Rachel Roddy’s Savory Tonnato Sauce Delights Taste Buds

Anna, Jane, Elizabeth, Madhur, Alastair, Colin, Delia, Nigel, Mary, Simon, Nigella, Sophie, Josceline, the magnificent Ladies of the Yorkshire WI – all familiar names in the culinary world. These cookbooks are like old friends, weathered and worn, offering wisdom and comfort in their pages. They guided me through countless meals and shared the secrets of writing about food. Returning to my parents’ home, these books transport me back in time, evoking memories of shared meals and cherished moments. Mum’s copies, with their dog-eared pages and splatters of sauce, hold a special place in my heart – a slice of home itself.

As I grow older, I find solace in the familiarity of these rooms and the recipes they hold. It has become my work to delve into these culinary treasures, seeking guidance from the likes of Anna, Alastair, and Elizabeth. Today, they remind me how to create a masterpiece – tonnato sauce.

Anna Del Conte, an esteemed Italian food writer, describes her mother’s Milanese tonnato, a velvety beige sauce made with tuna, anchovies, cream, and lemon, traditionally served with veal. Her recipe is a testament to the rich flavors of Italian cuisine. Each time I prepare it, I smile at the anecdote accompanying the recipe – her mother’s determination to salvage the dish after an accidental spillage, declaring it too good to waste.

In nearby Piedmont, olive oil mayonnaise forms the base for tonnato sauce. Inspired by this regional variation, Elizabeth David, in her book Italian Food, suggests a recipe that combines stiff mayonnaise with “tunny” fish – a term lost in our modern culinary lexicon. The result is a luscious, jelly-like substance that clings to the spoon and complements the dish perfectly.

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Alastair Little and Ed Smith offer their own interpretations, bridging the gap between Milan and Piedmont. Their versions simplify the process by utilizing a food processor or immersion blender, eliminating the need for making stock or mayonnaise.

Traditionally, tonnato is associated with veal, creating the famous dish vitello tonnato. The combination of meat and tuna sauce may sound unconventional, but it is a match made in culinary heaven. However, tonnato also pairs beautifully with chicken, turkey, and even soft, hard-boiled eggs and butterhead lettuce.

Elizabeth David recommends using her mayonnaise-based tonnato to fill tomato halves, while Ed Smith suggests serving slices of tomato on top of tonnato, garnished with capers. The vibrant red of the tomatoes against the creamy sauce creates a visual feast, perfectly complemented by the burst of saltiness from the capers. Truly a delightful combination.

Now, let’s dive into the recipe for this tantalizing tonnato sauce:

Tonnato (Tuna and Anchovy Sauce)


  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 160g tinned tuna (120g drained weight)
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 1 egg plus an extra yolk
  • 1 small handful parsley leaves
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 150ml olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to season


  1. In a food processor or a bowl suitable for an immersion blender, combine the anchovy fillets, tuna, garlic, lemon juice, egg, parsley leaves, and dijon mustard.
  2. Pulse the ingredients until smooth.
  3. Gradually add the olive oil while continuing to blend until the sauce reaches a loose, creamy consistency, similar to single or double cream.
  4. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with additional lemon juice, salt, and pepper, as desired.
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Enjoy this bold and savory tonnato sauce alongside your favorite meats, eggs, or lettuce. Its rich flavors and creamy texture are sure to leave a lasting impression on your taste buds.

(Note: The Guardian aims to publish recipes for sustainable fish. For ratings in your region, check: UK; Australia; US.)

So, my dear friends, give this flavorful tonnato sauce a try and let the magic of these recipes transport you to a world of culinary delights. Bon appétit!

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