'Top Chef' judge Gail Simmons on why high-quality canned tuna is her go-to summer ingredient

·Senior Lifestyle Editor
·7-min read
Gail Simmons says she leans toward a Mediterranean diet in the summer, including grilled vegetables and high-quality canned tuna. (Photo: Genova Premium Tuna; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Gail Simmons says she leans toward a Mediterranean diet in the summer, including grilled vegetables and high-quality canned tuna. (Photo: Genova Premium Tuna; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Because food connects us all, Yahoo Life is serving up a heaping plateful of table talk with people who are passionate about what's on their menu in Deglazed, a series about food.

It's almost summer, and as the weather heats up, Top Chef judge Gail Simmons is keeping it cool in the kitchen with a Mediterranean diet.

"Mediterranean eating is so diverse and versatile," Simmons tells Yahoo Life. "It's heavy on fruits and vegetables and eating more of a plant-based, fish and seafood-based diet. It's how I want to eat in the summer anyway. I don't need to stand at the stove and braise for two hours."

Simmons spoke with Yahoo Life as part of her work promoting Genova Premium Tuna, but her appreciation for high-quality canned seafood goes back to her college days. "It was eye-opening to me when I was in college and spent a year in Spain," she says, "coming to understand what they mean when they talk about preserved seafood and its high quality: Seafood preserved at its freshest and served really simply. We're not talking about that [canned tuna] product from our youth — we're talking about premium quality ingredients that really elevate your cooking."

Simmons says if she could eat only one cuisine for the rest of her life, she'd go with simple flavorful Mediterranean food. (Photo: Genova Premium Tuna)
Simmons says if she could eat only one cuisine for the rest of her life, she'd go with simple flavorful Mediterranean food. (Photo: Genova Premium Tuna)

With her Genova Premium Tuna, which she describes as "big filet cuts of yellowtail or albacore tuna" packed only in olive oil and salt, Simmons has developed a summer staple, her tuna romesco salad board.

"Romesco is a Mediterranean, Spanish condiment," she explains. "Like a spread or dip with roasted red peppers and almonds and cherry tomatoes and olive oil, all thrown in a blender. With it, I can grill some simple veggies and take some marinated artichokes and some beautiful olives and really good quality cheese and make a tuna salad board."

This colorful dish is one even her kids, who are 4 and 8, love. But how did the author of Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating get her kids to be adventurous eaters?

"I find, especially with my daughter who's a little older, they really take ownership of the food they make and are more open to eating new things if they've had a hand in them," says Simmons. "I think they're better eaters because they love to get their hands dirty in the kitchen and then appreciate the fruits of their labor."

As a child growing up in Toronto, Canada, Simmons says she learned to appreciate food from her parents, who were big on both traveling and cooking in their own home.

"My mom was a great cook and always did all of her shopping in Chinatown," she recalls. "That's where all the freshest food was whether it was seafood or fresh vegetables. It was really ahead of her time to do so and she made friends with a lot of the grocers and restaurants there."

"We used to love going to a couple of restaurants in Chinatown as a kid," she adds. "I always remember we knew the owner of this one place well enough that we knew not to order off the regular menu because that's what all the tourists would order. My mom would order directly with him what him and his family ate and that's how we learned to eat, too."

As a teenager, Simmons recalls visiting a Toronto "dive place" where she'd order chicken wings. "They made the best chicken wings ever and I was totally addicted to them," she says. "They had this really good ranch sauce ... I can make a good chicken wing but nothing exactly like theirs — there's just something about it."

Now that she calls the shots in her own kitchen, Simmons says she'd eat "dark chocolate and eggs" if she could only pick one food to eat for the rest of her life. "But not together," she adds.

"If I could pick a cuisine ... I would go Mediterranean because it reminds me of sunshine and summer and seasonality and simplicity," she says. "That's how I want to eat: Heavy on the fruits and vegetables and whole grains, but also lots of good quality olive oil and endless ingredients."

Genova Tuna Romesco Salad Board

Courtesy of Gail Simmons and Genova Premium Tuna

(Photo: Genova Premium Tuna)
(Photo: Genova Premium Tuna)

"A philosophy I've always believed in," says Simmons, "is cook with a few really high-quality ingredients. You don't have to do a lot to them to make them shine, they're good for you, they're versatile and they really elevate your cooking whether you're cooking at home on a Wednesday night for your family or you're throwing a dinner party for friends."

Ingredients:

Romesco Ingredients

  • 3 large Roma tomatoes

  • 1 roasted red pepper (skin removed and seeded or from a jar), coarsely chopped

  • 1/2 cup roasted salted almonds or Marcona almonds

  • 1 garlic clove, chopped

  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar

  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika

  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Tuna Board Ingredients

  • 2 cans of Genova Yellowfin Tuna in Olive Oil

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

  • 1 bunch spring onions or scallions, ends trimmed

  • 1 lemon, halved crosswise

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 yellow or green zucchini, sliced 1/2-inch thick on the bias, halved lengthwise if large

  • 1 bell pepper, sliced lengthwise into 1-inch pieces

  • 1/2 cup roasted, salted almonds or Marcona almonds

  • 1/2 cup halved marinated artichokes, drained and patted dry

  • 1 bunch small radishes, cut in half

  • 1/2 cup green olives

  • 1/2 cup black olives

  • 4 ounces Manchego cheese, sliced into triangles

  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped

Instructions:

  1. Preheat broiler. Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil. Place the tomatoes on the sheet pan and broil until well charred on both sides, two to four minutes per side. Transfer tomatoes to a bowl, allow to cool slightly then remove the skin, core and seeds and coarsely chop. Reserve the seeds and inner flesh for another use (see note below).

  2. In the bowl of a blender, combine the tomatoes, roasted red pepper, almonds, garlic, vinegar, paprika, chili flakes if using, salt and pepper until a chunky paste forms. With the blender on high speed, slowly drizzle in the oil, scraping down the sides of the blender when needed, until well incorporated but still a rustic texture. Transfer the romesco to a bowl and taste for seasoning. Allow the romesco to sit covered at room temperature for one hour before serving.

  3. While the romesco rests, prepare the board. Start by draining the tuna and set it aside in a bowl. Set a grill or grill pan on medium-high heat and brush it with olive oil. Grill the spring onions or scallions until charred and just tender, about four minutes per side. Grill the lemon halves, flesh-side down, until grill marks appear, about three minutes. Remove onions and lemon to a large plate and season with salt and pepper.

  4. Toss the zucchini and red pepper in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until charred and just tender, about three minutes per side. Remove to the same plate to cool slightly.

  5. Right before dinner guests arrive, assemble the board. With a large spoon, scoop a generous amount of romesco into the center of your board. Using the back of the spoon spread the romesco into a wide circle with a well in the center. Gently pile the Genova Yellowfin Tuna in Olive Oil into the well. Place the grilled, marinated and raw vegetables, cheese, charred lemon halves and almonds around the romesco and tuna. Sprinkle the tuna with the chopped parsley just before serving.

  6. Note: Romesco can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days.

  7. Tip: Seeds and inner flesh of charred tomato can be used to thin out the Romesco later, if needed, as well as for traditional Spanish pan con tomate (toasted bread rubbed with garlic, topped with chopped tomato, salt and olive oil).

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