Big Little Recipes

A 3-Ingredient Sauce-Slash-Spread for Any Vegetable

September 22, 2020

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else—flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re introducing whatever vegetable in your crisper to its new best friend.


As beige as beige gets, tonnato is an Italian sauce of tuna and mayonnaise—and often bonuses like anchovies, capers, olive oil, and lemon juice—whose classic accompaniment is veal. In her recipe for vitello tonnato, A Table in Venice author Skye McAlpine sums it up as: “one of those dishes that neither sounds nor looks half as good as it tastes.”

These are often my favorite dishes.

Though Marcella Hazan called vitello tonnato “Italy’s most celebrated contribution to the cold table,” she conceded that “breast of turkey and pork loin...offer excellent alternatives at considerably less cost.”

And why stop at meat? Tonnato knows how to treat produce right too. In Six Seasons, Joshua McFadden marries it with charred broccoli. For The New York Times, Melissa Clark calls in a ripe tomato.

Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. PROP STYLIST: SOPHIE STRANGIO. FOOD STYLIST: ANNA BILLINGSKOG.

All of which got me thinking about not just the vegetable possibilities, but also the fish possibilities. Because even as my pantry is stocked with several cans of tuna—and I wrote a multipage ode to canned tuna in the upcoming Big Little Recipes cookbook—there’s another ingredient that I find just as special: smoked fish.

And I’m not talking about lox or nova or kippered salmon. I’m talking about whitefish. Flaky and buttery, this is available at supermarkets, Jewish delis, and bagel shops in various forms: whole fishes, sections, and salad, which, like American tuna salad, is mostly fish and mayo.

Also like American tuna salad, whitefish salad is typically spread on something toasty, be it sliced bread, a halved bagel, a handful of Triscuits, what have you. But smoked fish mayo is happy to hang with vegetables too.

This week, I opted for beets, a beloved Big Little ingredient for its two-for-one thriftiness. Like carrots, radishes, and turnips, beets come with the, you know, beets, but also the greens, which are just as delicious as any bunch of spinach or kale or chard.

That said, if beets aren’t your thing—what is? Smoked whitefish mayo would love to be dolloped onto a baked potato or swooshed next to roasted Brussels sprouts. Or turn it into a dip for cucumber spears and fennel wedges. There are no wrong turns here.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

0 Comments