Nicoise salad is an awesome low carb meal on its own with plenty of protein from the eggs and tuna. Add a baguette and press it with weights overnight and it is a perfect Pan Bagnat (pressed tuna sandwich). A French classic, Nicoise salad is full of flavor and nutrition, and can readily go from a substantial low carb dinner salad to a sandwich that doesn’t get soggy at your next picnic.
What is Pan Bagnat?
This classic French sandwich is popular picnic fare on the Mediterranean coast. It is referred to as pan bagna, or pain bagnat—all pronounced “pahn bahn-yah”, and it literally means “bathed bread”.
Basically a pan bagnat is a nicoise tuna salad pressed between two slices of a baguette spread with garlic and oil. It is usually left in the fridge long enough for the olive oil, lemon juice and garlic to soak into the bread and bring all the flavors together.
If you are going to make the pressed nicoise sandwich (as opposed to a nicoise salad) you will need a rustic bread with a hard crust on the outside, so that the sandwich does not fall apart. This kind of bread ensures that the insides are soft but outside of the bread stays firm.
*Tip: If you are not traveling and you want to decrease the calorie count, use the nicoise salad as an open-face sandwich, or a “nicoise toast”
Ingredients and Substitutions for the Nicoise Salad
Typical ingredients of a nicoise “salad” include canned tuna, green beans, black olives, red onions, fresh herbs, tomatoes, potatoes, hard boiled eggs and a vinaigrette. Adding the bread and the dressing and pressing it overnight turns the salad into the pan bagnat.
If you exclude the potatoes and the bread, it is quite easy to modify the nicoise salad to a low carb dinner that is filling and simple.
If you are looking for other healthy and robust low carb salads, try this brussel sprout salad with a caesar dressing.
The key is to add fresh ingredients, and that might vary depending on the geographic region and the time of year. Here are a few ingredients that work well with this type of salad (or sandwich filling), either as a substitute for the basic ingredients listed above or as an addition.
- salmon instead of tuna
- artichoke hearts
- red bell peppers
- sliced fennel
**Tip: This salad gets its name from the niçoise olives, but sometimes they are hard to find. Kalamata olives are a good alternative that are easier to fine.
If you prefer a Mexican bent to your tuna salad instead of classic French, try this Mexican Ensalada de Atun.
I like the complexity of an anchovy salad dressing, and have provided a recipe for my favorite anchovy dressing in the “notes” section of the recipe card below.
If you prefer something quick, simple and easy, simply add 3 Tablespoons of lemon juice to 6 Tablespoons good olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Another alternative is to make a dressing using 3 tablespoons of a shrub syrup and 6 Tablespoons of a good olive oil.
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Nicoise Pressed Sandwich
Ingredients for the Sandwich Filling
- ½ baguette (about 5 “) A large round loaf that is about eight inches in diameter would also work, just needs a hard crust on outside
- 1 clove garlic
- 4 to 6 basil leaves
- 6 oz tuna canned in oil, not water
- ¾ cup Kalamata olives Or other black olives, sliced
- ½ pint Cherry tomatoes Sliced in half
- ½ red onion Sliced or chopped
- ¼ cup Italian flat leaf parsley finely chopped
- ½ cup blanched French green beans sliced into thirds (optional)
- 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
- 1 pinch sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Ingredients for the Anchovy Dressing
- 1 fillet anchovy drained
- ⅛ tsp sea salt
- ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp garlic minced
- 1 large egg
- 2 tsp lemon juice fresh squeezed
- ½ tsp Dijon mustard
- 6 tbsp olive oil
- 1.5 tbsp shallots minced
- 2 tsp capers drained and chopped
- ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
For the bread
- Slice the loaf of bread in half lengthwise. Remove some of the inside of the bottom half to create a trough into which the filling will go. Brush both halves with a little olive oil and rub each side with smashed garlic and some salt and pepper. Line the bottom half (the half with the trough) with basil leaves.1/2 baguette (about 5 “), 1 clove garlic
For the filling
- Combine the salad ingredients (through the green beans) in a large bowl.4 to 6 basil leaves, 6 oz tuna, 3/4 cup Kalamata olives, 1/2 pint Cherry tomatoes, 1/2 red onion, 1/4 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, 1/2 cup blanched French green beans
- Prepare the anchovy dressing, if using. Alternatively, for a simple dressing: combine 3 Tablespoons lemon juice with 6 Tablespoons olive oil and add a little salt and pepper.3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 pinch sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Pour 1/2 cup of whichever dressing you choose into the tuna mixture and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
For the anchovy dressing
- Using the back of a spoon or fork make a paste by mashing the anchovy, salt, pepper and garlic together until thoroughly mixed and mashed together.1 fillet anchovy, 1/8 tsp sea salt, 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 1/2 tsp garlic
- Using a wire whisk, whisk in the egg until well blended with the paste. Whisk in lemon juice and mustard.1 large egg, 2 tsp lemon juice, 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
- Whisk in the oil, one tablespoon at a time, whisking vigorously until you have a thick emulsion.6 tbsp olive oil
- Whisk in the shallots, capers and Worcestershire sauce until blended. Taste, and adjust the salt and pepper if needed to your own taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.1.5 tbsp shallots, 2 tsp capers, 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
To assemble the sandwiches
- Spoon tuna mixture into the trough of the baguette over the basil leaves. Wrap sandwich well in plastic. Place a heavy weight on top of the sandwich (a cast iron pan works well, or a pan weighted down with heavy canned goods). Refrigerate with the weight on top overnight.
There is a wonderful Italian holiday that takes place in mid-August called Ferragosto (where they take a relaxing break from the August heat). Since the Nicoise salad heralds summer picnics, I thought I’d include a great summertime cocktail recipe. Click here for the watermelon mojito Ferragosto recipe and post. Ciao!