I grew up loving my mother’s small army green plastic box full of index cards, smudged over time with lard, sugar, and sauce-based fingerprints, that carried her Iowan legacy of “feed a family of ten” recipes. I loved the evenings she would pull the box down off the fridge for I knew that meant dinner would consist of favorite, belly-warming comfort food dishes like scalloped potatoes with peas and ham; blackened baked beans with bits of bacon and fat; Tator Tot casserole with Velveeta cheese melted on top and cream of mushroom soup cradling browned hamburger meat beneath; chewy peanut butter cookies smushed down with the shape of fork tines in the center; and my favorite of all – salmon patties with creamed peas, crafted from fish out of a can with bones that melted between the teeth. When I was in my early twenties I attempted to take the box from my mom and gift her with a typed, clean manuscript via my computer that she could read better but I stopped that project halfway through realizing I had no idea what “a dash” meant and couldn’t read half of the tiny scrawled notes and revisions that had cropped up on the margins of the cards over the years. I was thrilled when my daughter turned 20 and was bestowed with that recipe box from her doting grandmother even though she still texts me every once in a while asking me to de-code mom’s food stained doodles and instructions for meat loaf or banana bread that are now fully engraved upon my soul.
Because of this recipe lineage I have been very odd in my own foodie endeavors to create a box of my own. I am the type of cook who likes to find new things to make and make them and then forget about them because there are millions of new recipes around the corner and not enough time in one lifetime to make even a tiny percentage of them. I have a perpetual Pinterest page that I visit weekly when it’s my time to make dinner for the Cute Gardener and even that shows no sign of slowing down. So the idea of a recipe box of my own maintains a level of sanctity and prestige. If something makes it in there it means I love it so much that I actually will make it again, and share it with my daughter, and troll it out at fancy dinner parties – a rarity that so far has held only a few cards all alone.
As of now, ten years after its inception, my recipe box consists of only the following:
That is how picky I am with collecting anything amongst the revolving door of delights I can try. But I will someday leave my daughter some semblance of a book as well.
Last week I encountered a new recipe that has found a prestigious place in my box—one that I will no doubt want to present at the next soiree I am invited to as I know it will be a treat for all who try it—maybe that’s the prerequisite for getting into my recipe box—the food has to be orgasmic or comforting. In any case, this dish of tuna and peppers was first spied in Dorie Greenspan’s French book that I have been working through for three years (albeit a slightly different version). It was then rediscovered in an issue of Food and Wine. What enthralled me about the recipe was that it called for canned tuna, a virtual faux pas in foodie land, although lauded as the essential ingredient. One bite and I knew why. Smother this mixture over a piece of baguette and let the oil sink in to the fishy flesh and mingle with the odd sweetness of capers that occurs once sharing roasting space with a half a head of garlic and and you are guaranteed to get your whistle whet as well. It is also easier than pie and you could commit it to memory even quite well.
Note: I couldn’t find poblano peppers so I used their sister Anaheims, which were just as nice. I also served with a main dish of swiss chard, ricotta and lemon pasta. MMMMM!
Herb-Marinated Peppers and Tuna
Reprinted from Food and Wine
2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and crushed
4 poblano peppers (1 pound), sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips
1/3 cup drained capers
Two 8-ounce jars good-quality tuna, drained
1/2 cup basil leaves
Lemon wedges and crusty bread, for serving
Heat the oven to 450°. In a baking dish, combine the olive oil, garlic, poblanos and capers. Roast for 20 minutes, until the poblanos are tender. Let cool until warm, then stir in the tuna and basil. Serve with lemon wedges and bread.