Preserved tuna

Author: Lisa Featherby
Photography: Ben Dearnley

King of the pantry, quality canned or jarred tuna is a star ingredient that can turn a fast pasta dish or quick snack into a favourite.

Like dried pasta, good canned or jarred tuna is one of those pantry items that's not just a make-do, pale comparison of the fresh ingredient but a great ingredient in its own right. Preserved in oil or spring water, the juicy chunks of tuna are just made to toss with beans, in salads or through a simple pasta sauce.

We love ventresca tuna, which is the belly cut. It's definitely pricey, but really is the top of the line. There are other less expensive options that are also good. When choosing tuna in a jar, look for creamy-pink flakes packed in reasonably clear oil.

Albacore is another tuna of choice in this office, with its sweet, delicate flavour and light creamy colour. It can be found in both premium Italian and Spanish brands - a can or jar will never go amiss in the pantry.

Provolone and tuna melt
Serves 2 as a snack
Split 1/2 loaf of ciabatta bread down the centre. Mix 125gm of drained preserved tuna with 2 tbsp mayonnaise, 2 finely chopped golden shallots, season to taste and spoon over ciabatta base. Top with 200gm thinly sliced provolone dolce and scatter with a little finely chopped basil. Top with the other ciabatta half and toast in a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat, turning once, until golden and cheese is melting (3-4 minutes each side). Halve and serve.

Quick vitello tonnato
Serves 4 as antipasto
Cook a 300gm piece of veal fillet in a pan over high heat with 2 tsp olive oil until golden. Transfer to an oven at 200C and roast, turning occasionally, until medium rare. Set aside to rest (30 minutes). Process 120gm mayonnaise, juice of 1 lemon, finely grated rind of ½ lemon, 80gm of drained preserved tuna, 2 finely diced golden shallots and 1 tbsp rinsed capers in vinegar in a small food processor until smooth. Season and serve drizzled over sliced veal.

Chickpea, fennel and tuna salad (pictured)
Serves 4 as a light meal
Combine 2 cups cooked chickpeas with 125gm of drained preserved tuna, 1 sliced small red chilli, 40gm grated parmesan, ½ fennel shaved on a mandolin, juice of 1 lemon and a good splash of extra-virgin olive oil. Toss, season to taste and serve scattered with torn flat-leaf parsley or other fresh herbs.

Spicy tuna and tomato spaghettini
Serves 4
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves, and 1 thinly sliced Spanish onion and stir until onion is translucent (3-5 minutes). Add 3 anchovy fillets, 2 thinly sliced small red chillies, 1 tbsp rinsed capers and stir until anchovies melt (1 minute). Add 500ml passata and simmer for 5 minutes. Cook 400gm spaghettini in boiling salted water until al dente (6-9 minutes). Drain and add to sauce with a little pasta water. Serve and divide 140gm drained preserved tuna among portions, season, then top with torn basil and shaved parmesan.

Hot tip: canned tuna breaks up very easily, so use a fork to gently prise it from the can, and mix carefully into a dish so the flakes stay intact.

Related link: fast seafood recipes.







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