Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Storey Cooks: Pan-Seared Tuna with Panzanella and Aioli

Storey publicist Alee Moncy makes a summer meal full of Mediterranean flavor.

I’ve been patiently tending the tomato plants in my garden, and though I’m relieved that there are little green tomatoes on most of them, none are ready yet to pick. So I was thrilled when I found a nice selection of ripe heirloom tomatoes at my local market. To get ready for the celebration of Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook I chose a few of the best to use in the recipe for Pan-Seared Tuna with Panzanella and Aioli.

While toasted chunks of baguette soaked up the juices from chopped, fresh tomatoes, I prepared the salad dressing and my husband took on the task of seasoning and searing the tuna steaks in a hot cast iron skillet. When it was time to make the aioli, I doubted my ability to turn a raw egg yolk and some oil and lemon juice into an edible condiment, but with enough whisking, sure enough, it soon came together.

When at last everything was tossed, plated (we added some fresh arugula in a moment of inspiration), and topped, the colors of the tomatoes together with the basil and arugula made a vibrant backdrop for the fish. The taste of the fresh salad paired wonderfully with the bread that had soaked up flavors from the dressing and the warm, garlicky tuna.

We’ll be keeping this recipe in our summer repertoire and may even make it again as soon as our own tomatoes ripen. Grilling the tuna outside would make the meal even more summery, and since all of the elements are so quick to pull together, it would be a great dinner to make on a weeknight, or to serve when company is visiting. Enjoy! — Alee Moncy, Senior Publicist

Don’t forget: Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook is our Storey Cooks Book Club selection for August. When you share your tomato-themed photos on Instagram with the hashtags #storeycooks and #tomato, you’ll be entered to win a copy of the book!  (Full details here.) 

Pan-Seared Tuna with Panzanella and Aioli

Serves 4


8 thick slices day-old baguette or country-style bread, cut into cubes
1½ pounds (about 8) ripe paste or heirloom tomatoes, cored
¼ cup sliced fresh basil
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)

4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper

4 tuna steaks (4-6 ounces each)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups arugula
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar or lemon juice

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. For the panzanella, spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a large baking sheet and toast for 5 minutes, until lightly colored.
  3. Position a sieve over a bowl. Coarsely chop the tomatoes, place them in the sieve, and let them drain for a few minutes. Set the tomatoes aside in a separate bowl and reserve the tomato juices.
  4. Add the bread to the tomato juices and leave it for about 3 minutes, until the bread has absorbed most of the liquid. Add the bread and basil to the tomatoes and toss well.
  5. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper in a small bowl to make a dressing. Pour over the salad and toss. Taste and add the lemon juice and additional seasoning if you think they will improve the salad. Set the panzanella aside.
  6. For the aioli, place the garlic on a cutting board and sprinkle with the salt; mash them together using the chef’s knife or other wide blade.
  7. Position a medium bowl on a wet paper towel to prevent slipping and add the garlic, egg yolk, and mustard, if desired; whisk until pale yellow. Add the oil, drop by drop, whisking continuously, until the sauce begins to thicken. Whisk in the remaining oil in a slow stream. Taste and add the lemon juice and pepper to taste. The aioli should be as thick as mayonnaise; if it is thicker, thin with a few drops of water.
  8. For the tuna, season the steaks with salt and pepper. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over high heat and sear the steaks for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until medium rare. (If you don’t like tuna that is rare in the middle, cook for a minute longer on each side.)
  9. Toss the arugula with the olive oil and then with the vinegar.
  10. To assemble the dish, spoon a serving of panzanella salad onto each dinner plate and top with a piece of tuna. Put a dollop of aioli onto the tuna and garnish the plate with the arugula.
Note: The aioli becomes thicker more quickly with the addition of mustard.

Recipe excerpted from Tomato: A Fresh-from-the-Vine Cookbook ©2010, 2004 by Lawrence Davis-Hollander. All rights reserved.

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