I almost titled this post Salad Not-çoise because my starting point, with the recipe, was David Lebovitz’s blog post where he beautifully describes a salad–an authentic Niçoise–that is nothing like the one I ended up making. In fact, David might be horrified by the one I made, especially since he quotes Jacques Médecin, the authority on Provencal cuisine, as saying: “Never, never, I beg you, include boiled potato or any other boiled vegetable in your Salade Niçoise.” Shield your eyes, then, David and Monsieur Médecin. What you’re about to see may disturb you.
Recently, I had my friends Rob and Kath over for dinner. They live in our building and we were chatting about the neighborhood, our favorite places to eat and, inevitably, The New French came up. “You know it’s funny,” I said. “At first I didn’t love The New French, but recently I discovered their tuna sandwich and it’s seriously the best tuna sandwich of my life.”
“You didn’t just discover it,” said Rob.
“You blogged about it,” he insisted. “Last year.”
I found it.
After my first attempt at tuna casserole, I finally found a worthy alternative. I was at the Community Book Store in Park Slope and there on the cookbook shelf was Andrew Carmellini’s Urban Italian, a pretty dazzling book of recipes from the former chef of A Voce. I took the book to the grimy couch and sat down next to a cat, a dog and an iguana (this store has pets) and began flipping through it and there it was: “Ziti with Tuna, Red Onions and Cannelini Beans.” Was it a casserole proper? Absolutely not. But it had many of the components of a tuna casserole–noodles, tuna, onions–and assembled them in a way that made much more sense to me. I quickly took out a pen and my secret little pad and copied down the recipe, hoping the iguana wouldn’t rat me out to the store owners. On my walk home I picked up the ingredients and cracked my knuckles, ready for Italy to conquer America in the battle of noodles and tuna.
The chat went something like this.
Craig-At-Work: What’s for dinner?
Me-At-Home: I’m thinking of making a tuna noodle casserole.
Craig-At-Work: Ugh. If I never eat a tuna noodle casserole again for the rest of my life, that’d be ok.
Me-At-Home: Well I’ve never had one before so I’m going to make it, just for the sake of writing about it.
Me-At-Home: Are you there? Hello? HELLO?
Craig-At-Work is no longer online.
“I think people are afraid of me,” said Regina Schrambling, creator of the web site Gastropoda, a site where she skewers food world personalities with loving names like “The Porcine Pantload,” “The Human Scratch n’ Match,” and “The Drivelist.” (I’m lucky I got away with “The Tyro” and now “The-Not-So-Tyro-Anymore.”) To say that she writes with a poisoned pen would be a profound understatement; her prose is prickly and pointed, she’s merciless in her attack of hypocrisy, idiocy, and corruption in the food world.
Normally, to be polite, I’d say, “No, they’re not afraid of you.” But there, over lunch at The New French in The West Village, I had to concur. “Yes,” I said. “I think people probably are afraid–though didn’t you once refer to yourself as having retractable fangs?”