Are you the kind of person who likes to build their own PC out of individual components to custom-suit your every need and perhaps save a few bucks in the process? Or are you the kind of person who'd rather spend a few extra bucks to get a fancy plug-and-play machine?
One could ask the same question about cooking. Some recipes start with raw ingredients and require manipulation and technique to end up with fantastic food. Other recipes are as simple as paying a few extra bucks up front to start with things that are so damn delicious on their own, they require very little tweaking to go from store to belly. This recipe—pimientos del piquillo rellenos de atún (that's Spanish for "peppers with some well-dressed tuna shoved inside 'em")—is of the latter variety.
The Spanish are masters at packing RDS (Really Delicious Stuff) into cans. When I'm drinking a glass of sherry or a Rioja with my wife Adri, I could be content with a good loaf of bread, some excellent olive oil, and some RDS. Maybe a tin of really nice olive oil-packed Spanish mussels or razor clams, or if I'm feeling fancy, some ventresca, the extra-fatty belly of a tuna.
Piquillos are little red peppers similar in shape and size to a jalapeño, but with the bright, sweet freshness of a red bell pepper (in fact, if you can't find piquillos, this dish is just as delicious with a strip of roasted red pepper wrapped around the tuna in place of the piquillo). They're the perfect size for stuffing with a brightly flavored tuna salad. I prefer to use meaty bonito packed in olive oil because it has a much more pleasant texture than the water-packed variety, which can get chalky and dry.
To dress the tuna, I start with a really good homemade allioli, the Spanish sauce made with garlic and olive oil. Traditionally, allioli is made by pounding garlic cloves with extra virgin olive oil until a smooth emulsion is formed. I prefer the more modern version, which is similar to mayonnaise in that it has an egg yolk added to help bind it. I don't want any of you Spanish traditionalists giving me no guff about it neither!
To make my allioli, I use my 2-Minute Mayonnaise technique: All you do is add an egg yolk, grated garlic, some lemon juice, and some oil to the cup of a hand blender, then blend if starting from the bottom up, letting the vortex slowly draw oil down into the blade. It's the fastest, easiest, most foolproof way to make mayonnaise or allioli.
One pro-tip: Don't add extra virgin olive oil directly to the jar of a hand blender. The violent shearing of the blender blades will cause it to rapidly oxidize and turn bitter. Instead, start your allioli with a neutral oil like canola, then as soon as it is nice and creamy, transfer it to a bowl and add your olive oil with a whisk by hand.
The other key with good allioli is to make sure it's highly seasoned. Without enough salt and lemon, an allioli or mayonnaise will taste heavy and greasy. Taste, add a little salt, taste some more, add a little more salt, and keep going until your current taste isn't better than your previous one. I bet you'll end up adding more salt than you initially thought you would.
The remaining tuna salad ingredients are simple: some chopped shallots and capers, salt and pepper, chopped parsley, and plenty of great extra-virgin olive oil. Did I say that there were only two RDS's in this recipe? I lied. It's three if you count the oil.
You will find that stuffing the peppers is both fun and rewarding, if you allow yourself to get into it. I like to overstuff them a bit, laying them down on top of toasted slices of baguette sliced on a sharp bias, letting the tuna fall out onto the end of the bread before dolloping a spoonful of allioli over the top.
More olive oil never hurts. And neither does some more coarse salt. After all, this is drinking food—you've got to get that thirst going.
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