Monday, November 06, 2006

Talk Tuna to Me

Summer calls for a lighter touch when preparing lunch and dinner, and tinned tuna seems to perfectly fit that bill. It's 5 1/2 ounces of pure, lean protein, vacuum-packed and ready to go. May I present the humble can of solid light tuna, in three delicious little renditions. First, lets talk tuna.

Now, there's nothing wrong with using Chicken of the Sea, StarKist or Bumble Bee, but keep in mind that these brands are all the white--fleshed albacore tuna. While quite nice and light, they're a little one-dimensional in the flavor department. Time to turn your eye to the wonderful world of olive oil-packed tunas, typically yellowfin. While slightly drier in texture, they are ruddier in color and far richer in taste. There are a variety of brands out there, but I've recently become a fan of Flott, which is packed in Sicily, and available either canned or jarred.

Take one: Italian-style tuna salad. I came across this lovely little specimen in an unexpectedly gourmet market in the outlying hills of Charlottesville. The price was shocking, but one taste had me handing over my check card for a full pound. After careful examination and extensive taste-testing, my rendition is pretty close, if not better. Quality tuna is marinated in its own olive oil, along with red wine vinegar, capers, red onion and fresh herbs. Try to make this the day before you need it-- the flavors meld beautifully.

Take two: Mediterranean--style tuna sandwich. This is actually very similar to the above salad, except the ingredients are layered between bread. My mother--in--law introduced me to it one summery day, and I've been hooked ever since. What's in it? The basic blueprint is canned tuna, an oil--and--vinegar dressing, onions, tomatoes, capers, olives and lettuce. Missing an ingredient? Leave it out. Have a stray something laying about? Throw it on in there. I've added basil, roasted red peppers, even sliced carrots-- it's all good.

Take three: Avocado tuna salad. You South Beachers may be familiar with this concept already, but it was new to me. One ripe avocado is partially hollowed out. After the innards are mixed with tuna and freshly squeezed lemon juice, it's stuffed right back in for an extremely tasty and nutritious little treat.

Break out the can-opener, baby-- it's gonna be one long, hot summer!

Italian--Style Tuna Salad

Lovely to eat alone, as a sandwich or as a cold pasta salad.

2 cans good quality Italian tuna, marinated and packed in olive oil
2/3 cup red onion, minced
6 kalamatta olives, chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (taste and adjust)
1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed
1 hot red cherry pepper, minced
1 thin marinated red pepper strip, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
parsley and basil, minced, about 1/8 of a cup
juice of one lemon

Drain one can of tuna. Combine the tuna and oil from the other can with the remaining ingredients, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.
Serves 2--3.

Mediterranean Tuna Sandwich
I normally eyeball the amounts of ingredients for the recipe, so just go with what looks right. Additionally, this sandwich can be made a couple of hours ahead of time, wrapped up tightly and kept cool for a bump up in flavor. Personally, I've never made it that long.

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 red onion, sliced very thinly
1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed
sliced kalamatta olives, to taste
1 can tuna, drained
1 fresh tomato, sliced 1/4--inch thick (or several cherry tomatoes)
leafy greens (romaine hearts or spinach work well)
crusty bread or roll (see note)

Using a small bowl, mix olive oil, red wine vinegar and Parmesan cheese together.
Place onions in mixture and let marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
When ready, set out bottom slice of bread, drizzle thinly with the oil-vinegar mixture, and layer with onions. Follow with capers and olives, tuna, tomato, leafy greens. Drizzle lightly with oil-vinegar mixture and cover with top slice of bread.
Squish everything together and let sit for a few minutes while you clean up. Bring plenty of napkins, this is one messy sandwich!
Note: The sandwich requires a boldly crusty bread to stand up against the juices, or you'll be left with mush. Albeit, good-flavoured mush. I try to stick with day-or-more-old baguettes, with the interior slightly hollowed out- more room for the filling, you know.
Serves 2.

Avocado Tuna Salad
adapted from
1 ripe avocado
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 6--ounce can tuna
salt and freshly ground black pepper
cracked pink peppercorns or black sesame seeds, for garnish
fresh basil leaves, sliced into strips (chiffonade), for garnish

Halve avocado lengthwise and remove the pit. Scoop out 2 tablespoons avocado flesh from each half, and leave the remaining flesh intact. Mash the 4 tablespoons avocado with lemon juice and olive oil until smooth. Toss with tuna and half the lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste. Fill halves with the tuna mixture, and garnish with remaining lemon zest, peppercorns/sesame seeds and fresh basil.
Serves 1.

Flott is available locally at Florimonte's in Williamsburg.


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