Jim Hillibish said good recipes help tune become a star on your table

Jim Hillibish and his wife, Kathleen, lived in an older home with a floor-to ceiling pantry just off the kitchen. According to Hillibish, it was the number of cans of tuna people most often noted.

It did not phase Hillibish. 

“Many of you are biased against this underappreciated seafood,” he said. “You’re prejudiced by the Saturday-night tuna casseroles your mothers made to save money and do a meal in a minute. Can canned tuna be more than canned tuna? Would you serve it to your boss? The surprising answer is yes, and yes.”

Hillibish believed Americans are stuck in tuna poverty, saying it is something we turn to only when we are short on cash.

“In Europe, canned tuna is a delicacy costing many times what we pay,” he said.” A friend of ours from England was amazed at the price here. He took home a case. (I’ve tried the more expensive imported tuna, and frankly, Charlie’s is easily the equal.)”

He considered tuna his kitchen’s 911.

“When all else fails, my wife is coming home in 20 minutes, I reach for a flat can. She never complains,” he wrote June 20, 2001.

According to Hillibish, tuna can turn a summer salad into a real meal, even be a delicious substitute for pepperoni on a pizza.

Hillibish held canned tuna in the highest regard. 

In his article, he shared three recipes that feature tuna. “Pop a can and try these extravagant recipes. I have a notion you’ll never again make fun of tuna,” he said to end his piece in 2001.

My take:

I chose to make the Terrace Tuna Pie (see below). Lots of tuna flavor and easy to make. It took all of 10 minutes to prepare, and most of that was spent on a saute for the onion and celery. Once the oven is preheated, pop the pie in for 30 minutes, and dinner is ready. This quiche-like dish would make a great brunch entree or is ideal for breakfast and even dinner, depending on your tastes. The pinch of red pepper flakes only adds to the flavor. If you don’t want to use onion rings, I think chopped onion would work as well. Also, I used Kraft five-cheese Italian shredded since Jim gave us the option of choosing the cheese.

From England:

“I’d just as soona eat me some tuna.” — Edgerton Reimes IV

TERRACE TUNA PIE

Ingredients: 

1 9-inch unbaked pastry shell

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup celery, diced

1 cup sliced onion rings

1 cup canned tuna

1 1/2 cups white cheese, shredded

3 eggs

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Pinch red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup half and half

Directions:

Saute the onion rings and celery in butter until the onion is soft and golden. Spoon alternate layers of tuna, cheese (your choice — sharp or Swiss), and the onion-celery mix into pie shell. In bowl, beat together eggs, cream, salt and pepper. Pour into pastry shell over other ingredients. Bake 400 degrees until firm, about 30 to 40 minutes. When knife point inserted into center comes out clean, filling is set. May be decorated with tomato wedges or cherry tomatoes. Cool slightly before cutting.

From Spain:

El atun de la lata sea tan bueno como caviar? (Can tuna be as good as caviar?)

APERITIVO 

Ingredients:

18-ounce can of pitted black olives, chopped

4 ounces capers

2 ounces anchovy fillets (optional)

2 ounces canned tuna in oil

Shot glass of cognac

Directions:

Crush ingredients with the round handle end of a utensil. Add cognac. Chill, covered, for 2 hours. Place in a glass bowl resting in crushed ice. Serve as spread with crusty fresh bread chunks.

From Italy:

Cazuela del atun de no su madre (Not your mother’s tuna casserole)

TUNA TETRAZZINI

Ingredients: 

8 ounces thin spaghetti, cut two inches long

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup flour

Salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground is best)

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup light cream or half and half

1/4 cup Marsala wine (optional)

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

2 cans (6 1/2 ounces each) tuna, drained and flaked

1/4 cup sweet red pepper, diced

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Directions:

Cook spaghetti al dente, drain and place into buttered bowl. Melt butter over low heat, blend in flour, salt and nutmeg, and stir constantly until mixture is smooth. Remove from heat, whisk in broth and cream, put back on heat, and bring to a boil, whisking constantly until thickened. Stir in wine and cheese.

Add sauce to spaghetti. Add tuna, pepper, mushrooms, and egg yolk to spaghetti mixture and toss. Pour into buttered baking dish and bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Sprinkle parsley over top just before serving.

From France:

Est-il un topper de salade d’ete, ou un sandwich? (It’s a summer salad topper, or a sandwich?)

TUNA NICOISE 

Ingredients:

2 cans tuna packed in oil (6 1/2 ounces each)

1 sweet red pepper, roasted, peeled, cored, seeded and julienned

1 sweet yellow pepper, prepared same as red

1 pickled jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

1/4 cup diced red onion

2 tablespoons chopped, pitted Calamata olives

2 tablespoons capers

1 bunch watercress, trimmed

Vinaigrette Dressing:

Extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Directions: 

Roast peppers by holding over heat with tongs until skin blackens. Place in paper bag, close and allow to cool. Peel off skin.

Dressing: Drain oil from tuna into glass measuring cup. Add olive oil to make 1/3 cup. Place oil in blender with remaining vinaigrette ingredients and blend.

In bowl, mix vegetables, olives and capers. Remove some of the soft inside from a loaf of French bread, cut in half lengthwise, Brush inside loaf with some dressing; add remainder to vegetable mixture. Mix in tuna gently, leaving chunks.

Grill bread, oiled side down, until toasted. Mound tuna mixture into toasted sides. Top with watercress and close. Slice into four-inch wide sandwiches.

Reach Denise at 330-580-8321 or denise.sautters@cantonrep.com. On Twitter:@dsauttersREP

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