The last time I had a really great tonnato sauce with thin slices of veal was at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon . Even though this meal was a few years ago, to this day I still remember not only the taste of the veal but the creamy silkiness of the sauce. It might have been the anchovies, the extra virgin olive oil, the raw egg, or it might just have been the salt. Whatever it was, one Saturday morning as I was trying to pull together some provisions for a visit to The Red House, I thought a tonnato sauce would be a good thing to have on hand — maybe as a dipping sauce for some vegetables or a topping for some swordfish I hoped to grill once I got there.
But here’s the thing. Even though I cook a at least one major meal and sometimes even two nearly every day, I don’t have a particularly large collection of cookbooks. In fact, most of my cookbooks fit on two small shelves in a cupboard in my kitchen. (In other words, I’m really winging it recipe-wise.) Thinking that a tonnato sauce was kind of an upscale thing, I started looking for a recipe in an old classic namely, The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne with Pierre Franey. Low and behold, no tonnato recipe. I moved on and picked up one of my favorite cookbooks, Sarah Leah Chase’s Open-House Cookbook. I was excited to discover that she did indeed have a recipe in the book but also noticed she listed raw eggs as one of the ingredients. I’m not one of those people who don’t eat runny eggs for fear of salmonella poisoning but the fact is I wasn’t quite sure how the tonnato sauce would travel in a cooler especially since the temperature outside had been hovering near 90 degrees and I had a good four hour drive WITHOUT traffic.
That led me to Ada Boni’s Italian Regional Cooking book where a classic vitello tonnato dish was to be had using hard boiled eggs. Since I nearly always look at most recipes as inspiration rather than following them by rote, I looked over the ingredients and realized I had neither capers nor anchovies in the house. The lack of those two basic ingredients I couldn’t just “wing,” so I went out to the supermarket and bought a jar of capers and a can of anchovies. Back home a can of tuna, a hard boiled egg and the anchovies were put in a food processor. I also added a slice of white bread to give some thickness to the mixture then started pouring in some olive oil adding lemon juice as needed.
I wouldn’t dare say it was as good as anything that Chef Robuchon could concoct but even after sitting in an ice packed cooler for over four hours (sigh, yes we hit some traffic) I dare say, it was a wonderful accompaniment to a really great piece of grilled swordfish.