Are you familiar with what is easily the greatest of all Italian cold dishes, vitello tonnato? It is composed of poached veal sliced quite thin and layered lasagne-style, each successive layer of veal covered with a sauce made of canned tuna (packed in olive oil), mayonnaise, anchovies, and capers. It must marinate at least 24 hours, during which time the flavors of tuna and veal interpenetrate, each dissolving into the other, and producing something that is like no other dish of meat or fish in its tenderness and sweetly piquant taste. (The recipe is in my previous book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.)
Finding myself at
At home I cooked the tuna in a vegetable broth, taking care to cook it briefly and gently so that it would not dry out, which is the fate of overcooked fresh tùna. I prepared a little sauce with olive oil, garlic, anchovies, capers, lemon juice, and mustard. I cut the tuna into domino-shaped pieces, spread the sauce over them, covered the dish tightly with plastic wrap, and left it out to try at dinner, 8 hours later. The tuna was as I had hoped, nearly melting in its tenderness and its taste breezily fresh, lightly piquant, and appetizingly fragrant. Once we started nibbling, it was difficult to hold back. But hold back we did because I wanted to see if, like vitello tonnato, it would improve after a day or two in the refrigerator. In fact a similar exchange between the tuna and its condiments took place, and it became an even more perfectly integrated dish. Please, don’t eat it icebox cold but at the comfortable temperature of a not-too-warm dining room or a pleasantly ventilated patio.
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