Tacchino Tonnato

Cold Turkey with Tuna Sauce

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


Appears in

Alastair Little's Italian Kitchen

Alastair Little's Italian Kitchen

By Alastair Little

Published 1996

  • About

Oddly enough, turkey is a popular meat in Umbria, and there it is raised to have some flavour. Legs and breasts are sold separately.

You would be unwise to tell your dinner guests the English translation of this dish before they taste it. This is an Umbrian adaption of the North Italian speciality, Vitello Tonnato. This substitution crops up a lot round Orvieto; turkey breast is roasted with rosemary like veal rump, escalopes of fillet are breaded and fried like Scallopini di Vitello, the legs are braised in red wine. Anything at all except roast the whole bird: the Italians are too canny with their ingredients, clever enough to always butcher a large bird and use the different parts to their best advantage. The part of the recipe devoted to roasting the breast makes a delicious hot dish without the tuna sauce, perhaps a hot dish one day then cold the next. Sounds like Christmas?

The turkey breast should be boned, skinned and not stuffed. If you get one from the supermarket, untie it and remove the stuffing and skin, re-tie and proceed.


  • 1 × 1–2 kg turkey breast, boned, rolled and tied (see above)
  • salt and pepper
  • about 2 tbsp good olive oil
  • 2 glasses dry white wine
  • 1 sprig rosemary (optional)
  • 2 small tins anchovies, drained and split lengthways
  • 2 tbsp capers, rinsed

For the tuna sauce:

  • 1 × 250 g tin tuna (best-quality in olive oil or drained of brine)
  • 1 egg
  • a handful of parsley leaves
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • approx. 500 ml good olive oil


The morning or day before serving, roast the turkey breast. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Season the joint very liberally. Find a flameproof casserole into which the turkey will fit snugly. Heat the casserole with a little oil over a medium flame. Drop the meat in and brown very thoroughly on all sides, about 10 minutes. This is very important, as the major taste in the meat comes from the well browned and wine-basted exterior.

Add the wine and baste. Place uncovered in the oven for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2 and continue roasting for a further 30 minutes, basting and turning frequently. If all the wine evaporates, add a little water. A sprig of rosemary is very welcome addition to this dish.

Check for doneness by inserting a small knife into the centre of the joint; leave for a few seconds then remove and test the heat of the blade on your lips. If you burn your lips the turkey is too done. If warm, then the meat is perfect; if cold or very lukewarm, return to the oven for a further 15 minutes, moistening with water as necessary.

Allow the turkey to cool, out of the fridge, occasionally rolling it over in the remaining pan juices.

To make the tuna sauce, it’s food processor time! My kind of cooking: put the egg, parsley, tuna and lemon juice in the processor bowl, season and whirl. Now add the oil in a thin stream with the machine running until you have a thick mayonnaise-like substance. Check the seasoning and acidity, and add more oil or lemon to your taste. Remove from the food processor bowl, but do not refrigerate, it may separate. Do not make too long in advance either as the fragrance of the lemon and parsley quickly fade.

To assemble the dish, cut the turkey into 1 cm steaks across the breast. Arrange one or two smaller slices on individual plates. Coat the meat with tuna sauce and arrange the painfully halved anchovies in a grid pattern on each one. (Think noughts and crosses here.) Dot each square with a caper and serve with an extra wedge of lemon if you fancy.