Tuesday, April 7, 2020
April 7, 2020

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Tuna in the time of quarantine

Twists on two classic tuna recipes highlight versatility, even fun, canned fish provides

By , Columbian News Assistant
Published:
5 Photos
MONIKA SPYKERMAN/The Columbian
Our family favorite tuna sandwich contains sweet pickle relish, Parmesan cheese, roughly chopped sweet gherkins, a squirt of ranch dressing and grated cheddar cheese on toasted honey whole wheat bread.
MONIKA SPYKERMAN/The Columbian Our family favorite tuna sandwich contains sweet pickle relish, Parmesan cheese, roughly chopped sweet gherkins, a squirt of ranch dressing and grated cheddar cheese on toasted honey whole wheat bread. Photo Gallery

Now that many of us have loaded our pantry shelves with enough canned goods to last through Thanksgiving, the next question is: What can you do with 30 cans of tuna? Here are two timeless tuna recipes with tips for tingling your tastebuds.

Tuna-With-a Twist Sandwiches

Start with the blank canvas: one can of drained tuna plus as much or as little mayo as you prefer. Then add flavors like an artist would add colors. Our family favorite features a heaping tablespoon of sweet pickle relish, a splash of lemon juice, a squirt of ranch dressing (don’t tell the food snobs; it’ll be our secret), a quarter-cup of Parmesan cheese, and salt to taste.

For embellishment, throw in a pinch of fresh or dried dill, some roughly chopped sweet pickles for texture, and a quarter-cup of grated cheddar cheese. Serve on toasted or plain bread (a hearty whole wheat is good, and so is marbled rye). This recipe also makes an excellent open-face tuna melt; instead of mixing in grated cheddar, lay a slice on top and pop it in a toaster oven or under the broiler until the cheese melts.

For a spicy, south-of-the-border tuna sandwich, try adding finely chopped fresh or pickled jalapenos or roasted poblano peppers, cilantro, a dash of cayenne or cumin (a little bit of taco seasoning will also work), and cotija cheese instead of Parmesan or cheddar. Serve with a side of chips and salsa and, for maximum irony, pair with a cold bottle of Corona beer.

For a Mediterranean-inspired tuna mix, add sliced olives, finely diced red onion, quartered cherry tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes preserved in olive oil, and crumbles of feta cheese.

For a Thai tuna salad, substitute lime juice for lemon juice and add a half-teaspoon of yellow curry powder, a chiffonade of fresh basil or cilantro, a few shakes of dried ginger or a half-teaspoon of freshly grated ginger, and a teaspoon of coconut milk.

All these ingredients aren’t in everyone’s pantry or fridge, no matter how well-stocked — but you may have some of these things, a little imagination and a readiness to experiment on unwitting family members. If you don’t like it, remember: You still have 29 cans of tuna left.

Tuna casserole a la quarantine

Do you recall the tuna casserole your mom used to make? No? Or perhaps yes, but you’d rather forget it? Well, this is not that tuna casserole. This is the tuna casserole that you will create with a basic, fool-proof recipe and a good rummage in the back of your fridge, freezer or pantry.

The basic casserole consists of a can of tuna (no need to drain; juice will add to the flavor), one can of cream of mushroom soup (you can also use cream of chicken), and two to three cups of any kind of dried, short pasta: macaroni, rigatoni, rotini, penne, shells, farfalle or egg noodles … you get the idea. Cook and drain the pasta, mix together with the tuna and soup.

Sautee a whole small to medium onion in olive oil or butter until the onion is soft and slightly golden. Add it to the tuna-noodle-soup mixture, along with about 2 heaping tablespoons of sour cream, cream cheese, or even a quarter-cup of heavy whipping cream.

With this rich flavor as the base, add frozen veggies: peas (a classic choice), broccoli, cauliflower or mixed vegetables. Canned veggies, like green beans, will also work, and canned mushrooms are superb. Try a bit of whatever’s fresh in season, chopped and sauteed in olive oil or butter: asparagus, zucchini and yellow squash are all delicious. If the quarantine stretches on into the summer, don’t despair! Mix in diced ripe tomatoes, or slice them thinly on top, covered with cheddar cheese. As long as there’s enough cheese on top, no one will care what vegetables you’ve snuck into the casserole.

But really, don’t be stingy with the cheese. Mix it in with the tuna and layer it on top. Blend several cheeses together, whatever you’ve got — Jack, colby, mozzarella, Gouda, havarti — and be generous with the Parmesan, because hey, it’s shelf-stable.

For a crunchy topping, here’s a use for the slightly stale potato chip bits that gather at the bottom of the bag: crush them into a uniform size and sprinkle them over the cheese. Panko bread crumbs also add a marvelous crunch. If you don’t have either of those, a handful of smashed Ritz crackers will do the trick. Now throw the whole thing in the oven at 350 degrees until the cheese melts. Serve with a salad and antacids to offset all that cheese.

The important thing is to experiment. This is how family favorites are created. Try a recipe several times, tweaking things until you find a combination your family loves. They’re not going anywhere. Besides, you’ve still got 28 cans of tuna left.

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