Albacore Tuna with Eggplant, Peppers, and Tomatoes
Eggplant and peppers are abundant at the end of summer, and I indulge in them frequently before they are replaced by winter squash, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes. I can’t resist experimenting with slender lavender eggplants, bulbous white ones, and magenta striped Italian versions. And it’s fun to compare the long red lipstick peppers, green smoky poblanos, and meaty pimientos. I often include peppers and eggplant in the same dish because the creamy richness of roasted eggplant balances the tangy sharp flavor or browned peppers.
I recently braised eggplants and sweet peppers in a tomato and white wine sauce, seasoned with capers and olives. I made a big batch of this colorful dish so I would have plenty of leftovers for a second meal. Chunks of albacore tuna simmered in the sauce turned it into a piquant fish stew to spoon over whole grain couscous on the first night. The extras became a hearty pasta dish a few days later.
While working on a story about eggplant for Fine Cooking magazine, I discovered a terrific technique for easily transforming spongy textured raw eggplant into velvety nuggets that hold their shape and don’t absorb too much fat. Cut the eggplant into 1-inch cubes, toss with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake until tender and beginning to brown. The succulent eggplant pieces are then ready to add to stews, braises, and pasta sauces.
Supermarkets usually offer the common globe eggplant and one or two Asian types, but farmers’ markets display eggplant in many colors, sizes and shapes. Peacock Family Farms grows at least 9 kinds, and sell them at farmers’ markets around Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Any of the fat globe or Italian varieties are good in this dish- the common purple one from the grocery store or more fanciful types such as the white, silky smooth Clara, lavender and cream colored Rosa Bianca, or rosy Beatrice.
Likewise, grocery stores offer red and orange bell peppers, but if you stroll through a farmers’ market now, you will discover displays of vibrantly colored peppers. Beylik’s stand tempted me with at least 8 different peppers, including sweet bells in a rainbow of colors and shinny brown chocolate beauties. I chose pale yellow Hungarian peppers and 6-inch long, bright orange banana sweet peppers this week.
Albacore Tuna with Eggplant, Peppers, and Tomatoes
Albacore tuna caught in the U.S or British Columbia is an environmentally friendly seafood choice, and is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s super green list . Ask for troll- or pole-caught tuna, because they are young fish with low mercury levels. Use 10 to 12 ounces tuna for two people; then enjoy the leftover sauce with penne on another night. Or to serve 4, cook 1¼ to 1½ pounds fish.
Makes 2 servings plus leftovers, or 4 servings
1¼ pounds eggplant (unpeeled), cut into 1-inch pieces
2 sweet peppers, such as 1 yellow and 1 orange bell pepper, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
½ red onion, chopped
½ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 28-ounce can Italian tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1½ tablespoons minced fresh marjoram, plus more for garnish
1/3 cup halved pitted kalamata olives
2 tablespoons drained capers
1½ cups dry white wine
10 to 12 ounces albacore tuna (or 1¼ to 1½ pounds for 4 servings), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup couscous (2 cups for 4 servings), preferably whole wheat, freshly cooked
Position one rack on the lowest shelf in the oven and preheat to 425°F. Combine the eggplant and peppers in a large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Arrange the vegetables in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast on the lower oven rack until tender and starting to brown on the bottom, stirring after 12 minutes, about 25 minutes total. Remove from the oven.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and dried crushed pepper and sauté until the onion begins to brown, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices and 1½ tablespoons of the marjoram. Break up the tomatoes with a spoon. Simmer the sauce until it is thick and the flavors blend, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes.
Add the eggplant, peppers, olives and capers to the sauce. Mix in the wine and bring to a simmer. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the tuna with salt and pepper. Add to the sauce and simmer until just cooked through, about 5 minutes.
Spoon the couscous onto 2 plates. Spoon all the fish, and generous servings of the sauce and vegetables atop the couscous. Sprinkle with additional marjoram and serve right away.
San Marzano Tomatoes- Canned San Marzano tomatoes have a sweeter flavor and richer texture than other canned Italian tomatoes. Those grown organically are even tastier. To break up the tomatoes, I often squeeze them through my fingers into the pan; work slowly and gently or the juices might spray onto cloths or the kitchen counter.
Whole Wheat Couscous- I love the delicate texture of couscous, and it cooks in just 5 minutes. Trader Joe’s offers whole wheat couscous which is similar to regular couscous, but has more flavor and better nutrition. I keep it in my cupboard at all times.
Coming tomorrow: Penne with Eggplant, Peppers, and Goat Cheese
Ingredients for the recipe
Leftover eggplant, pepper, and tomato sauce
Penne pasta, preferably multigrain such as Barilla Plus
Soft fresh goat cheese