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Tonnato (Tuna) Sauce or Dip

Pan Bagnat

By Barbara Beltrami

Some of you may remember Starkist’s Charlie the Tuna, the suicidal fish who boasted about the superiority of his peers who made it to the cannery. I don’t even know if he’s still around, but I do know that good tuna is a real treat whether it’s white albacore whipped into a salad with mayonnaise and celery and maybe a little onion or belly tuna packed in olive oil and served as part of an antipasto or just a fresh tuna steak, seasoned, then seared on the outside and rare or raw on the inside.

Beyond these basic and familiar tuna preparations are myriad dishes that seem to emanate particularly from the Mediterranean countries and are real palate pleasers. An unusual summer sandwich is something called pan bagnat, French for “wet bread,” composed of tuna, olive oil, vinegar, tomatoes and anchovies plus variable other ingredients on crusty French bread. Now think about a fresh grilled tuna burger with wasabi mayonnaise or tonnato sauce, a creamy tuna emulsion that is as good as a dip as it is as a sauce.

Pan Bagnat

Pan Bagnat

YIELD: Makes 4 servings


One crisp-crusted baguette about 18 inches long

4 to 6 flat anchovies

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon coarse sea salt or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Two 6-ounce cans oil-packed tuna with their oil

One medium red onion, peeled and cut into thin rings

Two hard-boiled eggs, sliced thin

½ cup chopped Kalamata olives

One large firm ripe tomato, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS: Slice the baguette in half along its length. Scoop out enough of the soft part of the bread inside to make a well in each half. With a fork, evenly distribute the anchovies along the length of the bottom half of the bread. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and oil from tuna until it forms a creamy emulsion. Place the tuna, onion, eggs, olives and tomato in order given on top of anchovies. Drizzle oil mixture evenly over layered ingredients and immediately cover with top half of baguette. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, set on a flat surface at room temperature and weight down with a heavy skillet in which have been placed a couple of heavy cans or objects. Let sit at least two hours; then slice into four sandwiches. Serve with potato salad or chips, fruit and cheese and a light red wine or ice cold beer.

Tuna Burger with Wasabi Mayonnaise

Tuna Burger with Wasabi Mayonnaise


YIELD: Makes 4 servings


1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

1 pound ahi or sushi-grade tuna, finely chopped

One egg, beaten ¼ cup minced onion

½ cup bread crumbs

Coarse sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon wasabi powder

1/4 cup mayonnaise

4 hamburger rolls

1 cup lettuce leaves, washed and dried

4 slices tomato

DIRECTIONS: In a medium bowl whisk together the sesame oil, soy sauce and pepper flakes. Add tuna, egg, onion, bread crumbs and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and form into four patties, cover and refrigerate half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat grill on high and mix wasabi powder with two teaspoons warm water; add resulting paste to mayonnaise and mix thoroughly. Grill tuna patties one and a half minutes on each side for rare, longer for medium and well done. Place on bottom halves of rolls, top with lettuce and tomato and spread top halves with wasabi mayonnaise. Serve immediately with potato chips or french fries and cole slaw.

Tonnato (Tuna) Sauce or Dip

Tonnato Dip

YIELD: Makes 1½ cups


One 4-ounce jar Italian oil-packed tuna with oil

3 anchovy filets, chopped

1½ tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

1/3 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

DIRECTIONS: Puree all ingredients in electric food processor until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with crostini, potato chips, crackers, crudités or over simply seasoned pork, fish, chicken, veal or pasta.