Tossing in some new ideas to go along with tuna


Now that it is seriously summer, it is time to open a can of tuna, and then another, and then another.

Canned tuna is a staple of life especially in the summer, when hungry kids are hanging around the house looking for lunch, and when adults are looking for ways to avoid standing over a hot stove.

A primary appeal of canned tuna is its ease of preparation. If you are capable of operating a can opener, you are able to become a practitioner of canned tuna cuisine.

Another thing canned tuna has going for it is that, like a good heavy-weight boxer, it takes on all comers. No matter what is thrown at it - and over the years I haved tossed lemon juice, mayonnaise, chopped onions, bits of celery, carrots, apple slices, nuts, grapes, raisins and olves at it - the canned-tuna flavor emerges victorious.

You can, I think, tell a lot about people by how they treat their tuna. There are the nothing-touches-my-tuna types. They want the fish packed in water and served au na-turel. These folks eat this way because they are worried about something, usually the calories or "impurities" in the additions to basic naked fish. Naked tuna eaters can usually talk at great lengths about "additives in the food supply," but they tend to have trouble letting the good times roll.

Next are the tuna traditionalists. They want their canned tuna served only one way-- for example, with mayo on toast. If the cook deviates ever so slightly from the regime, if, for example, he adds a dash of pepper to the usual mixture, the traditionalists will refuse to eat it. In my experience, some of the most rigid tuna traditionalists on the planet are young children.

Then there are the innovators, folks who not only are willing to stick almost anything in their canned tuna but are also willing to stick a tuna mixture into almost any other fruit or vegetable. I put myself in this camp. Over the years, I have come up with some really creative combinations. My tuna almond sandwich is, I think, a stunner, even if no one else in the household will touch it.

There have also been some disappointments. Pushing tuna inside a raw bell pepper was, I admit, a mistake. The raw pepper was pretty chewy; some said "leathery."

But the other day I saw a recipe in the "Italian Farmhouse Cook-book" by Susan Herrmann Loomis (Workman Publishing, 2000, $24.95) that gave me fresh hope that the stuffed-pepper approach would work.

It called for mixing canned tuna with capers and stuffing this mixture inside roasted bell peppers. Roasting the peppers would soften them up, maybe take the leather out of them. The recipe called for highfalutin canned tuna, the kind packed in the olive oil. I don't have any of that. Instead I plan to use the cans of basic super-market tuna that are stacked to the rafters of our kitchen pantry. I have got plenty of time to perfect this recipe. Summertime, the time to open cans of tuna, has just started.

Roasted Peppers With Tuna

Serves 6

6 medium red bell peppers, roasted

2 cans, 6 ounces each, of tuna packed in olive oil

6 tablespoons capers

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Roast the peppers either on a barbecue grill or on the burners of gas stove, turning until the entire pepper is charred, and the skin is cracked and flaking.

Remove peppers with tongs and place in a brown paper bag, with top folded over, for 15 minutes. The steam will help to loosen the skin. When the peppers cool, rub the skin off the peppers, scraping off stubborn bits with a small knife. Remove the seeds and pith from the peppers, and pat dry with paper towels. Cut peppers lengthwise, into quarters.

Combine the tuna and capers in a food processor and process until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the olive oil through the tube, and continue processing until the mixture has turned an ivory color and is quite smooth, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Fill the pepper quarters with tuna puree.

Mince the parsley leaves and use as garnish.

- From "Italian Farmhouse Cookbook" by Susan Herrmann Loomis (Workman Publishing, 2000, $24.95)

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