Smoked tuna and artichoke panini
This isn’t so much a recipe as it is a memory, brought back to life while going through some old photographs and toying with the tempting thought of a quick visit to Venice again. The memory happens to take place at the Rialto fish market, which I always love perusing even if I’m not buying any fish, just to satisfy my curiosity. To me, it’s as good as any sight to see in Venice, a living, breathing historical space of the city that carries on a centuries old tradition. It’s the social and economic heart of Venice, as well as the most ancient part of Venice – it’s been the home of a market for over a thousand years. It still never fails to excite me when I see the boats unloading cartons heavy with produce, the water at high tide lapping the edges of the market’s stones. A truly unique spectacle.
After a late morning wander through the maze of laneways from le Zattere to the market, one can easily work up an appetite and luckily it’s this area that has no shortage of great spots for a bite to eat, a cicchetto, and a cheeky late morning glass of wine (oh those Venetians, they do know how to enjoy a drink; it’s enough to say that the oldest wine bar on the lagoon opens at 8:30am for business. All they sell is wine and wonderful cicchetti to go with it).
In this memory, we’re visiting some dear friends of ours, Rosa and Massimo. We’re all feeling the same need for an early snack after a particularly good night out, bacaro-hopping, and so we pop in to a little place opposite a fishmonger gutting his fish. They serve excellent panini. And we all devour, in particular, one made with smoked tuna and artichoke paste.
Exactly what it was about this panino that made it so good and so memorable that I’m still thinking about it years later, I can’t really say. It could have been partly the setting. Partly the good company. Partly a rumbling stomach. And the rest, I believe, would have to be simply an excellent combination of quality ingredients. Delicious, miniature brioche buns filled with silky slices of smoked tuna (see below about sustainability and substitutes) and, the highlight if you ask me, a creamy, flavourful paste of artichokes and a hint of spicy mustard.
I tried recreating the experience at home, however the Rialto setting is a very hard thing to compete with. The artichoke paste I made by blending some good quality marinated artichoke quarters with a hint of lemon juice. I used wholemeal mini buns, but something needs to be said about the goodness of slightly warmed miniature brioche buns. If you can’t get smoked tuna, you could sear a small piece of well-seasoned tuna and slice very thinly.
A couple of words about sustainability: These days I tend to avoid any tuna whatsoever, even though it is one of my favourite fish. If you are going to choose to eat this severely overfished species, go for line caught Albacore or Skipjack tuna, which are slightly better choices; avoid bluefin and yellowfin at all costs and stay clear of farmed tuna as well. A nice substitute for this panino if you don’t want to use tuna at all? Try mackerel, smoked, tinned or fresh, or perhaps some smoked eel.
A wonderful panino to accompany some Venetian memories.