Wednesday, December 28, 2022

 Tonnato: My “Triple-Fish” appetizer accidently recreated a classic


There’s nothing new under the sun said the Book of Ecclesiastes over 2200 years ago. Illustrating the point, perhaps accidentally, Shakespeare restated the nothing-is-new idea some 1800 years later in Sonnet 59. I stumbled over that old truth myself several years ago when a dish I created turned out already to exist. I had, in effect, reinvented the wheel.
For my daughter Maria’s pottery exhibits I’ve developed several appetizer dishes to pair with her ceramic ones. One such creation was a dip I called then “Double-Fish Cream.”  This appetizer was suggested by, and designed to be served from, a dish of Maria’s inscribed with fish motifs.
The double-fish cream was well received at a fancy pottery-related gathering. An older, well-travelled German lady complimented me on my delicious “tonnato.” Hmmm.
Tonnato, a name I faintly recognized as an Italian sauce containing its namesake, tuna, was something I had never eaten or even seen, much less knowingly prepared. However, it turns out that, indeed, my double-fish cream resembles the classic sauce. Maria suggested that perhaps it was channeled down through our Italian ancestry.
An old-fashioned tuna-enhanced mayonnaise from northern Italy, tonnato also often contains anchovy and cream – as mine does – and typically contains capers – as mine does. While usually a sauce for cold sliced veal in “Vitello Tonnato,” a classy Italian restaurant dish popular in past generations, it can also be paired with sliced boiled potatoes for an elegant potato salad.
My dish, varying slightly from classic tonnato, uses cream cheese rather than egg and oil to make a mayonnaise, and contains traces of horseradish and tomato. I now call it “Triple Fish Dip” because I added a little Asian fish sauce as part of the seasoning.
So here is. I propose it as an appetizer to spread or dip onto thin bread slices or water crackers, or adding a little more liquid to make it a sauce, try it spooned over cold, sliced and lightly salted boiled potatoes for an elegant potato salad.
Wines that would go with this dip are crisp, chilled whites like Sauvignon blanc or Pinot grigio.
The recipe makes enough for 6-8 people, depending on what it’s served with.
Triple-Fish Cream Appetizer or Sauce
8-ounce package of cream cheese (or reduced-fat “Neufchatel” cream cheese)
1 (2-ounce) can anchovy fillets (at supermarket near tuna) or 2 tablespoons anchovy paste
1 (5-ounce) can tuna in olive oil, not drained
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/2 teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 medium scallion (green onion), cut in pieces
1 teaspoon capers, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon Asian fish sauce, plus more to taste, or substitute 1/4 tsp salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Fresh dill or parsley sprigs for garnish
In food processor, blend cream cheese, anchovy fillets and their oil (or anchovy paste), and tuna and its juices. Scrape down inside of the food processor bowl periodically with a spatula. Add remaining ingredients, other than dill or parsley, and blend well. If a wetter dip or sauce is desired, add a little more water, a tablespoon at a time.
Let sit 10 minutes. Then taste and add a little fish sauce or salt, if needed.
Serve in a shallow dish. Garnish with sprigs of dill or parsley.
Accompany with thinly sliced baguette, melba toast, bagel crisps, water crackers or other low-salt, unflavored crackers. Alternatively, serve mixed with thinly sliced, peeled, boiled potatoes that have been sprinkled lightly with salt.

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