a fast food you can run on and dive into:
roasted red pepper tuna purée.
The inspiration for this week’s simple pleasure is the concept of fast food. Food provided in a fast (and inexpensive) way. It is a genius concept created by the American entrepreneurial spirit to meet our desire for immediate gratification. The problem is that what is often “fast” — whether obtained by reaching in our pantry or driving through a drive-thru — is nothing more than empty calories or just plain bad for our health (our waistlines and ultimately our pocketbooks too). Moreover, because we think of food (and it is defined) as a nourishing substance, it begs the question: is what we are getting fast really “food” ? However, you can have a fast snack or meal that is inexpensive, delicious and nourishing and this fast food, made with heart-healthy protein, is this week’s simple pleasure: roasted red pepper tuna purée.
If you have ever shopped while hungry you know that your cart quickly fills with hand to mouth snack foods (often eaten in the car). These are the same boxes and bags we reach for when we get home because we want something quick and the thought of doing anymore than combining two ingredients would take “too long.” The same thought compels many people to “order in” or drive through a drive-thru. While boxed snack foods and drive-thru burgers are fast and quash hunger pains for a short time (and even taste good), are they nourishing or just temporary mouth fillers/long-term belly expanders? I think you know the answer.
For most of us eliminating the need for “fast” meals is not realistic nor is it realistic to say we will never snack again. Instead, the key is to reach for foods that will provide us with the nutrients, protein and vitamins that we need and satisfy our desire for immediate gratification at the same time.
this week’s simple pleasure
This week’s simple pleasure is a simple blend of canned tuna, roasted red peppers and tomatoes. It is not only inexpensive (most people have a can of tuna on hand), but it is timely as peppers and tomatoes are at their sweetest now after they have ripened under the summer sun.
This purée is a healthy alternative to dairy or mayonnaise based dips/spreads that are habitually reached for as a snack and add little benefit to our diet (but lots of calories to our daily intake). The purée also provides an easy, creative way to obtain healthy protein (canned tuna is certainly better for you than a fried $3.00 hamburger) and can transform simple items you have in your home (i.e., pasta, eggs, sandwiches) into an easy meal.
Here are some examples of this purée’s versatility:
- Spread it on toasted olive bread, gourmet-type crackers, or crostini;
- Use it as a dip for breadsticks or pita chips;
- Pair it with semi-soft ewe’s (sheep’s) milk cheese or goat cheese (instead of jams or confits); or
- Use it as dip for cut vegetables (celery, carrots, mushrooms, or sweet peppers).
for rapid meals:
- Add it to a grilled cheese (or other) sandwich;
- Add it to eggs (cooked any style); or
- Use it as a sauce for pasta.
ingredient and production notes
If you want to save the step of roasting the peppers and/or removing the tomato skins, you can substitute drained, canned tomatoes and canned roasted peppers. However, it takes no more than 15 minutes to do yourself at home (most of it nonactive time), so do not feel overwhelmed.
One thing to remember about peppers and tomatoes is that they are a fruit with a high moisture content so after you remove the seeds and skins, remove as much moisture from them as possible (you can use a paper towel to absorb excess water or drain them with a colander). If you do not, your purée may be watery. Generally, I place the peeled tomatoes and peppers in a sauté pan over medium heat to cook out the moisture (giving it a thicker consistency and more flavor) before I season and purée it. The recipe eliminates this step in the interest of time (but feel free to do it if you can). If you were not able to eliminate a lot of moisture with non-cook methods and you find the purée a little watery, you can place the purée in a saucepan and reduce it stove-top to the consistency you like.
As for flavor, if your peppers/tomatoes are not as sweet as you would like, you can add a few minced sun-dried tomatoes or concentrated tomato paste to bump up the flavor. This also eliminates the use of sugar to neutralize any acidity in the tomatoes.
I add piment d’espelette to give the purée some kick. Espelette is the only pepper in France given an A.O.C. status. Piment d’espelette (the dried pepper ground into a powder) is liberally used un Basque cooking and is one of my favorite ingredients to use. It is not very spicy, registering only about 4,000 on the Scoville scale (cayenne pepper registers 30,000-50,000). However, try ½ teaspoon first and add more to your taste at the very end of the process (for example if you throw the purée in a pan to concentrate it more, it will be spicier because there will be less moisture in the purée to dilute the piment). Piment d’Espelette can be purchased on the internet or specialty stores. If you do not have piment yet, paprika is the next best thing.
This purée takes little time to make and can be stored in the refrigerator to enjoy throughout the week. When you reach in your refrigerator to grab this purée, you will not only be immediately gratified but proud about your food choice. Now that is fast food.
et bon appétit !