Let's say you stockpiled tuna when you went on your first big grocery spree to get you through this stay-at-home period. You can't eat it all as tuna sandwiches! Tuna can be the basis of good lunches and dinners beyond sandwiches. Here are some ideas to help you mix it up. These are meant to be inspirations, not rigid recipes, because it's about using what you have, not going out shopping for fresh fennel or Spanish peppers.
1. Better tuna salad for sandwiches
Make a standard tuna salad – a can of tuna, 1/4 cup mayo, diced celery is my basic formula – and add a squeeze of lemon and a generous amount of zested lemon peel, or even a finely chopped slice of lemon: pulp, peel and all (except seeds, obviously). The improvement is remarkable. I like chopped black olives in my tuna salad always, but I know that's controversial. And chopped parsley or chives or another fresh herb is recommended. (The chives are up in my garden, confirming that time has actually moved since mid-March.)
2. Fancy tuna salad No. 1
Add a splash of tasty olive oil and a spoonful of capers, along with maybe a little caper brine and two or three finely minced anchovies. (Anchovies optional, for obvious reasons. But a little anchovy can really prop up the flavor of tuna in any of these recipes.) Make a sandwich and work on your presentation. You've got time.
3. Fancy tuna salad No. 2
Regular tuna salad with chopped roasted red peppers or canned pimentos or Spanish piquillo peppers or peppadews.
4. Tuna melt
Tuna sandwiches don't seem like dinner, but tuna melts do. Basically, you're making a grilled cheese sandwich with a generous layer of tuna salad. It's just harder to turn over. So butter a piece of bread, put in the skillet, top with a spoonful of tuna salad, then slices of your favorite melting cheese. Put another piece of buttered bread on top. Push down with a spatula and grill till the bottom piece of bread is crusty. Carefully turn it over, cook until the second side is crusty and the cheese is melted.
5. Fancy open-faced California tuna melts
Toast a piece of bread or two. (Sourdough is good.) On the toast, layer tuna salad, sliced tomato, sliced avocado and slices of a good melty cheese like Monterey Jack. Run it under the broiler until the cheese melts (while you watch it carefully). Eat it open-faced.
6. Creamed tuna
The homiest thing I can think of, something I only make when I'm sad and it's raining. Or there's a shutdown of normal life. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add four chopped scallions or minced onions and cook until soft. Add 3 tablespoons of flour and a teaspoon of dry mustard (if you have it) and cook for a minute. Pour in milk while whisking. Cook until the sauce is smooth and thickened, 10-15 minutes. Add two 7-ounce cans tuna and stir gently. You can add other things if you want, like frozen peas, but keep it homey. Have it on toasted rye bread or biscuits or a baked potato. Or make tuna and noodles with it.
7. Classic tuna and noodles
Mix the above amount of creamed tuna with 10 ounces of egg noodles, cooked. I just eat it like that and find it very comforting. But you can put it in a pyrex dish and cover it with breadcrumbs mixed with melted butter or crushed potato chips and grated cheese if you want and bake uncovered 20-25 minutes until the top is crisp. Serves 6.
8. Tuna with pasta No. 2
There are a lot of variations of this dish: tuna in a spicy, briny tomato sauce. It's a real go-to for me as a meal straight out of the pantry. Mince 6 cloves of garlic, saute it in a skillet in the oil from a can of tuna (or olive oil if your tuna is in water). After a minute, add three cans of diced tomatoes and 1 1/2 cups of their juice. Cook until it thickens, add 3/4 cup chopped Nicoise or kalamata olives, 1/4 cup capers and 3 cans of tuna in oil. Mix in 1 pound cooked penne or other pasta and up to 1/2 cup reserved cooking water, cooking gently and stirring until combined. (I think you could get away with 2 cans of tuna.) Make it spicy with red pepper flakes or a spicy chile sauteed with the garlic.
9. Tuna boat supreme
As inspired by Taco Casa in Norwood, a suburb of Cincinnati. (An approximate recipe.) Make a tuna salad with lots of mayo. Wrap it up in a flour burrito, put in a microwavable dish, top it with ranch dressing, a lot of mild cheese, melt in the microwave or oven. Sprinkle a bunch of raw chopped onions and pickled jalapenos on top. OR: Skip the burrito, make it a dip and eat with corn chips.
10. Tuna and white bean salad
One can tuna, one can rinsed white beans, 1/3 cup sliced oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion or scallions. Toss with dressing of 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1/3 cup olive oil. If you don't have dried tomatoes, improvise. Canned artichoke hearts would be a good substitute, or fresh tomatoes. Eat for lunch with lettuce and cherry tomatoes. P.S. If you don't have white beans, make it with garbanzos like I did. It's almost as good, but the white beans are classic.
11. Salade nicoise
This is not usually a pantry meal, but if you happen to have at least four of the five essential ingredients, it's worth making. Then make it again this summer when this is all behind us and remember what a weird time we lived through. I always compose it on a plate, but you could just mix everything together in a salad bowl. I cover a plate with lettuce, put a can of chunky tuna in the middle of it. Then in segments around it: cooked, marinated green beans. Boiled fingerling or tiny potatoes, or quartered red potatoes. Kalamata olives. Tomatoes (cherry in the winter, whole quartered in tomato season.) Hard-boiled egg wedges. Pour an olive oil vinaigrette over it all. (You could use any green vegetable instead of green beans. Asparagus would be good. Artichokes. Frozen sugar snap peas. Even lightly cooked, chilled broccoli.)
12. Tuna croquettes
More traditionally made with canned salmon but good with tuna, too. Make the creamed tuna mentioned previously, except use 3 tablespoons butter and 4 tablespoons flour. Put it in the refrigerator to chill until firm, overnight or most of a day. Make 8 patties with the mixture. Beat an egg with a tablespoon of water on a plate and put 3/4 cup breadcrumbs on another plate. Dip the patties in the crumbs, then the egg, then the crumbs again. Fry in hot oil until crisp. Serve with tartar sauce.