Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Not Your Mama's Tuna Salad

Life with a child, I am learning, means that sticking to a schedule is vitally important. For a few months, that is. Then the schedule changes drastically before the new one is established and must, again, be stuck to verbatim for the next few months. It is I that gets knocked out of whack every time a new schedule change smacks me across the face. I had finally adapted to Odd Toddler's new summertime schedule when The Carnivore threw me for a loop and began working later every day. I don’t mind that he leaves for work at 6:30 in the morning, but is has taken some adjusting now that he usually doesn’t get home until 6:00 at night.

My more complicated and time-intensive dinner recipes are having to wait for the weekends now, which means I am having to develop a new repertoire of faster and simpler menus for weeknight meals. This is no easy feat for me. Though I absolutely love picking out new recipes, I seem to be drawn to the more complex menus. With The Carnivore working later, and with Odd Toddler falling asleep earlier, after hours in the pool every afternoon (and therefore needing cuddle time earlier), I find that I either can’t start dinner until The Carnivore gets home, or poor Odd Toddler falls asleep before dinner, or The Carnivore gets home to a very cranky and over-tired Odd Toddler who is stuffed after snacking while I cooked. ‘Tis frustrating, at the very best.

Needless to say, I am learning to adapt. Again. And even though I’m not a big fan of cookbooks that are geared toward “quick and easy recipes,” I’m finding that I have no choice but to simplify our weeknight menus. The upshot is that I’m learning an entire new way of approaching dinner. While I already have a few easy recipes left over from the days, many moons ago, when I still had a Full-Time Traditional Job, our tastes have changed since then (read: we have gotten pickier and more spoiled by the elaborate recipes that I've been cooking).

So, even though I have never been a fan of Rachel Ray and her annoying 30-Minute Meals television show, I swallowed my snide comments and bought her latest cookbook when I found it for $1.00. My low opinion of her approach to cooking was reinforced when I realized that out of 365 recipes, I was drawn to only two of them. The vast majority either revolve around meat, or are boring and overly common.

With low expectations, I tried the first of those two recipes last week, a fancy-sounding tuna sandwich stuffed baguette, and was extraordinarily surprised to find that not only did I absolutely love it, but The Carnivore and my mother raved about it as well. I’ve always been kind of a sandwich person, but since The Carnivore isn’t a big fan of cold sandwiches, I had my doubts with this recipe. And then I was a little worried about the whole tuna salad thing too, since before now I have never run across a tuna salad worth talking about. Or worth eating, for that matter. This particular recipe takes the cake though. Its fresh and bright tasting, without the smarminess of the usual mayo and pickle based tuna salads everyone remembers from bad family reunions.

The artichoke hearts, the sundried tomatoes and the capers add a full-flavored tang the dish, and the arugula lends a spicy, peppery bitterness as well. A couple of anchovies could be added, if you're so inclined (which I'm not), and the onions could be replaced by scallions if you, like Yolie, have an aversion to the assertive red onion philosophy that I so heartily subscribe to.

FANCY TUNA SALAD STUFFED BAGUETTE (adapted from 365:No Repeats)
  • 1 crusty baguette (I used the chubby kind, those skinny Nicole Ritchie baguettes wouldn't work here)
  • 2 small cans Italian tuna in oil, drained
  • 15-oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 1/2 cup marinated sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • handful of fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped (the flat-leaf has MUCH more flavor than the curly variety)
  • handful of olives, chopped (I used a mixture of kalamata olives and pimento-stuffed green olives)
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 3 Tbs capers, drained and chopped
  • 2 cups arugula, chopped
  • 3 or 4 large basil leaves, chopped (or any other fresh herb that you're partial to)
  • coarse ground black pepper to taste
  • kosher salt to taste
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Crisp the bread in the oven. Remove, split in half, and hollow out some of the soft insides.
  2. Place tuna in bowl and flake it with a fork. Add the artichoke hearts, tomatoes, parsley, olives, onion, capers, arugula and basil.
  3. Dress salad with pepper, salt, lemon zest and juice, and olive oil. Work salad together.
  4. Overfill the bottom of the loaf, mounding the salad. Set the top in place and press down to set the sandwich. Cut into quarters.

Yummy. Makes me want to whip up a big batch and eat it for lunch all week long.

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