Mayonnaise, and a Trio of Tonnatos
I grew up on Hellman’s mayonnaise and I loved it. My grandmother used to mix it with a little crème fraiche to make it more ‘fancy,’ but we all loved however it came, fancified or not. I love all mayonnaise. Even the chalky-white fish-and-chip-shop stuff in sachets which has probably never come within 4 miles of a real egg.
To make your own is a splendid thing, but not always realistic, and there are times when bought mayonnaise will do.
To me, a life-long devotee, there is a mayonnaise for almost every occasion. Hellman’s (or bought stuff) is for the hurried days, and for every day, and for empty fridge days. For carrots dunked straight into the jar, for dad’s burnt barbecued drumsticks, or for his microwaved baked potatoes.
This home-made mayonnaise (the following recipe) is for special occasions, when you have plentiful olive oil, really fresh eggs, and good lemons or vinegar. This mayonnaise is the holy grail. On the days when I have eggs from someone’s hens, oil from someone’s trees, and vinegar made from someone’s own wine or lemons grown in our garden I almost drown in the oily happiness of it all. This mayonnaise is an unctuous, pale green, shining, wobbling ointment with a sharp, bright flavour, and I can eat the whole bowl with bread alone. This mayonnaise is beautiful with grilled fish, with waxy potatoes and with good, crusty bread. It is essentially a celebration of the oil that makes it, a rich and creamy balm which carries the flavour of the olives and elevates them into a richer, rounder, acid-tempered mouthful.
Though mayo methods and flavours vary wildly, the ratio of oil to egg is always the same, whatever the oil, so you can vary it according to your taste & budget. Groundnut and sunflower oils give less flavour, more bulk. If using these oils, I might add mustard to enhance the flavour. Bad quality olive oil can make a bitter mayonnaise. As long as you follow the two yolks, 300ml oil ratio, you should create a proper, thick mayo. The oil you use depends on the final flavour you're after. Try 100ml olive and 200ml neutral oil if your taste runs to something a little lighter, or the full 300ml olive if, like me, you love the grassy punch of extra virgin olive oil. Taste and adjust to your preference.
Whatever your desired final flavour, the key with mayo is to add the oil slowly, a delicate trickle, or drop by drop. I always use my faithful kitchen-aid, but a hand-held whisk or any blender will do. If you like, you can make it by hand, with a whisk and bowl.
You can use the following mayonnaise for any occasion you wish to, but it is extravagant in its use of good (and expensive) oil so I tend to just make it when I have some really good, fresh bread, very good oil in the cupboard and a slow summer day at my disposal.
2 egg yolks
300 ml best extra virgin olive oil
Small splash red wine vinegar
Lemon juice, around 1.5 tsp
Place the yolks in your mixer/blender/bowl. Add a generous pinch of salt and start whisking. Drizzle the oil in drop by drop until it is all emulsified, mixing/whisking vigorously all the while.
Add a good squeeze of lemon and a small splash of the vinegar. Mix and taste for seasoning.
Add more acidity/salt according to your preference. If you like, dilute with a little water to make it more runny.
This is also the mayonnaise that I use for all three of the following tonnatos. It really makes a difference to have the good stuff here, as the flavour of the olive oil accentuates the flavours of the dish.
1.Vitello Tonnato (Sardinian style)
Franca’s signature recipe uses pork instead of veal. I have heard tell of this swap before, but having eaten it many times now I can confirm it is a highly successful one, and I always make the dish this way myself. It is rarer to find veal here, whereas pork is ubiquitous.
This is Franca’s recipe:
1 lean loin of pork
3 carrots, scrubbed
2 sticks of celery
1 bay leaf
Few sprigs parsley
2 tsp salt
6-8 small waxy potatoes
1 batch of mayonnaise (see above)
1 heaped tbsp capers, plus more to decorate
160g tuna (this is 1 small tin here)
6 anchovy fillets, plus more to decorate
Put the pork and aromatics in a deep saucepan. Cover completely with cold water and place over the heat, with a lid.
Bring the pot to the boil and then simmer at a very low heat until the pork is just cooked. This will only take a few minutes.
Remove the pork from the liquid and set aside to cool.
The vegetables in the liquor will probably not be completely cooked (depending on the size and cooking time of your pork loin), so bring the pot back to a simmer and continue cooking until they are.
Once they are done remove them and leave them to cool. Eat the potatoes in the following recipe, and use the carrots to decorate the finished dish.
For the sauce:
Blitz everything together in an electric mixer until it is as chunky/smooth as you like it. Taste for seasoning and adjust accordingly. Let it down with a touch of the cooled cooking liquor and some extra lemon juice until it is a runnier consistency, then pour over the chilled, sliced pork and serve, decorated with capers and carrots.
2. Potato Tonnato
Remember the happy days of cafés or school canteens and jacket potatoes with tuna mayonnaise? I do. I adore jacket potatoes. Good proper ones like my granny made in the Aga, with crispy jackets crusted with salt, and fluffy, buttery insides. Even bad, sad, shrivelled ones hold a place in my heart. The point is hot, sweet, sticky flesh against cold, salty, fatty condiment, whether slabs of butter or swathes of tuna mayo. Jacket potatoes don’t exist out here, sadly. But delicious salty, sweet, boiled, waxy potatoes do, and as tonnato sauce is too good to just reserve for those rare occasions when I feel like buying pork fillet and poaching it (and this is not very often) the potato/tuna mayo combination lives to fight another day. A pocket-friendly, potato-friendly alternative which I love.
Use the cooked potatoes as described above. Remove their skins whilst still warm and leave to cool. Cut into slices and then dress with the sauce. Decorate with capers and small strips of anchovy.
3. Tomato Tonnato
You say tomato, I say tonnato. I (only half) included this dish as an excuse to write that. The other half of my justification comes from the fact that it’s delicious. Tomatoes and tuna are a well-known and well-loved combination. Capers and anchovies too are always in happy company with a ripe tomato. As well as being very good to eat, it is spectacular to look at if you use a selection of different coloured tomatoes.
Aim for two (medium/large) and 2 small tomatoes per person
1 batch tonnato sauce as above
Handful of capers to garnish
Fresh basil to garnish
Anchovy slivers to garnish
Slice the tomatoes however you wish, and spread the sauce on the base of a large flat plate. Lay the tomatoes over their bed of sauce, then strew them with capers and anchovy slivers, and some leaves of basil. Serve, with lots of bread.