Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Summer tunaloaf

Yesterday I really felt the passing of time, like sand slipping through my fingers, unstoppable. You probably think it is because I am turning *beep* in a couple of weeks. Or because every muscle in my body is killing me after running that extra mile yesterday morning. But that is not it, although come to think of it I feel even older now. That darn sand is slipping way too quickly!

The reason is simple. Yesterday my first child started school. Her career really began when she was barely one and after years of daycare, kindergarden, preschool, summer school - you name it, she went - she is quite the little trooper. But yesterday was the big day, first grade.

I had packed some Kleenex into my bag along with my camera because I have become more weepy than a weeping willow these days but ended up not using it. That however does not mean it was not an emotional day: it actually turned out to be more so than I expected, at a much deeper level. It made me re-examine my life, where I am, where I am coming from and where I am headed. It made me realize that although I feel like a girl at heart, younger generations perceive me as a lady.

Lady, you have a child in school.

I tried not to think about it too much over the summer and only really focused a little last week when I went to buy a backpack and pencil box. By Sunday I was feeling a little nervous and doing my best to hide it, going on and on to my daughter about how big she is, how she will soon be reading and writing, what an exciting time she had ahead of her. When I tucked her in I told her it was ok to feel a little scared, that each and every child would be nervous the next morning. I also told her to remember that to them she was a scary stranger just like they were to her and she giggled and said "Mommy, that's impossible, I am a very sweet girl!". She had been pretty nonchalant about the whole thing for weeks and I wondered how much she was acting excited for our sake and how much she really understood what was happening. I mean, until you've been to school you really don't know what you are getting yourself into, right?

So yesterday she woke up, we took some pictures and set off.

That is when the throbbing began, deep inside my chest. All I could see when I looked at her was a huge, bouncing backpack and little blonde locks sticking out from the top. She was excited and her excitement grew as she found her old friends from last year and they assembled in a squealing group hug. All nervousness was forgotten on her side and I barely saw her for the next 10 minutes. Then a teacher came out and told us to assemble in the courtyard to form the classes. I felt butterflies in my stomach and a cold, little hand slip into mine. In a second I experienced all her anxiety, fear and expectation, I could almost feel her heart thumping in her little ribcage, like a frightened little bird's. I just wanted to protect her, to fold her into my arms and hold her tight. But when it was her turn, she walked right over to her new teachers and classmates without glancing back and up the big stairway they went. By the time us parents followed and reached her classroom she was sitting in the front row with a girl she didn't know instead of choosing an old friend. That's my girl. When we left she was smiling and whispering and comparing pencil cases and I knew she would be fine.

When I picked her up a few hours later I took her out for a special lunch, just the two of us and we both enjoyed the luxury of a week day together. By the evening we were all tired, emotionally drained and in need of a comforting meal. Comfort food in our repertoire is usually hearty food - not really fitting for the last throes of summer. Until now.

Here is a recipe for a summer meatloaf made with pantry staples from a friend and colleague, something most kids will enjoy too. My son had two huge slices, but then again I did watch him down 4 hotdogs (minus the buns) at a BBQ this summer. It is simple but took a little more effort/time than I had imagined to assemble. The thing I hadn't taken into account was the cooling process, which takes longer than you would expect. So give yourself plenty of time to make it. It is a great meal to prepare a day ahead, to bring as a potluck or picnic dish or as an office meal and it gets better as the days pass.

When it has cooled completely, slice and drizzle with some olive oil, a little lemon juice and lots of freshly ground black pepper. I was in a rush and we like grainy texture in our home so I kept it quite rustic, but you can easily process the ingredients to get a smoother texture. There are endless variations: you could add in some mustard or throw in some green beans (keeping them whole) for a Niçoise effect. Let me know what you did with yours.

2 large potatoes
400gr tuna preserved in oil (drained)
1 egg
3 or 4 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp breadcrumbs
3 tbsp capers in vinegar
salt to taste
pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes in plenty of salt water, peel and mash immediately with a fork. Set aside and let cool. After draining the oil from the tuna, mash with a fork, and blend the capers (or keep whole if you prefer). When the potatoes have cooled, mix in the tuna and capers and then add the egg, the parmesan and about 1 tablespoon of breadcrumbs. Season to taste. Mix well, shape into loaf and roll in the remaining bread crumbs. In the meantime bring a pot of hot water to a boil. When the loaf is ready, wrap in a dish towel or baking paper and fasten with rubber bands or twine and boil for about twenty minutes. Let cool completely (this will also make it easier to cut)  and serve with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and fresh ground black pepper.


  1. The first recipe I ever saw on your site was so simple and delicious, I knew I'd be coming back for more. This is just that kind of recipe...beautiful, simple flavours that I knwo I'll cook again and again. Like the idea of jazzing it up for a Nicoise version!

  2. Looks so wonderful.. very hearty and filling.

  3. My mom used to make this polpettone all the times. It is such a great dish! I have to make it before summer ends!

  4. Little loaf - I am so glad that is what you like about this blog because that is exactly why I write it: not to showcase haute cuisine but to give people ideas for what to make for an any day lunch or dinner.
    Spontaneous euphoria - hi!
    Pola - really? Cool. I had never heard of it before my colleague mentioned it.

  5. Aww what a special day for all of you! And we are definitely in sync as I made a tuna dish for lunch this week and it looks very similar! :D

  6. Oh, heavens -- a first day of school, such a beautiful bittersweet moment. I know it must be so hard to see them grow up seemingly so fast, but it simply means you're enjoying her childhood so much that it's flying by.

    Speaking of enjoying, I can't wait to try this recipe; I'm tuna crazy, but have never thought to bake a loaf with the stuff. Much like with meatloaf, I bet this is even better as a sandwich the next day…

  7. I can relate, I still remember these days like it was yesterday and now one of them is on his own and the other is planning to get engaged. Time flies when you are raising kids!
    Love this tuna loaf, will make it soon, it looks easy and delicious!

  8. I've never seen a meatloaf like this! I may never go back to ground beef again!

    I can only imagine what it'll be like when we finally have a child and watch them go off to their first day of school. I'm sure it's quite the sight =)

  9. Lorraine - I would love to hear your variation of the dish!
    Meister - bittersweet is right. The loaf is definitely better a day later. There are a lot of potatoes in it, so a sandwhich may not be for the faint of heart. But in a pita with salad? Yum
    ToB - so true. I'm sure you could spice this up with some of your great Lebanese condiments. Let me know your spin on it.
    Peggy - it is a great solution if you want something a little different from the good 'ole meat version.

  10. Quite an emotional event indeed, for the whole family. Your little girl is adorable! By the way also my mum did quite a similar polpettone every summer, but she did not boil it - I think it was just potatoes, capers, tuna and maybe some mayo? Anyway, it was shaped as a fish with an olive for the eye. I liked it when I was little.

  11. I remember the fist day of school for my son as if it were yesterday! Sigh ...

  12. LaCR - so that makes two of you whose mothers made it during their childhood. It must have been a dish en vogue in Italy a few decades ago. I never had heard of it before. I wondered about the necessity of boiling all those pre-cooked ingredients. I think it is to help it hold its shape and to form the thin film around it.
    Andrea - it is children that really make you realize how fast time passes...

  13. Oh those were the days, great recipe but you know I mean the rest of the post. just wait till your children are 27 and 31, I keep asking myself, how did this happen so quickly. :(


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