Monday, March 10, 2008

What's in the cabinet-cookery returns.

Today, we play with canned tuna found lingering in the cabinet.

WHY? you ask.

(For a wee frugal feast.)

Were you menaced with canned tuna as a child? Whether its unique aroma plagued your superheroes lunchbox, or you were greeted with the deadly tuna noodle casserole at dinnertime, it's safe to say, canned tuna gets as bad a wrap in the U.S. as instant mac-n-cheese. And, now that we're all a little older and much, much more sophisticated, we banish canned tuna from our chic existence. Oui, oui.

Well, as far as this tuna genre is concerned, I consider myself lucky. I was raised in the U.S. by immigrants, so I didn't discover tuna-as-cheap-food-staple until college. You know, there was actually a time when my mom bought canned tuna, but I think it was just for show-- some kind of mercy on us for when our 'white' friends came over. My brother slid the jars of bagoong and jackfruit to the back of the 'fridge, and we feigned tuna in the cabinet like everyone else. My dad, who did most of the cooking in the house, never touched them.

During college, I worked at nouveau diner that served a very serious tuna cheddar melt on cornbread. While its mayo goodness and ooey cheese complimented the salty, chunky salad well, an odyssey was born out of the fact that I wasn't exactly impressed... I didn't understand tuna salad until I came to San Francisco and had BiRite's housemade. It was a food moment.

Capers. Red onion. A curious lack of celery. Good mayonnaise. It was tuna salad reborn on my palette so much so that I never bothered to steal their recipe. I took a tub of it on the road when I moved from California to Colorado.

(I feel BiRite's house items kindof have goût de terroir. It's the micro-climate!--in the way NY bread has NY water.)

Smuggling tuna salad through the Sierras. I know it sounds crazy, but as a child I was terrorized by pots of oxtails (and tripe) in peanut butter sauce that simmered away on the stove for half a day. (My dad was always 'perfecting' it.) I had zero tuna trauma. It was a new taste.

Soon enough, I discovered tuna in olive oil. In Italy, where I tend to think there's also a lack of tuna disdain, it's called tonno in olio d'oliva. If you're trying to kick your mayo habit as I am these days, the olive oil offers a different take on richness. And, it's just the right ingredient to make a tuna salad for your chic, grown-up tastes. I borrowed the capers from BiRite's recipe, and add in pepperocini, crushed red pepper and extra drizzles of extra virgin olive oil from me.

A little decadence. A little bite.
Molto Chic Italian Tuna Salad

- 1 - 6 oz. can tuna packed in olive oil, drained
- 1 T. non-pareil capers, some juice
- 1 small shallot clove, thinly sliced
- 1 or 2 golden pepperocini, sliced into rings, to taste
- 1-2 t. extra virgin olive oil, the best you have, to taste
- 1 to 1 ½ t. lemon juice, meyer's are great

- kosher salt and ground peppercorn blend, to taste
- crushed red pepper flakes,optional
- white italian flatbread (like focaccia) or pita bread
- aioli, optional

Drain and place tuna in prep bowl. (You may want to add back some of the drained liquid depending on texture of the tuna.) Add capers, shallot (better than red onion!) and pepperocini. Mix gently with a spoon while breaking up the tuna. Add salt and pepper, olive oil and lemon. Mix gently again, then taste. Fix seasonings. Chill in refrigerator covered in plastic wrap.

Cut flatbread or pita into triangles or small squares just larger than bite-size. Toast until medium golden. Let cool slightly. Cover will small amount of aioli or olive oil mayo. Top with chilled tuna salad. Scatter thinly sliced shallot and-or pepperocini rings. Drizzle with your best extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes.

Close your eyes. Imagine yourself reclining while tasting the azure Mediterranean air!

(Spicy bits.)

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