Weather wise the Cape always lags behind the rest of the country by a good month. So while everybody upcountry is swimming, I’m still turning my electric blankie on at night. But now summer has finally made its way to Cape Town too, and I’m thrilled as a 10-year-old on the last day of school.
Gone is my craving for stodge – salads are the order of the day. But they really do need to be interesting if I’m going to bother. Take this tuna salad. There’s no mayo in sight, nor any lettuce. Instead I turn to Provence for inspiration, and use many of the ingredients one would normally find in a traditional Nicoise salad. Of course they’re dressed up differently.
The anchovies are melted into extra virgin olive oil along with loads of garlic to form the basis of a knockout warm salad dressing. The traditional olives are chopped up and go into the dressing too, along with loads of parsley, baby capers and a pinch of chilli. This dressing is so punchy that I sometimes simply stir it into warm spaghetti and call it dinner. Pour it over basic veggies and tinned tuna and the dressing turns an otherwise average tuna salad into something rather jolly.
All you need is…
FOR THE PICKLED ONION
4 tbs vinegar
4 tbs water
1 tbs sugar
pinch of salt
half a purple onion, sliced as thinly as possible
FOR THE DRESSING
6 tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, still in their skins
3 tbs white wine or red wine vinegar
2 anchovy fillets (or more it you love anchovy!)
pinch of dried red chilli flakes
6 pitted black olives, chopped
2 tbs flatleaf parsley chopped
1-2 tbs small non pareils capers (Woolworths stocks it)
salt to taste
FOR THE SALAD
6 small baby potatoes, unpeeled
cucumber, sliced or ribbons
200g fine green beans
1 tin tuna chunks in oil, drained
2 tbs pine nuts
bunch of small cherry tomatoes on the vine
small basil leaves
Combine the pickle ingredients and stir to dissolve the sugar. Then add the onions. Allow it to stand for 20 minutes to give the onions a light pickling before draining. Smash the garlic cloves with the side of a knife to break open the skins, but don’t peel them. Add the olive oil to a pan along with the garlic cloves and infuse over very low heat for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside for a good 20 minutes or more to flavour the oil. Then place the oil back on the heat and add the anchovy fillets and chilli. Stir until the anchovies break up and disappear into the oil. Take off the heat and remove the garlic cloves. Stir in the capers, chopped olives and parsley. Taste dressing and add salt if necessary. Whether you add salt depends on how many anchovy fillets you use, as they are quite salty.
Boil the green beans super quick – as in for mere minutes, you want them decidedly al dente. Shock the beans by immersing them in ice water, then drain and set aside. Boil the potatoes until soft and halve. Roast the tomatoes at the same time. Simply give them a splash of oil and place in a 150 degree Celsius oven for 10-15 minutes until blistered. (You could also keep the tomatoes raw if preferred.) The pine nuts go in the oven in a separate bowl until they’re toasted to a light golden brown. Keep and eye on them, they turn quickly and a burnt nut has never been a pleasant thing!
Assemble the salad ingredients, spoon over the dressing, scatter over the pine nuts and add a few small basil leaves for extra punch. If you happen to have nasturtiums in bloom in your garden, pretty your tuna salad up by adding a few of those too!