February 12, 2010

Panini for Lunch

On the counter, a 9" round aluminum pan. In the pan, standing side by side like soldiers, six pieces of Schmidt's Blue Ribbon white bread, crust on, folded. Inside each slice of bread, tuna salad made with Bumble Bee light tuna (packed in water), Miracle whip, Vlasic dill pickles, celery, salt and pepper (from matching glass shakers—there was no such thing as cracked black pepper or coarse sea salt in our house—we were a McCormick house, through and through). On top of that, a slice of Kraft cheese, usually sharp cheddar.

Mom would slide the 9" round aluminum pan into the hot oven (350 degrees sounds about right), centered on the center rack. I would wait most patiently. I loved mom's invention, tuna boats. The bread would toast and the cheese would melt.

A plate of two would be handed to me. Eating would commence in the living room with me sitting Indian-style with plate on lap, staring up at our Montgomery Wards television set.

The first one was always piping hot and the only proper course of action was to bite away at the crust with melty cheese first (almost like an ear of corn). After that you could go in bite by bite until the very last bit was cool. Inevitably chunks of tuna salad would plop down to the plate (becoming finger food).

By the time the first boat had been eaten, the second boat had cooled to a toasty warm, easy to eat. Although, I must admit, I stuck with the same course of action, eating-wise.

Fast forward, thirty odd years. Roberto and I have just come in from shoveling. It's the second winter storm of the season, but the first of two blizzards that will pull things to a standstill in our charm city over the course of a week.

There's some nice crusty Italian bread that I've painted with olive oil. I'll sandwich between the slices our version of tuna salad and a slice or two of cheddar cheese:

• Two cans natural tuna (light, not albacore)

• Three stalks celery (diced)

• Half medium yellow onion (diced)

• A hefty handful of parsley (chiffonade, just to change things up)

• Three to four dill pickles (diced)

• Salt (pinch)

• Red pepper flakes (pinch)

• A few turns of black pepper

• To that, half mayo/half extra virgin olive oil (to the wetness one prefers)

The light near the panini press handle tells me it's ready (green means go). I put the sandwiches in place and pull the top grill down, slowly...slowly...slowly. Ssshhhhhsssshhh, goes the olive oil. Any moisture in the bread steams out. The smell of warming tuna salad, cheese, olive oil and toasted bread fills the kitchen.

This is a trusted smell, so much so that I would happily fall back into it's arms without fear of it not catching me.

What was once plump pieces of crusty Italian bread are now flattened with beautiful golden grill marks. The cheese, only escaping here and there. Compact and ready to eat, I slice two generous panini in half and side with more dill pickles. Eaten with our favorite potato chips (Utz) and a glass of Boddingtons pub ale.


  1. I wish I liked tuna - not sure if its the smell or texture - my husband loves it to, but I tend to only cook what I like! Although I do make him an occassional tuna noodle casserole when he asks for it!

    Ah, Boddington's - only the best beer ever. While great in a can, when I find it on tap it is heaven in a glass.

    I have this cheap photo editing software called Adobe elements - I actually turned a can of Boddington's so it looked like a painting, I thought it was cool - you can see it in the post!


    So done with the shoveling and bitter cold - I can't wait to get to the grill!

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Oh, you have the most perfect days. :-) I love this! Vlasic pickles were the only American pickles that tasted "right" when we moved to the States from Canada 19 years ago. :-) This is comfort food in the best possible way. :-)

  3. I don't know what it is about tuna, but man does it taste good after shoveling. I made tuna melts yesterday, and it might have been the best food I've had in a long long time.

  4. Chunk light tuna in olive oil is frigging delicious, and goes perfectly in a panini--it's one of the few cheese and fish combos that works for me.

    My mom would also make tuna sandwiches for me back in the day, but hers were much "wetter" than I would like--I prefer only a scant amount of mayo in those kinds of salads--just enough to grease the wheels.

  5. The ingredients of your panini are the perfect combo for me! I love, love, love tuna.

  6. My sandwich is english cheddar cheese (every visitor to Rome HAS to bring me a wedge) with chutney...... but the thoughts and memories and associations feel rather like yours.
    You have a very lovely way of putting simple daily actions into words.

  7. You lost me at Miracle Whip - what is/was it? I love the nostalgia in this post. I don't eat tuna, for the simple reason that I never ate it as a child and my first taste of it was at my dear friend's flat when we were at uni and she would make me tuna bake. I was always very ill afterwards. For years I have blamed it on being allergic to tuna but on reflection it was probably the ridiculous amounts of alcohol we used to consume before, during and after the tuna bake!! There's my nostalgia for you.

  8. I love hearing a good memory and this fits the bill!

  9. Biz - We always have Boddingtons in our fridge. :)

    Tart - We always have Vlasic pickles in our fridge. :)

    Beth - I'd be curious to know just how many tuna melts were enjoyed in Baltimore after a good day of shoveling last week. I'll bet very many, indeed.

    Lindsey - Pickles are great. :)

    Elizabeth - My mother was the same way. I do prefer it to be a bit scant, myself.

    Magda - Tuna is a great pantry item. I'm glad you like the ingredients of our tuna salad. It's not overly tuna or veg, the perfect balance.

    rachel - I hope you have many visitors. I can imagine that it's quite hard to find english cheddar cheese in Rome. :)

    Kath - Miracle whip is mayonaise, although some people might dispute that here in the states. I'm sorry you've had bad experiences with tuna. I think people either love it or hate it. It's very curious. :)

    alexandria - :)

  10. ok, that's it! i'll just have to go and make myself a toasted sandwich now :)

  11. People after my own heart with the boddigton's touch. Hmmm, how I wish this had been our lunch too!

  12. Oh that is a perfect way to warm up after shoveling! God I love glorified grilled cheeses. Can't wait to see you on saturday!!

  13. i agree with the glorified grilled cheese, there's nothing more comforting than a warm sandwich on a cold winter afternoon, and of course the boddington's is a welcome touch :)

  14. Perfect, especially w/ a nice ale. You know what I love about your posts? They refuse to be skimmed or read too quickly. They demand the reader settle down and read slowly. Wonderful. If only I had one of those paninis in my hand...

  15. This looks gorgeous. Love all the pics and posts of late. Looks like you are savoring life. Thanks for the inspiration.


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