Traditional tonnato hails from Piedmont, a region in north-western Italy that borders France and Switzerland at the foot of the Alps. But I dare say the tuna for this creamy and flavoursome condiment was originally harvested off the Ligurian coast. Once cooked, the tuna was combined with anchovies, garlic, cooked egg and olive oil and pounded into a sauce. It’s rich to taste and luscious in texture and is sublime with thinly sliced cold meats.
I like it with cooked veal, in particular, but I have also served it with finely shaved cooked pork scotch or neck. It’s also so good spooned over ripe but tart sliced tomato and is a delight when the sun is shining. Ripe heirloom or dense oxheart tomatoes are best, as their flesh is perfect and robust against the richness of the sauce.
Tonnato is so versatile – you can also try it with boiled eggs or slathered over grilled bread that has been perfumed with garlic and drizzled with a peppery, vibrant extra virgin olive oil. Here are some other garnishes I sometimes use: finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano; the soft yellow leaves from celery heart; eight to 10 extra anchovies (Ortiz would be my pick); a handful of tiny pitted Italian or Greek olives; shaved white salad onion; a couple of handfuls of basil leaves.
Time: 30 minutes preparation (+ one hour for the garlic)
Serves 4 as an entree (plus extra for the fridge)
- 1 large garlic bulb, roasted
- 7 hard-boiled eggs (with the yolk just set), peeled and chopped
- 250g tinned tuna in oil, drained (Sirena is best)
- 2 tbsp tiny, salted capers, rinsed
- 8 anchovy fillets (Ortiz)
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 120ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp flaked salt
- 1 lemon, juiced
- water (up to 50ml), to emulsify
- Wrap the garlic bulb in baking paper and foil and roast in a 165ºC oven for an hour.
- When the garlic has been in the oven for about 45 minutes, hard-boil the eggs. My method is to put the eggs straight from the fridge into a pot of boiling water, cook them for eight minutes and immerse them in iced water for 15 minutes before peeling.
- While the eggs are in their ice bath, remove the garlic from the oven. Cool and then cut and squeeze the garlic from the bulb.
- In one batch, blitz the garlic with the boiled egg and the rest of the ingredients down to the flaked salt in a Thermomix or high-speed blender until smooth and the consistency of thick whipped cream. Add the lemon juice to taste and enough water to reach the desired consistency.
- Use immediately or keep in the fridge for up to four days. This sauce is also perfect in a focaccia sandwich with rocket, boiled egg, olives and roasted capsicum. It can also be served with grilled asparagus or broccolini, or with seared rare tuna steaks, green beans, roasted capsicum, anchovies and basil.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 18, 2023 as "Tonnato, tomato…".
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