Capellini, Tomato Consomme and Tuna

  • Time: 30 minutes plus 1 day for the consomme
  • Serves: 4
  • Level: hard

This recipe is inspired by a farfalle salad in the Salad book referred to in the intro and story below. In my adaptation I have created a very different pasta salad. There’s the pasta with green leaves and meat from the Salad book, there is tomato consommé from the realm of cheffydom, there is tomatoes in the consommé (a combo that should not be missed) and tomato and basil from the Italian repertoire, the angel hair pasta is cold – which may be anathema to an Italian but very logical to a Japanese cook who will serve somen and soba noodles cold and finally it is part soup part salad, which sounds counter intuitive – but works.

This is inspired by a recipe in the book, 'Salad' by Amy Nathan (1985).

What you need

For the salad:

200g thick tuna steak

1 tbs dried oregano

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

120g capellini pasta

4 small plum tomatoes

200g tendersteam broccoli spears

For the tomato consomme:

900g cherry tomatoes

50g sweet red pepper

1 small clove garlic

Salt, pepper

For the basil oil:

50g fresh basil

20g fresh chives

Virgin olive oil

Salt, pepper

Dad's Recipe Tales

In 1988, an artist friend, gave us a very ‘artistic’ cookbook. The book was Salad, by Amy Nathan and Kathryn Kleinman, (1985). According to the sleeve notes, it was full of ‘stunning salad dishes to delight the eye as well as the palate.’ At the time the book was published, the modern English restaurant scene – with its regalia of Michelin stars and Instagram galleries of beautifully crafted food images – was still waiting in the wings. It’s therefore remarkable that a cookbook, 32 years old, should include such arresting visuals of food – it was clearly well ahead of its time.

Each plate of food (and photographic ‘plate’), was immaculately composed into symmetrical or asymmetrical patterns. The food was shot on top of a light box using transparent dinner plates, a technique that emphasised not only the colour and shape of the food, but also the creativity of the authors. These days, the photographer’s light box has been replaced by burnished metal or distressed wood, the transparent plates with artisan crockery. Both styles could be accused of fetishising food, however, the intention of Salad is not to stimulate a ‘food porn’ reaction, but rather to show the food in a more elemental and refined light so that each ingredient might be appreciated for its own sake. Salad’s dishes are reminiscent of Nouvelle Cuisine, its characteristic lightness of touch, lightly cooked ingredients and the minimalist approach to arranging food could have been an inspiration for the book.

I’ve been critical of the new trend in scattering grains, seeds and whole foods on a plate. I imagined treating ingredients as an assortment of components brought together in a random manner will only create endless nondescript dishes. What is needed is a greater appreciation of the ingredient: why is it distinctive, what are its characteristics, what does it add to the plate, can it be complimented or contrasted by other ingredients? I sense our Salad authors considered this as much as the visual appeal.

My versions, are adapted to add further ideas, either in the visual impact or in the flavour combination. The tomato salad, is simplicity itself. But, it allows us to pause and acknowledge the different tomato varieties. I have also attempted to add, where possible, new ideas about taste and texture contrasts such as savoury, fresh and crunch. A baked goat’s cheese is turned into a poppy flower incorporating beetroot. A pear dish is less about leaves and flowers and more about a classic pairing of flavours.

Salad should be used by culinary colleges to help students with their presentation and appreciation of flavour combinations. It certainly made me re-think how I put food on a plate and provided new insights into combining food.

For art inspired salad recipes check out some of these: Smoked Chicken, Smoked Salmon and Parma Ham Salad, Goat’s Cheese, Beetroot and Poppy Seed SaladTomato Salad or Plum Soba, Prawns and Shiso Salad.

How Dad Cooked It

  1. Make the consommé. Wash the tomatoes, cut the membrane and seed from the pepper and peel the garlic. Put it all the ingredients into the blender and whizz for a good 5 minutes. Use a fine sieve and strain the resulting pulp. Push it through the strainer until just the skin and seeds remain. Scrape off any collected pulp from the strainer and add it to the strained pulp. Don’t be tempted to use the strained pulp – it’s not bad as a fresh tomato sauce, but it’s not consommé. Using a double layer of muslin cloth, place the muslin over a clean strainer and very gently pour the tomato pulp over the side of the muslin and into the strainer. Leave it as it is without any further movement or forcing of pulp through the muslin. Keep in the refrigerator for up to two days but not less than 24 hours. Season if you like, but don’t interfere with this too much – the whole point is to appreciate the complex flavour from the tomatoes.
  2. Make the basil oil. Take the leaves from the basil stems and put leaves and the chives into boiling water for 30 secs. Drain and refresh in ice cold water. Strain and dry several times on kitchen towels. Finally place by a window on a fresh dry towel and allow it to air naturally for half an hour. Then put into a small processor (or pestle and mortar) and blend, start with a little oil adding more until the processor catches. Aim for around 125ml of oil. Add a little salt and pepper. NB: I have made an emulsion using xanthan powder, which allows me to add lemon and water to cut the intensity. I was also after a ‘bead’ effect. This is a chef’s trick I have yet to learn! It was still very delicious and it stayed put for the photo.
  3. Cook the tuna. Sprinkle the oregano and seasoning on a board or dish and press the top and bottom of the tuna steak onto the herbs. Heat a non-stick pan to medium high heat without oil and when hot put the tuna on the pan. As the tuna cooks it will turn opaque on the sides. Allow the tuna to cook a quarter of the way up the thickness of the steak and then it turn over. Allow the same level of opaqueness, then quickly sear the sides for a few seconds each. Remove from the heat and place on a dish to rest. The aim is to have raw or very pink tuna in the middle of a slice. Err on the side of under, rather than over. Cover loosely and set to one side.
  4. Cook the broccoli. Wash the broccoli and plunge into boiling water. Cook until tender but firm. Refresh in cold water and drain.
  5. Cook the capellini. Cook in boiling, salted water for just a few minutes until very al dente. Pour off half a mugful of cooking liquid and retain. Drain the pasta and then plunge in ice cold water. When cold drain again well, then add to a bowl or cool pan with the cooking liquid and set aside until ready to assemble.
  6. Assemble the salad. Use four wide pasta bowls – in each, twirl a portion of pasta using a two-pronged carving fork and place the pasta in the centre of the dish, place four broccoli florets symmetrically with stems pointing to the centre and under the pasta, place four quarters of tomato evenly between the broccoli, position tuna slices over the pasta and garnish with basil leaves. Pour over the consommé and drop basil oil over the liquid.

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