Kid-Friendly Gourmet Recipe on the Cheap with a Few Strategic Replacements

Apr 23, 2009 by

French waiter simpson

“Omelette au fromage, but Cheddar fromage!” said the American. “Oui, oui, omelette au fromage,” responded the French waiter.

I found a recipe that sounded yummy, healthy, quick and easy in my Food & Wine 2008 annual cookbook: “Italian Tuna, Green Olive and Tangerine Salad on Grilled Bread.”

So I headed to Central Market, where they have almost anything under the sun, including run-of-the-mill items, to look for the ingredients. I was pretty sure I’d find everything I needed there.

I started out by looking for the prescribed jar, not can, of “Italian tuna in olive oil.”  Who knew there was such a thing? Sure enough, there it was, in attractive glass jars, next to the common man’s tuna in tin cans. It cost about $7 for an 8-ounce jar. I decided that was too much. The chef who created the recipe preserves his own tuna in olive oil. I wasn’t up for that either, so I opted for a couple of cans instead, for 10 ounces of tuna at less than half the $7 price. I figured it was close enough.  We’d never know what we were missing.

Next on the list was “Picholine” olives. I’d never heard of them, either, but also found them in the bulk olive section. It would have cost over $6 to get the 32 olives for the recipe. They weren’t even pitted. I hesitated, but decided to use the plain old store-brand pimento-stuffed green olives already in my fridge.  Those are good.

I reminded myself somehow of the waiter we once saw in a Paris restaurant waiting on a couple of Americans. This couple ordered an omelette au fromage (cheese omelet), but insisted, asking him in every which way they knew how, that the fromage be cheddar fromage.

The waiter kept nodding his head dismissively as only Parisian waiters can, saying, “Oui, oui, omelette au fromage.”

Fromage au cheddar?” they ventured. It just had to be cheddar fromage.

Omelette au fromage,” he maintained. There are a hundreds of cheeses in France, but cheddar just really isn’t one of them. He knew what was good for them, and it wasn’t cheddar.

Like the waiter, I held my ground against the recipe’s fussy requirements while I found several more sub-gourmet substitutions for them.  I guess the difference being that the waiter had something better for the Americans, unbeknownst to them, while I substituted the plain for the gourmet.

Instead of tangerines, I got a couple of mandarins, which were cheaper. They were perfect in the recipe, peeling and separating easily, but I have also used the even cheaper regular old oranges with good results.

Instead of buying fresh chives, and since the ones in my garden are still too little to cut, I used some regular green onion tops out I had growing in the garden. Free! Instead of a shallot (small, delicately flavored pink onion) at $4 a pound, I used part of a regular onion, which I had paid 50¢ a pound for at the 99¢ Only Store.

We have eaten my own simplified version of “Tuna, Green Olive and Tangerine Salad on Toast” many times since.  I can’t compare it to the original recipe, obviously, but it’s a toothsome, juicy mix of savory and sweet, thoroughly gourmet in flavor.

It’s also very forgiving: it’s going to be good even if you put in more or less of anything it calls for. I haven’t done it “right,” even according to my own recipe, any time I’ve made it.

Along with it today I served three different salads that I got free with this week’s Foodie coupon at Central Market’s deli: Israeli couscous, taboulleh, and edamame salad.  We all agreed my homemade salad was the easy winner among them. No surprise there, though.

This recipe is a super quick, no-cook, out-of the-ordinary main course for a light supper or quick lunch.  Ready to serve four in about 10 minutes.

Tuna, Green Olives and Mandarin Salad on Toast

2 mandarins, tangerines or oranges

2 or 3 5-oz cans of tuna in olive oil or water, drained

¼ to ½ C mayonnaise (ideally homemade with an egg from a pastured hen)

32 pitted green olives, sliced

4 finely chopped chives or green onions

2 T minced onion or shallot

Salt and pepper

Bread to spread it on (I use Ezekiel Genesis bread)

Optional: olive oil, 1 garlic glove, peeled

Peel the mandarins and cut each section into thirds, discarding any seeds. Mix it with the tuna, mayonnaise, olives, green onion (or chives) and onion (or shallot). Season with salt and pepper.

Serve it on toast. If you’re feeling really gourmet, lightly brush the bread with olive oil with a smashed garlic clove in it, and toast it in the over under the broiler.

© Sacred Appetite  / Anna Migeon / 23 April 2009 / All rights reserved