From the Culinary Underground: Ugly but good

by guest on September 27, 2012

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[This is the latest in an ongoing guest series brought to you by Southborough’s Culinary Underground. This week Chef Lori shares a recipe for an Italian appetizer that won't win any beauty contests, but will keep you coming back for more.]

Every cuisine has colorful and descriptive names for food, but the Italians have elevated it to poetry. A fine example is their meringue-and-nut drop cookie called brutti ma buoni – “ugly but good.” Yes, and yes! These cookies are lumpy, brown, and nondescript on the plate, but pop one in your mouth and you immediately close your eyes and sigh. Sensuality distilled into three little words that capture the experience so succinctly.

Okay, that introduction was to prepare you for the following recipe, spuma di tonno, or tuna mousse. Spuma is the Italian word for foam, which sounds a lot more poetic than mousse. But “tuna foam” doesn’t really roll off the tongue in a good way, does it? However, this spread is almost as light as foam and it’s very delicious.

There are those who don’t like tuna or believe that white albacore tuna packed in spring water is good. It is not. Italian tuna packed in olive oil is the real thing and it’s worth seeking out a good brand, paying a little more for it, and keeping it on the pantry shelf for making this quick appetizer. Since there are always crackers in the cupboard or baguettes in the freezer, this is one of those last-minute appetizers we always have on hand.

Of course, the spuma looks truly brutti. The capers on top don’t help much in the looks department. But one bite and you’ll discover how rich and bold and lemony it is, and you’ll wonder what you thought you were eating when you were eating all that dried-out albacore.

In conclusion, I’ll leave you with the poem “Italian Food” by the late Shel Silverstein from his collection, Everthing On It:

Oh, how I love Italian food.
I eat it all the time,
Not just ’cause how good it tastes
But ’cause how good it rhymes.
Minestrone, cannelloni,
Macaroni, rigatoni,
Spaghettini, scallopini,
Escarole, braciole,
Insalata, cremolata, manicotti,
Marinara, carbonara,
Shrimp francese, Bolognese,
Ravioli, mostaccioli,
Mozzarella, tagliatelle,
Fried zucchini, rollatini,
Fettuccine, green linguine,
Tortellini, Tetrazzini,
Oops—I think I split my jeani.

Crostini di Spuma di Tonno (Tuna Mousse)
(4-6 servings)

7-ounce can Italian tuna in oil, drained
1 Tablespoon softened butter
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 anchovy fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
Toasted baguette slices or crackers
Drained capers, for a garnish

In bowl of food processor, pulse all the ingredients until smooth. Taste it carefully: could it use a little more lemon juice? Salt is probably not necessary.

Spread thinly sliced, toasted bread with pate; sprinkle tops with a few capers. Serve immediately.

(Image credit: Culinary Underground)

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