Tacchino tonnato is a variation on a classic northern Italian dish, vitello tonnato. Made with thin slices of blushing pink, rare roast veal, vitello tonnato is topped with a creamy tuna sauce studded with capers. If you've never had it, tuna and veal seems like an unusual pairing. But, oh, does it work. And a turkey-tuna combination is just as delicious.
I first had this turkey tonnato after a tiring, exhilarating day spent harvesting wine in the Tuscan sun, clipping bunches of sangiovese (and my hand in the process), then pressing them. We were rewarded with a truly memorable meal—one of my absolute favorites. Marisa, the wife of the winemaker, prepared a simple tomato sauce, pepped up with an enormous bouquet of wild herbs she had collected between the biodynamic vines. The herby tomato sauce was more green than red, and every mouthful of spaghetti tasted like the joy of rolling in the grass as a child.
Then she brought out her tacchino tonnato. She says she got the recipe from the Silver Spoon, though I didn't see her once look at a book. She was the kind of cook who didn't use them, instinctively adding a bit of this, a bit of that, following that Italian rule of “quanto basta," as much as you need. She sautéed sliced onions in olive oil until tender and sweating, then added tinned tuna to the pot. Grapes forgotten, I focused on her cooking.
“Now, this will add flavor to the turkey breast,” she said as she lifted an enormous turkey breast and began to sear it in the pot with the onion and tuna. Next, she poured the good part of a bottle of dry Tuscan white wine over it, then left it to simmer until the wine reduced. The turkey was cooked through, but moist, while she blended the melange of drippings, onions, tuna, and wine together into a thick, delicious sauce. The final addition of capers is possibly my favorite part of a tonnato sauce—they just add the right amount of punch.
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I love how the flavors mingle together in this dish, but you can just prepare the sauce to use with some leftover turkey or another roast. Simply sauté an onion in olive oil, then blend with tuna, anchovies, and boiled eggs in a blender or food processor with a few tablespoons of mild olive oil and a dash of white wine vinegar or water until you have a thick, creamy sauce.
It's a recipe I make over and over again. Not only does it taste delicious cold or warm, but it's easy to serve—just the thing for a party or a buffet-style dinner of friends and family. Now, I like to add anchovies to the sauce, as well as a couple of hard boiled eggs for extra creaminess and richness. I like it more than mayonnaise, but there is that too.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.
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