Summer Tomato Salad With Spicy Tonnato

A no-cook salad of stunning late-summer tomatoes that brings the heat, thanks to a spicy riff on Italian tonnato.

Tomato salad with spicy tonnato on a plate.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why This Recipe Works

  • An immersion blender makes quick work of the creamy mayonnaise-based emulsion for tonnato sauce.
  • Resisting the urge to over-blend the tonnato prevents it from becoming grainy.
  • Grated fresh tomato pulp and hot pepper paste temper the citrus acidity of traditional Italian tonnato, while also turning up the heat and imbuing the sauce with a pop of bright summer color.

Tomato season is a summer season unto itself. It was during my daily buying binge of tomatoes at the Union Square Greenmarket that led to the original punny tomato tonnato salad–a summer salad that requires no cooking, gorgeous seasonal tomatoes, and an Italian tuna mayonnaise. I came up with this spicy version thanks in large part to a common farmers-market tomato-transportation problem: the exploding tomato.

Call it Murphy's 'Mato Law—no matter how carefully your market tomato bounty is nestled into a reusable tote bag, at least one of them will burst in transit like a dye pack on a bank robber. It's not the tomato's fault; it's just eager and ripe, and I don't like seeing that enthusiasm go to waste.

So, when I found a punctured tomato in my shopping bag during an initial round of testing, I decided to grate the tomato with a box grater, à la pan con tomate, and figured that bright, sweet tomato pulp could be incorporated into the tuna sauce.

I made the same tonnato base as in Daniel's original version, but then subbed in the grated tomato pulp for the second addition of lemon juice, and added a couple tablespoons of Turkish hot pepper paste for a spicy kick.

Blended in with the tuna, these two ingredients give the tonnato a summery orange-red color that pops on the plate, and a spicy-tuna vibe somewhat reminiscent of those takeout sushi rolls you order when it's too hot to cook.

But you don't need to order out, or cook for that matter! You just need to pick up a big bag of ripe tomatoes and some nice canned tuna, and make this salad. Like, right now.

We all need to hold on to tomato season for as long as we can. Because there are only two things that are certain in this world: death and pumpkin-spice season. They'll come to build a fall between us, but we know they won't win. Don't dream it's over.

Closeup side view of tomato salad with spicy tonnato sauce, green and purple basil, and black sesame seeds.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

August 2019

Recipe Details

Summer Tomato Salad With Spicy Tonnato

Active 15 mins
Total 15 mins
Serves 4 servings

A no-cook salad of stunning late-summer tomatoes that brings the heat, thanks to a spicy riff on Italian tonnato.


  • For the Spicy Tonnato:
  • 1 ripe beefsteak tomato (about 10 ounces; 285g)
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • 2 anchovy fillets (about 1/4 ounce; 7g)
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon (5g) capers, drained
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable oil
  • 4 ounces (113g) oil-packed tuna, such as Ortiz, drained
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30g) Turkish hot pepper paste (see notes), plus more if desired
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • For the Salad:
  • 2 pounds (900g) mixed ripe tomatoes (see notes)
  • Toasted black sesame seeds and coarse sea salt, for serving (optional)
  • 15 to 20 fresh basil leaves, large leaves torn and small leaves left whole


  1. For the Spicy Tonnato: Using a sharp chef's knife or serrated knife, slice off the very bottom of the tomato. Place a box grater in a medium bowl. Rub cut face of tomato over large holes of box grater, using the flat palm of your hand to move the tomato back and forth. The flesh should be grated off while the skin remains intact in your hand. Discard skin and season tomato pulp lightly with kosher salt to taste. Transfer tomato pulp to a liquid measuring cup and set aside along with the bowl (no need to wash it).

    Photo collage of grating fresh tomato with a box grater in a mixing bowl.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  2. Place egg, lemon juice, anchovies, mustard, and capers in the bottom of an immersion blender cup or another tall-sided container that just fits the head of your immersion blender. Pour vegetable oil on top and allow to settle for 15 seconds. Place head of immersion blender at bottom of cup and turn it on high speed. Do not pulse or move the head. As mayonnaise forms, slowly tilt and lift the head of the immersion blender until all oil is emulsified; this should take between 30 and 45 seconds.

    Photo collage of blending tonnato sauce base in a tall-sided container with an immersion blender to form mayonnaise.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  3. Turn off blender and remove from blender cup. Scrape down sides of cup using a rubber spatula, then add tuna, 2 tablespoons (30ml) reserved tomato pulp, and pepper paste. Return blender head to blender cup and blend just until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated into a smooth sauce, 15 to 30 seconds.

    Photo collage of blending tomato pulp, hot pepper paste, and canned tuna into spicy tonnato sauce.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  4. Taste sauce and adjust the level of heat to your liking with more pepper paste. Check the consistency of the sauce as well; it should be looser than regular mayonnaise, but still thick enough to coat a spoon (somewhere between crème fraîche and stirred whole-milk yogurt). Gradually blend in remaining tomato pulp, stopping if the sauce starts to get too runny; reserve any remaining pulp. Avoid over-blending the sauce, as this can cause it to become grainy.

    Adding grated fresh tomato pulp to spicy tonnato sauce while blending the sauce together with an immersion blender.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  5. Transfer sauce to reserved bowl and slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking constantly to emulsify. Season to taste with kosher salt. Refrigerate sauce until ready to serve.

  6. For the Salad: Using a sharp chef's knife or serrated knife, cut tomatoes into an assortment of slices, wedges, and bite-size pieces.

  7. Using a large spoon, spread tonnato in an even layer on a large serving plate or individual serving plates. Arrange tomatoes on top of tonnato and spoon any remaining tomato pulp over them. Sprinkle sesame seeds and sea salt (if using) over tomatoes, followed by basil leaves. If not using sea salt, season tomatoes with kosher salt. Serve immediately.

Special Equipment

Box grater, immersion blender


Turkish pepper paste (biber salçasi) is made by roasting, puréeing, and dehydrating (traditionally via sun-drying) sweet or hot Turkish peppers. You can find both sweet and hot pepper pastes at Turkish markets or online. Korean gochujang, or even sriracha, can also be substituted for Turkish pepper paste. (If using sriracha, you may have to use less tomato pulp in the tonnato to keep it from becoming too runny.)

This salad is meant to celebrate peak tomato season, and won't be nearly as good if made with out-of-season tomatoes. The amount of tomato for the salad can easily be adjusted to accommodate the number of people you are serving.

This recipe makes about 1 1/2 cups of tonnato, which will leave you with extra sauce if you're serving four people.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The salad is best enjoyed immediately. The tonnato can be made ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three days.

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