Canned tuna goes bold with Mediterranean flavours

Ann Maloney

THE WASHINGTON POST – I love canned tuna. A simple tuna salad piled on toasted bread or stuffed inside a ripe avocado or tomato is my idea of a delicious lunch. I eagerly dig into a salad niçoise-style dish with chunks of the tinned fish attractively arranged on a plate with green beans, potatoes, olives, tomatoes and a boiled egg.

A supper bowl filled with chilled chickpeas, red onion, cucumber, carrots and tuna. Yum.

I stocked up on tuna as part of my effort to cut down on grocery shopping during the pandemic. The canned fish hits all the markers for me. It tastes great and is long-lasting, versatile and affordable. It’s also low in calories and high in protein. (It can, however, be high in mercury, so the United States Food and Drug Administration recommends eating it only once a week, especially for pregnant women and those with health issues.)

Here’s the thing, though: I’ve never liked canned tuna in hot dishes. Put it in a casserole, mix it in a fried fritter or toss it with warm pasta and it loses its charm for me. I’ll eat it, but not with the same relish.

That is until now. I came across a recipe for Mediterranean Tuna Panini recently and put my reservations aside because it contained so many things I think are delicious: marinated artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, capers, feta cheese and red onion.

Mediterranean Tuna Panini. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

That’s all tossed together with a little seasoning and olive oil. Then it’s piled on bread, pressed down and toasted until it’s crunchy on the outside and just warm in the inside.

No panini-maker? That’s OK. You can make these by using two skillets. Put a little oil in one pan, heat it, add the sandwich, then put the bottom of the other skillet on top of the sandwich. Weigh that top skillet down with a few cans from the cupboard. Wait a couple of minutes. Flip the sandwich and cook the other side.

I don’t know if it was because they were so skinny after being pressed down and so, psychologically seemed smaller, but I ate one sandwich and then – too soon afterward – ate another. Maybe it was because the crunchy outside and the feta mixed with that salty tuna filling was just so delicious.

The sandwiches can be made healthier by using water-packed tuna, which I prefer, whole-grain bread and, perhaps, cutting down on the feta and oil. And, talk about coming together quickly. These flat little sandwiches were on my plate in well under 30 minutes. Add a side salad or eat them with a cup of soup and a handful of chips.

MEDITERRANEAN TUNA PANINI

25 minutes

Four servings

Love tuna salad, but looking for a different way to use the thrifty tinned fish? Try this pressed sandwich. No need for fancy equipment. Just press the sandwich using use two skillets and other canned food for weights. Everything in the dish, except the feta cheese and lemon, comes from the pantry. Serve with chips or a green salad.

Storage Notes: Wrap sandwiches tightly and store in refrigerator for one day.

INGREDIENTS

Two cans chunk light tuna, drained

Half cup crumbled feta cheese

Three tablespoons chopped marinated artichoke hearts

Two tablespoons minced red onion

Two tablespoons chopped pitted kalamata olives

Two teaspoons capers, rinsed and chopped

Two teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Two teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Eight slices whole-wheat or white bread

STEPS

Set four 15-ounce cans of any food and a medium skillet by the stove.

Place the tuna in a medium bowl and flake with a fork. Add the feta, artichokes, onion, olives, capers, lemon juice and pepper; stir to combine. Divide the tuna mixture among four slices of bread. Top with the remaining bread.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat one teaspoon of oil until just shimmering. Place two panini in the pan. Place the medium skillet on top of the panini, then add the cans to that skillet to weigh it down.

Cook the panini until golden on one side, about two minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, flip the panini, replace the top skillet and cans, and cook until the second side is golden, about two minutes more.

Repeat with another one teaspoon oil and the remaining panini. Serve immediately.

Note: Recipes editor Ann Maloney prefers water-packed tuna, but you can make the panini with tuna canned in oil. Just make sure you drain either well, or the sandwich may get soggy.