Saturday, August 17, 2019


Peppers in the garden.
Picking a basket of tomatoes and a few red and green bell peppers from the garden, I was inspired to look a little further than gazpacho for ways to use them. I recalled titaina, a Valencian dish, that’s basically a sauce of tomatoes and peppers with the addition of tuna.

I first tasted titaina at Restaurante la Matandeta in Alfafar (Valencia), where it was served as a starter before the main course of wood-fire-cooked paella with chicken, rabbit and duck (that's right, no seafood).

Traditional titaina is made with tonyina de sorra, salt-cured, air dried tuna belly. Tuna belly, ventresca or ijada, known as “toro” in sushi restaurants, is the fattiest, juciest part of the tuna. The dry salt tuna, needs to be soaked in water eight hours before incorporating in this dish (unlike mojama, dry salt tuna from the lean side cuts, which is served, like ham, thinly sliced and dressed with olive oil).

Salt tuna, which can be found in the Mercat Central of Valencia, is not likely available elsewhere.

However, titaina can also be made with fresh or canned tuna. I had both canned ventresca and a piece of fresh yellow-fin tuna and decided to go with the fresh tuna.

Serve the tuna-tomato-pepper melange, cold or room temperature, as a starter.

Toasted pine nuts add crunch to the dish.

Heap the titiana on a small roll to make a pepito sandwich.

How to serve titaina? Room temperature or cold, like a salad, as a starter or light lunch dish. Serve it accompanied by bread for dipping and scooping. It’s also good heaped on a toasted bun or roll as a pepito sandwich. In Valencia, titaina is used as a topping for coca, a pizza-like flatbread, and as a filling for empanadillas. We liked it spooned over rice and tossed with penne. You can also cook the pepper-tomato mixture without the tuna and serve it as a sauce for tuna steaks grilled rare.

Tomatoes and Peppers with Tuna
Titaina Valenciana

Basically, the dish is a sofrito of tomatoes, peppers and garlic.

Peeling tomatoes!

There’s more than one way to skin a tomato! 1.)Drop it into boiling water for 30 seconds, drain, and slip off the skin. 2.)Roast on a grill (wood or gas-fired) just until the skin splits. 3.)Grate the tomato. 4.)Use a vegetable peeler. I can peel a dozen tomatoes with a peeler in the same time it takes to bring a big pot of water to a boil. 

You can also peel bell peppers with a vegetable peeler! Or roast them until charred and remove blackened skin. Skinning peppers is completely optional. 

Chop the peppers and tomatoes into very small dice so the cooked sauce has texture, but is not lumpy with big pieces of the vegetables. 

Cut tuna into dice.
Fresh tuna can be cut into medium dice, unless it will be used for sandwich filling, in which case it needs to be cut up smaller. Canned tuna can be chunked or flaked.

Serves 4 as a starter or side.

5 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, chopped
10 ounces fresh tuna, cut in ½-inch dice
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper (1 or 2 peppers)
1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper (1 or 2 peppers)
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped (3 ½ cups)
Sugar (optional)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Grating of fresh nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
½  teaspoon salt

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a cazuela, deep skillet or large saucepan and sauté the pine nuts and garlic until golden, 1 minute. Pat the diced tuna dry and add to the pan. Fry on medium high until lightly browned on all sides, 3 minutes. Skim out the pine nuts, garlic and tuna and reserve.

Cook the pepper-tomato sofrito until thick and liquid is reduced.

Add remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan. Add the chopped red and green peppers and sauté them 3 minutes until they begin to soften. Add the tomatoes. If the tomatoes are very acidic, add a spoonful of sugar. Season with cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper and salt. Cook on high heat for a minute, then lower heat and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is very thick and most of the liquid has cooked away, about 20 minutes. 

Add the reserved tuna, pine nuts and garlic to the pan and cook 10 minutes more.

Once cooked, sauce is very thick.
Remove from heat and allow to cool. Serve room temperature or chill the mixture, covered, up to 2 days, and serve cold. 

Restaurante la Matandeta. in Alfafar (Valencia).

How to serve mojama  (salt tuna).

More recipes for pepito sandwiches.

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