Bonne fête nationale! Joyeux quatorze juillet! Happy Bastille Day! In case you’ve forgotten, today marks the beginning of the end of the French monarchy back in 1789. Except for a few odd royalists, all of France will celebrate the birth of the first French republic tonight. (Yes, there have been more than one but we’ll leave those stories for another day.)
In a normal year, both the French and Francophiles around the world celebrate Quatorze Juillet with parades, picnics and the pop of champagne corks. Fireworks, more champagne, and maybe a little dancing top off the evening. But then 2020 is not a normal year, far from it. The French continue to climb out of the throws of the pandemic. They are flattening their curve by hunkering down with their nearest and dearest, practicing social distancing and wearing masks.
Pandemic or not, you can still give a shout out to Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (liberty, equality and fraternity.) An elegant picnic with your nearest and dearest sounds like a good idea. Whether that’s a romantic party of two or a festive group of six, we could all benefit from a little elegance and fun.
Remember this is a French picnic, so, in spite of the call for fraternité, we’re not suggesting a party reminiscent of your college days. Forget the paper plates and cheap beer or even fancy craft beer; think pastoral, casual elegance. Start by lugging a table out onto the deck, the screen porch or under a favorite old tree. Next, bring out a festive tablecloth, cloth napkins and fresh flowers. No, you don’t need to unearth our grandmother’s china (but you can if you like.) It’s a picnic, your everyday dishes, glasses and cutlery will be fine. Add some twinkle lights or candles or both for when the sun goes down and don’t forget the champagne.
From start to finish you’ll want a simple but decidedly French menu. If you don’t mind turning the oven on (I know I do), begin with a Pissaladière Niçoise. Otherwise, some fresh vegetables and crackers with a dab of tapenade or pâté will be just fine, maybe even perfect.
Even if one or the other is your signature dish, it’s definitely too hot these days for a very French Boeuf Bourguignon or Coq au Vin. Instead, turn your sights to the south of France for a beautiful Salade Niçoise. A salad is the perfect one-dish dinner on a hot night. You can gather, prep and refrigerate everything you’ll need in morning. When dinnertime comes, instead of bustling around a hot grill, you can relax, enjoy some French music and a glass of champagne. When you’re ready, dinner will come together in just a few minutes.
As for dessert, as long as local strawberries are in season, they are nothing short of amazing. Serve them with a splash of heavy cream or red wine. Alternatively, they make a delicious garnish for a lovely chocolate or lemon mousse. Clichéd or not, mousse, particularly chocolate, is everyone’s favorite French dessert. (Except for those of us who love a good crème brûlée but … see above … I’m certainly not turning on the oven in this heat.)
No need for fireworks. The New Hampshire sky is filled with bright stars and, maybe, a firefly or two. Think positive thoughts for a clear night and spend a long lazy evening, watching the sun set and moon rise.
Bonne fête nationale and bon appétit!
Salade Niçoise with Grilled Tuna or Swordfish
This colorful salad will make a beautiful and delicious addition to your summer repertoire. Enjoy!
- 1 pound new potatoes, cut in bite size pieces
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Vinaigrette Niçoise (recipe follows)
- 1 pound green beans, trimmed
- 1 pound assorted cherry and grape tomatoes, cut in half
- 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1/2 European cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh tuna or swordfish steaks
- About 1/2 head lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
- 1/2 cup dry-pack, oil-cured black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- Fresh, chopped parsley
Put the potatoes in a pot of cold, salted water, set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Drain the potatoes well and transfer to a bowl. Add enough vinaigrette to generously coat the potatoes and toss to combine. Cool to room temperature, toss again, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a rapid boil, add the beans and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again and put the beans in a bowl with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat and toss. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Put the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and pepper in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Heat the grill to high. Brush the fish with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place the fish on the grill and cook for, more or less depending on the thickness, about 2 minutes per side for rare tuna, about 5 minutes per side for tuna cooked through or about 6 minutes per side for swordfish. Remove from the grill and let rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting into thick slices.
If you like, you can grill the fish in advance and refrigerate. Remove the fish from the refrigerator 20-30 minutes before serving. Slice right before serving.
When you are ready to serve, put the lettuce in a bowl and toss with a little vinaigrette. Drizzle the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and pepper with a little vinaigrette and toss to coat.
Arrange the lettuce on a platter or individual plates. Artfully arrange the vegetables and tuna on top of the lettuce, sprinkle with chopped olives, capers and parsley and serve.
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 1-inch chunk red onion
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
- Dash hot sauce
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup or to taste extra-virgin olive oil
Put the lemon juice and zest, vinegar, mustard, garlic, onion, thyme, anchovy paste and hot sauce in a blender or small food processor, season with salt and pepper and pulse to combine and chop the garlic and onion. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil and process until incorporated.
Store extra vinaigrette in the refrigerator.
- One Year Ago – Spicy Asian Noodle Salad with Grilled Eggplant
- Two Years Ago – Roasted Tomato-Chipotle Ketchup
- Three Years Ago – Grilled Zucchini & Feta Salad with Lemony Vinaigrette
- Four Years Ago – Fresh Tomato Crostini
- Five Years Ago – Spicy Cucumber & Radish Salad
- Six Years Ago – Watermelon Sorbet
- Six Years Ago – Caramel Sundaes with Sweet & Salty Pecans
- Seven Years Ago – Gazpacho
- Eight Years Ago – Mousse au Citron
- Nine Years Ago– Thai Salad
- Ten Years Ago – Sweet Dream Bars
- Eleven Years Ago – Lobster Salad
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!
Are you a Francophile? What’s your favorite thing about France and the French? Feel free to share!
Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020