What to do with a can of tuna?

Yellowfin!
Yellowfin!

The humble can of tuna does not always inspire great culinary adventures, but I am here to tell you that many a delicious dish can result from this common pantry item. How many uses can you come up with at the drop of a hat? Tuna salad sandwich, tuna noodle casserole, next..? Well, I spent some time thinking, researching, and cooking about this very same question. I set some ground rules: the recipes had to have an unusual, creative, or original element (not the usual tomato-stuffed-with-tuna-salad). They had to have wide appeal (children should like it too), relatively easy and quick to make, and didn’t necessarily have to be a main meal. I ruled out tuna as dessert, that was going too far.

So, first…what tuna to use? The good ol’ Chicken of the Sea packed in water works well in all these recipes, but I decided to return to my Italian roots because after all, canned tuna is a popular food choice in Italy and part of a very important industry as well. Moreover, the flavor of the Italian brand tuna is more intense and saporito (“tasty”), better for dishes in which you want an ingredient to stand out. In my quest for the most practical can of tuna to use I came across two brands at my local market:

image_20133011461_o

And another brand, Tonnino, which comes in a can ($4.99) or in a jar at a whopping $7.99. These are all packed in oil…and yes, I understand this may be a drawback (I too use water-packed for most common everyday use), but the olive oil packed tuna is more flavorful.  The olive oil should be drained, but not all of it so that the tuna remains moist. Which do I prefer? Luckily, they are all very good. The Genova brand is my choice for all purpose use. The Coalma is quite delicious, but  more costly at $3.99 for a small can of 5 oz.

And how about this: what is the relationship between tuna and the organization Greenpeace? In my quest to know more about tuna, especially the fishing of yellowtail tuna in Italy which is in crisis, I came across this page on the Greenpeace site which rates various canned tuna products according to the company’s fishing and production practices. Take a look – this is fun: http://www.greenpeace.it/tonnointrappola/rompiscatole/  The term “rompiscatole” means literally to break a box (or can in this case), but colloquially means annoying troublemaker. So Greenpeace is scrutinizing the tuna industry’s sustainable fishing practices and transparency to the public. While none of the brands I listed above appear on the Greenpeace page, they all claim to line fishing and good practices. Phew! Also on the Greenpeace page are recipes for tuna dishes which I thought not only sounded delicious, but also practice “green” methods of cooking. Here is the link to tuna eggplant polpette  (or “meatballs”) resting on a bed of pesto sauce: http://www.greenpeace.it/tonnointrappola/ricette_polpette.html

With that lengthy introduction to canned tuna, here are some ideas you may not have considered, but would like to try.

Here is one of my favorite summer salad or side dish, romano beans cooked in tomato sauce and tuna added at the end.

Romano Beans and Tuna in a Tomato Sauce

Fagiolini al tonno e pomodoro
Fagiolini al tonno e pomodoro

I wrote a post years ago in my other blog. Here is the link:

http://buonatavolaefantasie.blogspot.com/2012_08_01_archive.html

Speaking of green beans, the following is another favorite. This is a wonderful addition to a buffet as a different kind of salad. refreshing and oh so good!

Green Bean Salad with Tuna and Red Onion

Insalata di fagiolini can cipolla rossa.
Insalata di fagiolini can cipolla rossa.

Lightly steam a pound of green beans, cool, and add a can of drained tuna, half  a thinly sliced red onion. Add olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

Here is another favorite, a salad with white cannellini beans. Same idea as the green beans. I was having a little fun with this by putting it in a cocktail glass.

image_20254527999_o
Insalata di cannellini e tonno

Or maybe a pasta is more to your liking! This was a favorite of my family’s – a good “go-to” meal when the pantry looked spare and many mouths to feed! This dish especially reminds me of my years in Pisa at my aunt’s house, helping her cook noon day dinners. She was a busy professional with a big household, so this dish came in handy, especially on Fridays during Lent.

Spaghetti with Tuna

Spaghetti con Tonno
Spaghetti con Tonno

Put a pot of water to boil. While the water is coming up to a boil, prepare the sauce. In a small saucepan,   place 1-2 cloves (or more if you like) of whole garlic in 1/4 cup of olive oil and 1/2 cup of butter. Drain a can of tuna and place it in the pan with 3-4 anchovy filets (drained from their oil). I like to throw in some red pepper flakes as well. Cook gently for about twenty minutes until the sauce is smooth, almost creamy. Add a little of the pasta water if the sauce appears to be dry. Cook a pound of spaghetti (not the thin kind), drain and add the sauce. Sprinkle with a little parsley and serve.

This recipe can be made with tomato as well. Just add a can of peeled tomatoes (crush them in a food processor so they aren’t too chunky) to the garlic and anchovies, cook for a few minutes, then add the tuna. Add a little water, then cook the sauce down until thick.

I can think of a few more ideas using canned tuna…one is perhaps the most special of all,  vitello tonnato (or veal in tuna sauce). In fact I have the meat cooking on the stove as I write this. But because it is the “king” of all tuna inspired dishes, I will dedicate a separate post just to it…so stay tuned! What ideas using tuna do you have to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop me a note in the comment box!

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