Tuna-stuffed tomatoes are a summer classic

Wednesday, August 7, 2002

BATON ROUGE, La. -- For these warm weather days, plan a Saturday supper on the patio. Don't grill. Don't heat up the kitchen. Think cool and classic. Serve old-fashioned tuna-stuffed tomatoes.

This main dish salad couldn't be easier or less expensive to make. Most cooks have all the ingredients on hand, so the recipe can be thrown together on the spur of the moment, too.

The two key elements are tomatoes and canned tuna. For this salad, you shouldn't mind using store-bought tomatoes. Slightly underripe tomatoes, the kind shoppers find in most supermarket produce departments, may not be the tastiest, but they work well as containers for cold tuna salad. The firm tomatoes are easy to carve and hollow out and will hold their shape even when stuffed with the creamy filling.

The quality of the canned tuna is important. Don't buy chunk light or the less expensive tuna. Buy the albacore tuna. The taste and texture difference in the albacore tuna will distinguish the salad. The chunk light tuna is too finely flaked and will create a mushy tuna salad, fine as a sandwich filling but unacceptable as a stuffing for tomatoes.

For best results, make the tuna fish salad filling a couple of hours before serving so it will thoroughly chill. However, it is not necessary to make the salad the night before; in fact, it's better not to because the flakes of tuna hold moisture and can make the filling watery the second day. If that happens, re-mix to blend the juices back into the mayonnaise binder.

An experienced cook once showed me how to make tuna salad that would never have a fishy or metallic taste from the can. When you drain the tuna, put it in a fine-meshed colander; don't just drain it from the can. She rinsed the tuna in a colander with cold water and while rinsing, she broke up the chunks with her fingers so that the flakes of tuna were uniform in size. After rinsing, she would put the colander of tuna in the refrigerator for 30 minutes while it drained.

It's no longer necessary to skin or peel tomatoes because the newer varieties have thinner skins already. After hollowing out the tomato (reserve the tomato insides for sauces or salsas), turn it upside down to drain for 20 minutes.

If you won't be stuffing the tomato shells within a half hour, put the upside-down tomato shells on a paper towel in the refrigerator until ready to fill.

Tuna-stuffed tomatoes are a delight. Here are three recipes for tuna salad. Each is seasoned slightly differently. Try one of these or use your favorite tuna salad recipe.

Family-Style Tuna Salad

Two 6-ounce cans albacore tuna

2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

1 cup chopped celery

3 tablespoons chopped sweet pickle

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley, optional

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon red pepper

Dash of hot pepper sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Creole-style mustard

Rinse and drain albacore tuna in a colander. Refrigerate for 30 minutes while the tuna drains. Mix flaked tuna with chopped eggs, celery, sweet pickle, onion, parsley. Season with salt, black and red peppers, hot pepper sauce, and mix together. Stir in mayonnaise and mustard to moisten and bind. Chill.

Classic Tuna Salad

Two 6-ounce cans albacore tuna

2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup minced celery

2 tablespoons minced red onion

2 tablespoons minced dill or sweet pickles

1/8 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Drain the tuna in a colander and shred with your fingers until no clumps remain and the texture is fine and even. Transfer the tuna to a medium bowl and mix in lemon juice, salt, pepper, celery, onion, pickles, garlic and parsley until evenly blended. Fold in mayonnaise and mustard until tuna is moistened. Salad can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

French Tuna Salad

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Two 6-ounce cans albacore tuna, drained

1/4 large ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into small pieces to make about 1/2 cup

1 tablespoon minced shallot

2 tablespoons chopped celery

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped basil leaves

To make dressing: In small bowl whisk together mayonnaise and mustard. Season with salt and pepper.

In large bowl, add tuna and break into small pieces with back of fork. Add avocado, shallot, celery, basil and dressing. Stir to combine. Refrigerate until ready to serve or stuff in tomatoes.

Tips on stuffing tomatoes:

--Choose firm tomatoes that will hold their shape when cut and hollowed out.

--Cut from stem end. Scoop out seeds and flesh, being careful not to break outer shell of tomato.

--Drain hollowed-out tomatoes upside down with stem tops of tomatoes saved alongside. Refrigerate.

--Fill with chilled albacore tuna salad shortly before serving. Garnish with stem tops, if desired.


Tommy C. Simmons is food editor of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

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