It's Tuesday night. Dad's on a business trip. Mom has four energetic boys chomping at the bit for dinner. Out comes the canned tuna, a bag of noodles, a can of cream-of-something soup, and my worst nightmare - tuna noodle casserole.
Okay, tuna noodle casserole wasn't really all that bad. In fact, I rather liked it. But because of that casserole, canned tuna has a bad reputation as being the last thing between you and starvation.
Here, in our house, we used high-quality canned tuna quite often. One of our favorite dishes is pasta with tuna, lemon, and capers. Simple. Tasty. Fast.
Another favorite way we use it is in hors d'œuvres. When we were in Venice we had it puréed on crostini and dusted with cocoa powder, and we have made a riff on salmon rilettes using tuna. Both of these preparations started with canned tuna.
And, of course, we use canned tuna in our Salade Niçoise. Nowadays, everybody is trying to make their Niçoise salads fancier by serving them with grilled tuna. I prefer the traditional method using the best quality canned tuna.
To us, the secret to our culinary success with these dishes has been using tuna packed in olive oil.
I'm not in the mood to research different canned tunas, so here are my anecdotal thoughts: Tuna canned in water generally tastes fishier to me. And it feels mushier on my tongue; it has almost no texture. I’m not really a fan. Certain companies are now canning their tuna in oil, but not necessarily in olive oil. Sorry; still not convinced, although it is a step in the right direction.
I generally buy Genova brand tuna packed in olive oil from San Diego(this is not a sponsored post), because it is the most widely-available brand locally. But, I also keep my eyes open when in Italian import stores for other brands direct from Italy. The quality is definitely better.
Today, I am making perhaps the fanciest dish for which I use canned tuna. It is a recipe (with my edits) from Food & Wine this holiday season. It is creamy and smooth - it is Pâté au Thon.
I found this pâté to be an elegant dish to go with a bottle of Domaine Chante Cigale Châteauneuf-du-Pape sent to me by Susan at the Provence WineZine for pairing notes. (Click here to see the pairing notes.) Normally, I would think that a white wine is not a sit-in-front-of-the-fire kind of wine, but this one is different. It is so full-bodied, unctuous, and comforting that it lovely in the winter as well as in summer. And I am sitting in front of the fire enjoying it right now with the pâté - a far cry from that tuna noodle casserole 'round the kitchen table.
2 10-ounce cans tuna packed in olive oil, drained
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup heavy cream
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
6 anchovy fillets, drained
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika, optional (for garnish)
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, optional (for garnish)
Toast or crackers, for serving
Line a 5 1/2-inch by 3 1/2-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving plenty of overhang.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the tuna, butter, cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, cayenne, anchovies and the 3 tablespoons of capers. Season with salt and pepper and process until smooth.
Spoon the pâté into the loaf pan and smooth the top. Spoon any remaining pâté into a small crock for a more casual presentation. Cover with the loaf pan overhanging pieces of plastic wrap, and cover the crock with additional plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 8 hours or overnight.
Unwrap and unmold the pâté onto a serving dish. To decorate the unmolded pâté (optional), place two pieces of paper – approximately 5-inches by 2 inches – on top of the pâté about 1/4 inch apart, pressing slightly to get good, clean edges. Sprinkle the paprika on the1/4-inch strip of pâté, then gently remove the paper on both sides. Cut a 5-inch by 1/4-inch strip of paper to cover the paprika. Press the chopped parsley onto the pâté, and remove the strip of paper covering the paprika. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Serve with toast or crackers.