Oh, baby it’s cold outside! I put the dogs out into a backyard full of 5-degrees of coldness. I’ll put practically anything between two slices of bread and call it a sandwich, but today it’s going to have to be be a hot one.
PROVENÇAL TUNA MELT
Purists may cringe at the use of “Provençal” and “Melt” in the same phrase, but sometimes the envelope exists to be pushed, you know? I’ve grouped some of the flavors that remind me most of Provence, put them between some good, grilled bread, and added a soft, melt-y cheese. And any day I can stand on a soapbox and proclaim the glories of tuna packed in olive oil is a good one.
- 1 6-ounce can tuna packed in olive oil*
- 1/4 of a red bell pepper, 1/4″ dice
- Green parts of 2 scallions, 1/4″ dice
- 2 teaspoons capers, drained, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
- 2 tablespoons mayo
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 4 slices good bread
- Olive oil
- Slices of soft cheese; use as much as you like. I used a tender, fresh Asiago Pressato*
- * Tuna packed in olive oil is one of the genuinely great things in life. It has a tenderness that the water-packed varieties lack utterly. It costs a bit more, and is worth every penny. The daughter and I became hopelessly addicted to it last summer in Italy and France. We’d buy small cans in 3-packs. We used it in pastas, on salads, and carried it in a backpack for impromptu lunches, knowing we could always score good bread with which to eat it. It’s become a pantry staple I wouldn’t want to try to do without. Read more about local sources here. To use it for this sandwich, don’t drain the oil off too aggressively. Leave about half of it in the can; it will contribute a lovely silkiness to the filling. Scrape the tuna and oil into a mixing bowl.
- May I tell you about an easy way to break down a bell pepper? Stand it on end, position your knife at the bump of the “shoulder”, and slice down, following the curve of the pepper. You’ll take off about a quarter of it, and leave the seeds and white pith attached to the center. Slice the pepper into strips, then lay a few at a time on their sides to chop. A knife will cut through the skin much more easily from the side than if you lay the strips skin-side down or up. Especially if your knife isn’t, ahem, as sharp as it probably should be. Add the peppers to the bowl.
- Slice the scallions and add them to the bowl. Roughly chop the capers (you’re just trying to break them up a bit) and add them to the bowl. Mince the thyme (the stems on my plant in the kitchen window are so tender that I don’t even need to pull the leaves off) and add it. Eyeball the mayo, but don’t use a heavy hand. You want just enough to bind the mixture. Squeeze in the lemon juice and add the red pepper flakes. Gently stir everything together.
- Turn on the broiler. Set a rack a notch below the one right under the broiler; that will let the filling warm and cheese melt without either burning. I prefer broiling the outsides of the bread, then adding the filling and cheese, and passing everything under the broiler again. I love the additional layer of flavor that comes from allowing the cheese and edges of the bread to brown on the inside, rather than simply melt, as they would in a skillet or press. Lay bread slices outsides-up on a baking sheet NOT lined with parchment, for what I trust are obvious reasons. I was teaching a class a couple of years ago during which we broiled something. I suddenly saw eyes widening and fingers pointing at the oven behind me. Yes, I’d set a piece of parchment on fire, but fortunately not the kitchen. Brush the slices with olive oil and place under broiler. Don’t walk away. They should brown nicely within about a minute or two. Remove the baking sheet and use tongs to turn over slices of bread. Divide filling between two of the slices, and arrange cheese on the others (I used a peeler to shave off thin curls that I could pile up, but they still melted perfectly). Return to broiler. Heat for about 2 or 3 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and golden brown, and filling has warmed.
- Remove from oven, Use tongs to turn the cheese-y slices over on top of those spread with filling. Slice in half, and serve immediately. Pour some glasses of a crisp white wine and raise a toast to global cuisine.