nice with them instead.  On nights when we are serving leftovers and have little extra time, sometimes a baked dessert happens.  What kid could complain about that?

I think the real difference is that our leftovers are planned which is how they become “elegant life” leftovers rather than “what’s that growing in the back of the fridge” leftovers.   I always think of my French host mothers when I cook this way.  Everything tastes amazing and there is little waste.  From time to time I’ll share a few of our favorite planned leftovers in this blog under the banner “Elegant Life Leftovers” starting this week’s Salade Nicoise.

Last night’s baked chicken breasts with green beans and potatoes are the obvious base.  Make a few extra chicken breasts, green beans and potatoes and transform them into something new using roasted tomatoes and a bevy of pantry staples.  Roasting halved plum tomatoes concentrates their flavor and is a nice substitute until summer-ripened tomatoes are available.   I sprinkle them with Herbs de Provence, capers and a little olive oil to prep them for this salad.  Roast them with your chicken and cool them overnight with the rest of your salad leftover ingredients.

Every food writer reminds you that making a vinaigrette is easy and I submit this may be one of the big secrets to leftovers tasting fresher and better at our house. There is a customized recipe below that really suits this salad but if you must, use your favorite bottled salad dressing.  But really, think about making your own; you’ll have the extra 5 minutes.

Elegant Life Leftovers Salade Nicoise

2 breast halves serve 2 for a substantial salad or 4 as a lighter lunch salad.  Leftover tuna or salmon steak also makes a great salade nicoise. 

Ingredients
2 cooked chicken breasts halves, sliced
1 cup cooked green beans
4 cooked eastern potatoes, quartered
2 plum tomatoes- halved and roasted with Herbs de Provence*, capers, olive oil
1/2 small jar roasted red peppers, sliced
4 cups lettuce- bibb is lovely but use your favorite mix including mache, red leaf, oak, arugula, watercress
2 tablespoons black olives, drained (nicoise, kalamata or even plain canned black)
1 can/jar artichoke hearts, drained and quartered if large (marinated or unmarinated)
1 hard boiled egg, quartered
Extras: leftover roasted asparagus or zucchini, fresh dill or parsley, canned white beans, anchovies, button mushrooms, sliced radishes, etc

Method
  1. On flat plates, arrange lettuce leaves to cover plate.  Make a “composed” rather than tossed salad by laying out the remaining salad elements in their own beds.  
  2. Place the chicken in the center and arrange the other ingredients around the chicken.  
  3. Place like colors (tomatoes, red peppers) at opposite sides of the plate and fill in with green beans, light green artichokes and green herbs then add another color: creamy potatoes and beans. Accent with dark black olives, rosy-rimmed radishes and hard boiled egg. 
*Herbs de Provence usually includes dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, margoram and even lavender.  Like most regional herb mixtures there are variations.  You can use any similar combination like thyme, oregano and rosemary or thyme, oregano, black pepper and fresh parsley.

La Vinaigrette
Ingredients
Juice of one large lemon (or 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar)
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 ounces good olive oil (extra virgin or mixed)
2 teaspoons capers, slightly crushed
salt & pepper

Method
  1. Mix lemon juice and mustard together and slowly whisk in oil to form a thick emulsion.  
  2. Add capers, salt and pepper and serve immediately.