Julia Child’s first meal in Paris was Sole Meuniere, and it changed her life forever, inspiring a 40-year love affair with food and the start of a cooking revolution in  America.

   This summer, Child would have turned 100 years on Aug. 15, and to celebrate her birthday, a few of  her biggest fans – restaurants and chefs, bookstores and bloggers – have launched a national campaign   to celebrate her legacy.

  As part of the JC100 campaign, I will be posting recipes from time to time this summer, curated by experts such as chef Thomas Keller and food writer Ruth Reichl , that serve as a kind of  “greatest hits” of the beloved chef.

    Back in the 1960s, my father gave my mother a copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” hoping to inspire my mother’s desire to cook. But as far as I can tell, it never inspired anything but dust to gather.   However, when I was in college and living in “French house,” we cooked for each other every night, tackling everything  from a simple omelette made with peas  to that  mystery substance known as “aspic.”

   My first meal in France, however, was this unforgettable Salade Nicoise,  a delightful blend of salty olives and anchovies, sweet tomatoes  and green beans,  creamy potatoes and hard-boiled eggs,  artfully plated in discrete mounds in a deep bowl.  That was served for lunch, but the  salad also works great as a light repast  on a warm night. The recipe comes s from  “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

    Per her instructions, I blanched the green beans   in a very large amount of rapidly boiling water, then refreshed them with ice to help retain their color and texture.  I dried the tender butter lettuce in a modern salad spinner. But you may prefer to swing them around in metal basket, just as Child  did on her pioneering, public TV show, “The French Chef.”  

Salade Nicoise

For 6 to 8 servings

1 large head Boston lettuce, washed and dried

2 to 3 tablespoons virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1½  pounds fresh green beans, trimmed, blanched, refreshed in cold water and dried

2/3 to 1 cup salad dressing, such as an Oil and Lemon Dressing

3 or 4 fine ripe red tomatoes, peeled if you wish, and cored, quartered and seasoned before serving

8 to 10 ounces oil-packed tuna, drained and flaked

1 quart French potato salad (see recipe below)

8 hard-boiled eggs, halved lengthwise

1 can flat anchovy fillets packed in oil, opened and drained just before serving

½ cup black Nicoise-type olive

3 or 4 tablespoons capers

¼ cup minced fresh parsley

Assembling: Shortly before serving, line a handsome, large and wide salad bowl or a roomy platter with lettuce leaves, drizzle a little olive oil on them, and dust with a sprinkling of salt. Toss the beans in a mixing bowl with a little of the dressing, and correct seasoning. Drizzle a spoonful or two of the dressing over the tomatoes. Season the tuna lightly with a spoonful or two of dressing.  Place the potatoes in the center of the bowl or platter; mound beans at strategic intervals, interspersing them with tomatoes and mounds of tuna. Ring the salad with the eggs, and curl an anchovy on top of each. Spoon a little more vinaigrette over all; scatter on olives, capers and parsley. Serve as soon as possible.

French Potato Salad

Makes about 1 quart

1½ pounds warm, sliced cooked potatoes

2 tablespoons finely minced shallots of scallions

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

¼ cup chicken stock or potato-cooking water

1½ tablespoons wine vinegar

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 to 3 tablespoons light olive oil, optional

Turn the warm potatoes into the bowl and toss gently with the shallots or scallions, a sparkling of salt and pepper, stock or cooking water, vinegar and parsley. Let steep 10 minutes or so, tossing gently several times. Then correct seasoning, toss with the optional oil, and the potatoes are ready for serving.


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