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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tin or can? Either way tuna's a treat

Don't invite me to your homes. I peek in cupboards and the fridge. I ask impertinent questions about your eating habits. I scour for recipes at the most inappropriate times. You will be on deadline, or asleep, or in an important deal-clinching meeting and a cheery voice on the end of the phone will ask: "Petal, would you ever consider chili sauce when you make lasagna, or just go for plain?" I guess it comes from the erroneous assumption that everyone else is as interested in food as I am. Which brings me straight to this week's subject: uninteresting food. Name me the one thing you buy at the supermarket every time you shop. It comes in a tin (or can for the 34 percent of you reading this who are of the American persuasion) and it is not tomatoes. I must confess I am out of the habit of using it, but that is just because I am on a Chinese food cooking curve at the moment and I don't think it makes it's way preserved into that cuisine. It has kept students and vegetarians all over the world alive and in vitamins since the time of the Greeks, and it is one of the fastest foods around. Open the tin and serve. Give up? You probably guessed it two paragraphs back. Yes, it's tuna. Tuna Fish, or Tunny as some people call it. (Isn't that a great name. Every time I hear it I can't help but make up jokes such as: "Nurse quick, I've just come down with a bad case of Tunny tummy.") It has been on my mind lately, because it seems every book I have been reading has involved some minor character, usually a neighbor, leaping into the plot by bringing over a tuna casserole to give succor to the bereaved. Mid-west American novels have a plethora of this. It is also the main export commodity of Gizo. And I saw a live one leaping majestically out of the sea a few weeks back. It was huge and didn't resemble a tin in any way, shape or form. But for me the most fascinating thing about tuna is the fact that everyone I called has a recipe for it. Everyone, even non-cooks. And the recipes are much more imaginative than I could ever devise. One call to my friends in Panfilovsky Pereulok who are great cooks yielded the best crop: two great ways to prepare it. Andrew's mummy Barbara has a clever dish with tuna that can be eaten cold or hot. Chop up 1 apple, half or a quarter of onion depending on your craving, mix in 1 heaped tablespoon mayonnaise and add a tin of tuna and plenty of black pepper. You can eat it cold in a salad, or put it on toast, add a slice of cheese and grill it. Try also Jenny's one, which is simplicity itself. You do need to have a tube or jar of prepared pesto handy, but that is not such a scarce commodity anymore. Mix together a tin of tuna, a tablespoon of olive oil, a dollop of plain yoghurt, a heaped teaspoon of pesto and serve it over hot or cold spaghetti. I questioned Alistair as to his preferences, but he just likes to risk tunny tummy by eating it straight out of the tin. Alistair is the cat. The tuna sandwich crowd (numbering in the thousands on my telephone poll -- thank goodness local calls are free) all generally agree that a bit of celery will go a long way. If you can find it. Lemon juice doesn't hurt. And the mayonnaise of choice is Hellman's. Try mixing a tin of tuna, celery, onion, salt and pepper, little bit of lemon juice, a splash of white worcestershire sauce, and a dollop of mayonnaise just to moisten it, don't make it too sloppy mind you. Serve with lettuce and tomato on wholewheat bread. You could also go for the Washington Post fiery-eyeball-bulging version: a tin of good quality tuna, mash very well with the tines of a fork, add very small minced celery, Hellman's mayonnaise, paprika for color, little red bell pepper finely minced, celery salt, a half teaspoon of cayenne pepper and a splash of tabasco. Hmm, not bad at all. All these dishes are making me peckish. And what contribution do I have to offer? Someone else's this week. From the Trattoria Cibreo in Florence, a place I have never been to because I abhor Florence. DON'T CALL IN AND COMPLAIN! I love Italy, really. It's just that I find there are always people like me walking around Florence pretending desperately that they are not the pig dog tourists who are walking around ruining the place and therefore don't gawk at everything a good tourist should. I went in winter. Twice. And that was enough for me. I also found the restaurants exceptionally ordinary. But then again if your only clientele are tourists anyway, who would want to make an effort? The original recipe calls for dried oregano, which I don't have. And my culinary advisor's brother used cumin seeds, which are much easier to find. But you can choose. Tuna Dip with Lemon and Cumin Seeds 1 medium (6 oz) tin Italian tuna packed in olive oil 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 tablespoons good olive oil 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or 1 teaspoon dried oregano) 1 clove garlic, finely chopped Salt and pepper Break up the tuna in the tin with a fork and transfer the tuna plus the oil from the tin into a food processor or blender. Add the butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, cumin seeds and garlic and process until you have a smooth and creamy texture. Season with salt and pepper. Stir well and serve with bread, on toast or with stalks of celery or sticks of carrot if you are feeling decorative. This dip will keep happily for a few days in the fridge, and can be made well in advance if you are having guests over.