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Pepin's tuna-stuffed tomato

Jacques Pepin
Click image to order Jacques Pepin's Fast Food My Way
Generally speaking, as a male of the species, reluctant to ask directions or to enjoy anything that seems too breakable and dainty, I've always had an instinctive aversion to salads stuffed into hollowed-out tomatoes and other such delicacies traditionally associated with "ladies who lunch."

But that was before I ran into Jacques Pepin's manly version of the tuna-stuffed tomato.

Pepin, a French chef who lives in the U.S., is familiar to most food enthusiasts through his many English-language cookbooks and television programs. His recent book, "Fast Food My Way," caught my attention because he carries to its logical extreme a cooking philosophy that appeals to me: It's not necessary to spend hours laboring over a good meal, but "quick" doesn't have to mean "boring" or "dumbed down."

I cut my own cooking teeth years ago on another Frenchman's simple-cooking techniques, Pierre Franey's excellent series of "60 Minute Gourmet" cookbooks. Now Pepin moves this approach to a new level, with a book - and, now, a public-television program - that features interesting, often innovative recipes that in many cases can be fashioned in 10 minutes or less.

Needless to say, Pepin's definition of "fast food" in no way resembles McDonald's or Taco Bell. "Conventionally, fast food is associated with processed food," he writes on the "Fast Food My Way" Website. "My food is usually easy and fast to prepare, but it is not processed food; I use fresh and, occasionally, canned ingredients but certainly never processed food full of all kinds of chemicals. I try to use organic ingredients whenever possible. A simple tomato salad with fresh basil and red onion, for example, is a fast-food recipe as I define the term."

I ordered the cookbook from, but even before it came, I had started cooking my way through the dozens of Pepin's recipes posted on the cookbook Website,
(Sadly, I can only recommend this site if you have a fast computer and high-speed Internet access. It's entirely dependent on the Flash plug-in, and most of its recipes and many other features are displayed as very large video files.)

You won't need broadband to try this quick, hearty and earthy take on tuna-stuffed tomato, though. This version is fairly closely based on the 40-second "tuna tomato" video on the Website. Now's the time to try it, before fresh tomato season gets away from us entirely ... pallid winter tomatoes just won't do.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

2 large, fresh beefsteak-type tomatoes
Black pepper
1 tablespoon (15g) olive oil
6-ounce (180g) can tuna (see note)
2-ounce (60g) can anchovies
2 scallions (green onions)
12 olives
1 teaspoon (5g) capers
6 small cornichons
Mesclun or field lettuces for garnish


1. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and, using a tablespoon, scoop out the insides to make tomato cups to hold the salad. (If your computer has the horsepower, watch Pepin do this in the Website video. This picture is worth at least a couple of hundred words.)

2. Put the tomato pulp in a strainer and let most of the liquid drain off. Mash the pulp coarsely with a potato masher and season it with a little salt and pepper and the olive oil to make a simple fresh uncooked sauce.

3. Put the tuna in a bowl and flake it with a fork. I chose a rich, dark Italian-style tuna in olive oil for this dish, but you can use light or white albacore tuna in water if you prefer. In my opinion, though, this is a dish in which you don't want to spare the flavor, and a few extra calories won't hurt much in this simple dinner.

4. Chop the anchovies and mix them in with the tuna. (I did discard most of the oil from the anchovy can. Feel free to use your own judgement about this, or skip the anchovies entirely if you can't stand them. I encourage you to try it, though, as they do give the combination a serious flavor boost.)

5. Using any or all of the following to your taste and depending on what's in the pantry, chop the scallions; pit and chop the olives (Nicoise olives are perfect, but any olive will do); dice the cornichons, and add them with the capers to the tuna, tossing gently to mix the ingredients without mashing the tuna into a paste. Stuffed tomatoCheck seasonings and add black pepper to taste; with all these salty ingredients, it's unlikely that you'll need additional salt.

6. Stuff the tuna mixture into the tomato shells and serve on plates or shallow bowls, surrounded by the tomato sauce and garnished with mesclun.

MATCHING WINE: This is potent stuff and demands a reasonably hearty (but not tannic) wine. I found that the dark tuna stood up very well to a red, specifically the Ambra 2002 Barco Reale di Carmignano featured in yesterday's 30 Second Wine Advisor. Just about any acidic, low-tannin red, from a Chianti to a simple Cotes-du-Rhone, ought to do fine, as should dry and acidic whites such as Sauvignon Blanc or crisp Italian whites from Verdicchio to Soave to Vernaccia di San Gimignano.

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of these recipes, suitable for printing, online at

For more information and to read consumer reviews of Pepin's "Fast Food My Way," click to,
If you use this link to buy the book - the $20.40 price is about 30 percent off its $30 list price - we'll earn a small commission at

For a program schedule listing broadcast times for the "Fast Food My Way" series on public television in the U.S., see

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Pepin's tuna-stuffed tomato."

Click the REPLY button on the forum page to post a comment or response. (If your E-mail software broke this long link in half, take care to paste it all back into one line before you enter it in your Web browser.)

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Thursday, Oct. 14, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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