Valerie Harrison flips through one of her all time favorite cookbooks and decides to gently escort one recipe into the 21’st Century.
Text And Photo By Valerie Harrison
When I first started learning to cook in my home kitchen, one of the initial things I discovered was that the key to outstanding meals was using good quality ingredients. As time passed I realized that this meant either growing or purchasing the best local ingredients available which with today’s trends has become easier and easier with a resurgence of farmers markets, specialty food shops and local producers.
What has taken me years to understand is that recipes are merely guidelines and are open to any interpretation. I used to follow recipes to the letter and they always turned out well, but as the years progressed, and I have become confident in the kitchen, I am more open to experimentation and substitution. A good example would be this Layered Chef’s Salad with Tuna Mayonnaise Dressing reminiscent of an Italian tonnato sauce that I discovered a lifetime ago from the Silver Palate series of cookbooks. Even as a teenager I collected recipes like hockey cards and had a burgeoning cookbook collection.
Back in 1982, two women who changed the way we thought about home cooking, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, put together a cookbook filled with recipes from their gourmet catering business in New York, City, “The Silver Palate.” Back in the day their cookbooks were my culinary bibles with their revolutionary approach and early trendsetting. This was the age of nouvelle cuisine when shallots, button mushrooms and flat-leaf parsley were hard to find. It got people thinking about what they were doing at home with food and how to recreate restaurant quality dishes in our own kitchens.
My original Silver Palate cookbook remains in the kitchen cupboard, splattered with food stains and filled with memories. As I flip through it, I marvel at all the dishes I have prepared and all the recipes that have landed in my prized, best-of-the-best personal collection. When I open it up, it talks to me!!! I can hear laughter and animated conversations from wedding showers, wedding receptions, graduations and L’il Burnt Toast’s recitals where many dishes from their pages shone. Recipes like Linguine with Tomatoes and Basil. Chicken Marbella and Butterflied Leg of Lamb are still welcome additions to any get together. The series inspired me to become a better cook and to continue a life long love affair with cookbooks.
Many of you are familiar with tonnato (tuna) sauce which is spooned over thinly sliced chilled veal or chicken breast to make a tasty alfresco meal. Once the warm weather hits this silken, briny, creamy tuna sauce is an addictive addition to our summer repertoire. It is equally adored spooned over thick slices of rare roast beef, or, as in Italy, poached veal. If you have a glut of summer tomatoes, that’s perfect, too. “Tonno” is Italian for tuna, and the name of this dish refers to the primary ingredient in the sauce. The tuna is blended with capers, olive oil, and lemon juice to make this a rich, flavourful sauce. This recipe uses a twist on the classic by creating a homemade mayonnaise based sauce perfect for summer salads.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed the Silver Palate version on many occasions but for today’s salad, loosely based on the one above, it is all about simplicity and using what I have on hand. Mine is a much quicker version but the original is highly rated! My interpretation uses Spring greens plucked from the garden, farm fresh eggs, fresh mozzarella and local asparagus. My recommendation for any tonnato is to poach the chicken in the cooling breezes of a summer morning. This would also be a good time to whip up the tuna mayonnaise using tuna packed in oil for the best flavour and allowing time for the flavours to marry well.
The mayonnaise recipe is an exact duplicate from the Silver Palate series. It makes 3 cups which is overkill for this particular recipe. You can cut the recipe in half or do as I do and make a delicious pasta salad!!!
Valerie is the author of More Than Burnt Toast living in British Columbia, Canada. Join Valerie as she explores the worlds cuisine using local and sustainable ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest. Every day we should be inspired and excited about what we are eating even if it just means making use of a wonderful find at our local farmers market.