Tuna, a pantry staple, is a workhorse in the kitchen

Posted June 26, 2012, at 4:36 p.m.

Don’t knock canned tuna.

It’s rivaled in its versatility only by its price. A 5-ounce tin serves two — just add mayonnaise and bread — for about a buck.

“Water-packed tuna is low in fat and calories,” said Marla Nawrocki, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation in Modesto, Calif. “It is also high in protein and contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.”

A 2-ounce serving, about ¼ cup drained, of water-packed tuna has 10 grams of protein, 50 calories and 1 gram of fat.

Processed tuna is the ultimate in convenience food. Open a pouch and eat or, with a little more effort, turn it into a sandwich for lunch. Tuna also can take a starring role at dinner — and with not much more effort than making a sandwich.

For tuna and chips casserole, empty a 10½-ounce can of cream of mushroom soup into a 1-quart casserole dish. Mix in ½ cup milk. Drain a can of tuna and add it the soup along with 1 cup crushed potato chips and 1 cup cooked green peas. Sprinkle top with ¼ cup crushed potato chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Spaghetti with tuna is just as easy. Brown garlic in olive oil, add 2½ ounces canned tuna in oil, 3 tablespoons tomato paste and a tablespoon or two of water. Cook for 15 minutes. Add parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss with cooked spaghetti. Come and get it. It’s dinnertime already.

There’s no doubt tuna works hard, but it can do more. Try tuna burgers, tuna on salad greens, tuna in a bean salad with onions. The list goes on.

A quiet revolution in canned tuna means it’s time to stop turning up your nose at this pantry workhorse.

“Most large seafood producers cook their fish twice,” according to America’s Test Kitchen, which sampled eight brands of canned solid white albacore packed in water. The tuna is cooked once before it’s canned, and then again when it’s heated inside the can to kill harmful bacteria. Some of the lesser-known brands cook the tuna just once, “which preserves its fresh flavor and texture.” The findings are summarized in “Pasta Revolution: 200 Foolproof Recipes That Go Beyond Spaghetti and Meatballs” (America’s Test Kitchen, $26.95).

Crispy Tuna Sliders with Citrus Slaw

Makes 8 sliders

Ingredients:

1 small red cabbage, shredded

1½ tablespoons sugar

Sea salt

1 tablespoon poppy seeds

½ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 fresh lime, juiced

Cracked black pepper to taste

½ cup minced fresh parsley

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 fresh red chili pepper, minced

1 rib celery, minced

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon celery seeds

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon heavy cream

3 green onions, finely sliced

2 cups canned tuna in water, drained

½ cup dry bread crumbs

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Canola oil

Slider buns

Instructions:

Slaw: In a large bowl combine shredded cabbage, 1 tablespoon sugar and ½ teaspoon salt. Toss; cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. In a jar, combine the poppy seeds, mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon Dijon, lime juice, ½ tablespoon sugar, ¼ teaspoon sea salt and lots of black pepper. Close lid and shake until blended. Pour dressing into slaw, along with a ¼ cup of parsley, and toss.

Tuna patties: Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, chili pepper, rib of celery, cayenne, celery seeds, ¼ teaspoon salt and ground pepper to taste.

Sauté for three minutes, then take off heat and let cool for about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together egg, cream, 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, green onions, ¼ cup parsley, the garlic-chili-celery mixture, sea salt and black pepper to taste. Fold in tuna and bread crumbs. With lightly floured hands, shape about ¼ cup of tuna into a patty. Dredge each patty in flour and freeze for 10 minutes. Heat ½ cup canola oil to 350 degrees in a large frying pan and fry tuna patties for three to five minutes, until golden and heated through. Place each patty on a bun and top with the citrus slaw.

This recipe is from “Nadia G’s Bitchin’ Kitchen Cookin’ for Trouble,” by Ballantine Trade Paperback ($22).

Stuffed Rigatoni

Serves 6

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

¾ pound rigatoni

8 ounces ricotta cheese (1 cup, pushed through a sieve)

1 (7-ounce) can imported tuna in oil, drained

1 cup heavy cream

2 cups (about 5 ounces) freshly grated Parmesan

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Instructions:

Coat a 13-by-9-by-2 baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add rigatoni and boil until half-cooked (see package for directions). Drain and transfer rigatoni to a large bowl of cold water.

Blend ricotta and tuna in a food processor until soft and smooth. In a medium bowl, mix cream and Parmesan, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Fill a pastry bag with a ¼-inch-wide conical nozzle and fill the rigatoni. Arrange in orderly rows in the baking dish. Pour the cream mixture over the stuffed rigatoni and refrigerate for three hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove rigatoni from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake uncovered until brown and bubbling on top, about 25 minutes. Serve hot with parsley sprinkled on top.

This recipe is from “Bake Until Bubbly: The Ultimate Casserole Cookbook,” by Clifford A. Wright (Wiley, $22.95).

Curry Tuna Noodle Casserole

Serves 6

Ingredients:

4 ounces brown rice penne (1½ cups)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cups diced cremini mushrooms

1 cup diced red bell pepper

1 shallot or onion, finely diced

½ cup frozen peas

2 teaspoons curry powder

1 tablespoon fresh thyme (1 teaspoon dry)

2 large eggs

2 (5-ounce cans) white albacore tuna, flaked

1½ cups shredded white cheddar (5 ounces)

½ cup low-fat milk

Juice of half lemon

Grated Parmesan, salt and pepper

Instructions:

Cook pasta according to directions. Drain and set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add mushroom, bell pepper and shallot or onion. Cook five minutes. Add peas, curry powder, thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Heat until peas are tender, about one minute.

In a large bowl, lightly beat eggs. Stir in pasta, cooked vegetable mixture, tuna, 1 cup cheese and milk and lemon juice. Divide among six jumbo muffin cups and pack tightly. Top with remaining cheese. Bake until golden on top, about 25 minutes. Cool before unmolding.

This recipe is from “Muffin Tin Chef: 101 Savory Snacks, Adorable Appetizers, Enticing Entrees & Delicious Desserts,” by Matt Kadey (Ulysses Press, $15.95). White mushrooms work great in this recipe. Chunk light tuna can substitute for albacore, but gives the dish a fishier taste.

© 2012 The Modesto Bee

Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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