Eat Like It’s 1959: Mediterranean Tuna Pasta & Tuna Cakes

2 Jan

So, 2012. Hi.

Lorraine, a born hostess

Stephen and I, and a small group of our dearies said “farewell” to 2011 this weekend.

Ajla visits from DC!

It was a pretty good year. It deserved a party.

The ladies ... we're looking .... um ..... well, there's always 2013

I have a good feeling about 2012 – I think we’re going to be friends. In fact, I’m ready to tackle it like a fierce February wind, howling over the Nebraska plains. 2012: With a Vengeance.

However. I will attempt to temper my rabid enthusiasm with a dose of pecuniary medicine. First step? Finding creative recipes that are frugal, yet fab. The first frugal edible that springs to mind is canned tuna. The second thing that springs (or rather lurches) to mind is extreme boredom, with random blips of aesthetic (ugh, mayo-logged wet sandwiches) and moral revulsion (surely I’m not the only child of the 80’s who automatically associates dead dolphins with tuna fish).

Not fab.

Still … Tuna’s pros are hard to ignore:

  • The fish is a fantastic source of Omega-3’s, a fatty acid essential for our health, but something our body cannot manufacture; Omega-3’s ensure cardiovascular efficiency, stymie cholesterol, fight inflammation and combat cellular degeneration.
  • Tuna is brimming with high-quality protein and selenium, important for our overall health, energy levels and ability to detoxify. (My liver is begging for selenium after the holiday onslaught of rich desserts and extra glasses of vino.)

The cons, however, are equally compelling:

  • The high levels of nervous system-ravaging mercury make it a dicey choice for young children and pregnant moms. (The FDA says 12 ounces a week is safe, but I’d reduce it to 6 to be safe and source it from small, organic companies that carefully spell out where and how they catch their fish).
  • The worst offenders in the tuna category are solid white and chunk white – albacore and chunk light have lower levels of mercury and other toxins found in large ocean-dwellers. Albacore is more substantial and “chunky” than the chunk light, so it’s what I go for every time.
  • Then there’s the “dolphin issue”. Despite the cheerful “no dolphins harmed” label on the can, there is little guarantee that dolphins have not been injured in tuna-fishing expeditions – not to mention scores of other large fish. Since scandals in the 1980s and a widespread consumer boycott of tuna, the industry has shaped up, but there are still widespread abuses and problems in the industry, resulting in upwards of 100,000 tuna-fishing related shark, porpoise and other wildlife deaths each year, depending upon which report you’re reading. The World Trade Organization recently ruled that it is no longer legal for companies to use the “dolphin safe” label on their can. So far, the WTO ruling has not been enforced. Stay tuned.

In other words, tuna is complicated, even if America’s favorite way of eating it – the dreaded tuna salad Sammie – is anything but.

To shake things up, I revamped a few tried and true recipes starring our scandal-ridden hero, canned tuna, and also trotted out a few slightly tarted up old faves. It looks like tuna can be as delish and exciting as it is wholesome and fiscally responsible.

Here’s to a 2012 as well-rounded as Kim Kardashian’s rear! Click on for recipes for Mediterranean Tuna Pasta and Tuna Cakes, plus links to my favorite classics, kicked up a notch.

Old faves, with a twist:

  • Leave it to Martha Stewart to dish up the perfect – you guessed it – tuna salad sandwich. It’s a chic tweak of the Yankee classic, with apples and a handful of chopped basil between sourdough slabs.
  •  Emeril, of course, embraces the homey low-brow route with a seriously awesome tuna tetrazzini. Seriously!
  • Desperate for an easy, flavor-packed, wallet-friendly first course or hors d’ oeuvres for a cocktail party? Try this recipe for tuna-stuffed cherry tomatoes from Bon Appetit.

The olives add a brine-y punch. Capers would work too.

Mediterranean Pasta

Makes 6 servings


  • ½ TBSP olive oil
  • ¼ pound bacon, cut into ½ pieces
  • 2-4 TBSP black olives, sliced in half, to taste
  • ¼ cup sundried tomatoes in olive oil, drained and minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cans of albacore tuna, drained
  • 1 oz Parmesan, grated, plus more for garnish
  • 1 lb penne or favorite pasta
  • ¼ cup heavy cream (optional)
  • Salt, black and red pepper to taste


  • Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.
  • Heat oil in large skillet. When hot, add bacon and cook until fat is rendered and bacon is golden brown. Add olives, tomatoes, garlic, salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes over medium heat until fragrant. Add tuna, cook over low heat for a few minutes, breaking it up with a fork. Add cream, simmer briefly. Toss pasta with tuna sauce, grated Parmesan and serve with a few more grinds of pepper.

A few more cracks of pepper and she's ready to go

Nutritional Breakdown for Mediterranean Pasta: 400 calories and about 9 grams of fat per serving.

Cost Breakdown for Mediterranean Pasta: My mom told me about a little bacon trick she recently adopted, and I’ve embraced it too. Instead of buying a whole packet of fancy bacon for $7 and watching half of it gum up in the fridge, I’ve started asking my butcher to just give me a ¼ pound or so of his organic slab bacon at a time – it’s a fraction of the cost, even more delicious and I use it one go. This dish came out to about $1 per serving.

Verdict / In the Future: This is a great mid-week option. It’s easy to throw together, and it packs well for work lunches too. Keeps up to 5 days in the fridge.

Go for a golden-brown crust

Tuna Cakes

Makes 4 servings


  • 2 cans of Albacore tuna, drained
  • 1 ½ TBSP olive oil
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 2 TBSP mayo
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice, plus 1 tsp of lemon zest
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 TBSP minced tarragon (or ½ TBSP dried)
  • 1 slice white bread, torn into small pieces
  • 1 tsp sriracha sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  • Mix all items reserving 1 TBSP of olive oil, in small bowl. Shape into 4 patties. Chill for up to 6 hours, covered in saran wrap in the fridge, or proceed.
  • Heat remaining TBSP of oil in medium-sized pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add tuna cakes and fry until golden brown on each side, about 3-5 minutes per. Serve in small buns with mayo and avocado, or serve solo, with salsa or a nice garlic aioli.

Nutritional Breakdown for Tuna Cakes: About 250 calories and 12 grams of fat per serving.

Cost Breakdown for Tuna Cakes: About $0.75 a serving.

Verdict / In the Future:As complexly flavored and surprisingly sophisticated as they are cheap and easy to crank out, these are the Anderson Coopers of fish cakes! Trot them out at your next get-together.

Nothing like a New Year's Day hike on the Appalachian Trail to help you put things in perspective

2 Responses to “Eat Like It’s 1959: Mediterranean Tuna Pasta & Tuna Cakes”

  1. Susan January 2, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    A thought-provoking post, indeed. I not-so-secretly love tuna tetrazzini (and it’s so alliterative!) and I guiltily, if happily, eat tuna sold in fancy cans at Whole Paycheck. The “Mediterranean pasta” sounds particularly toothsome. Fun post. Happy New Year!

  2. sundayinthekitchen January 2, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    Happy new year to you too!

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