Tracy of Amuse Bouche for Two usually makes me long for things like tomatoes and mozzarella. Or pasta in a mushroom and cream sauce. Or just pasta. But she has been holding on to a food memory that I think we all have buried somewhere in our collective unconsciousness. Because I know that I have a tuna melt food memory and I’m betting that you just might too. Here’s Tracy’s:
Panini for Lunch
On the counter, a 9″ round aluminum pan. In the pan, standing side by side like soldiers, six pieces of Schmidt’s Blue Ribbon white bread, crust on, folded. Inside each slice of bread, tuna salad made with Bumble Bee light tuna (packed in water), Miracle whip, Vlasic dill pickles, celery, salt and pepper (from matching glass shakers—there was no such thing as cracked black pepper or coarse sea salt in our house—we were a McCormick house, through and through). On top of that, a slice of Kraft cheese, usually sharp cheddar.
Mom would slide the 9″ round aluminum pan into the hot oven (350 degrees sounds about right), centered on the center rack. I would wait most patiently. I loved mom’s invention, tuna boats. The bread would toast and the cheese would melt. A plate of two would be handed to me. Eating would commence in the living room with me sitting Indian-style with plate on lap, staring up at our Montgomery Wards television set.
The first one was always piping hot and the only proper course of action was to bite away at the crust with melty cheese first (almost like an ear of corn). After that you could go in bite by bite until the very last bit was cool. Inevitably chunks of tuna salad would plop down to the plate (becoming finger food). By the time the first boat had been eaten, the second boat had cooled to a toasty warm, easy to eat. Although, I must admit, I stuck with the same course of action, eating-wise.
Fast forward, thirty odd years. Roberto and I have just come in from shoveling. It’s the second winter storm of the season, but the first of two blizzards that will pull things to a standstill in our charm city over the course of a week. There’s some nice crusty Italian bread that I’ve painted with olive oil. I’ll sandwich between the slices our version of tuna salad and a slice or two of cheddar cheese:
- Two cans natural tuna (light, not albacore)
- Three stalks celery (diced)
- Half medium yellow onion (diced)
- A hefty handful of parsley (chiffonade, just to change things up)
- Three to four dill pickles (diced)
- Salt (pinch)
- Red pepper flakes (pinch)
- A few turns of black pepper
- To that, half mayo/half extra virgin olive oil (to the wetness one prefers)
The light near the panini press handle tells me it’s ready (green means go). I put the sandwiches in place and pull the top grill down, slowly…slowly…slowly. Ssshhhhhsssshhh, goes the olive oil. Any moisture in the bread steams out. The smell of warming tuna salad, cheese, olive oil and toasted bread fills the kitchen. This is a trusted smell, so much so that I would happily fall back into it’s arms without fear of it not catching me.
What was once plump pieces of crusty Italian bread are now flattened with beautiful golden grill marks. The cheese, only escaping here and there. Compact and ready to eat, I slice two generous panini in half and side with more dill pickles. Eaten with our favorite potato chips (Utz) and a glass of Boddingtons pub ale.