- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

CONCORD, N.H. — The trouble with tuna melts is they can be so messy to make.

I’ve never had much luck achieving that happy equilibrium whereby my bread is well toasted, my cheese is melted and my tuna salad hasn’t oozed into the skillet. Sure, using a dry tuna salad (or very little tuna at all) fixes this, but why bother?

Tuna melts should contain heaps of tuna salad. And it should be moist tuna salad, made all goopy with mayo or dressing and chopped pickles, maybe even some tomatoes and celery. But it seems the better the tuna salad, the harder it is to make a good melt.

For this reason, I generally leave my tuna melts to the experts — the wonderful and horribly underappreciated cooks at truck stops and diners. Not sure what their trick is, but they always manage to deliver.

Recently, inspiration struck. Or, to be more precise, inspiration struck Rachael Ray, who put in her magazine (Everyday With Rachael Ray) a recipe, which I read, was inspired by and tinkered with to make my own version.

Miss Ray’s recipe was for a bruschetta (an Italian appetizer in which bread is topped with something savory, such as tomatoes and cheese) crowned with tuna and melted cheese.

I liked her idea, but I wanted it to be a little more traditional. Where she went Italian with artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil and arugula, I stayed American with pickles, celery, mayonnaise and cheddar cheese.

Assembly was easy. Lightly toast the bread, mix the tuna salad, top the bread with the salad and cheese, then finish with a few minutes in the oven. No mess, no fuss. Just as good as a real tuna melt, and impressive enough to serve guests.

Open tuna melt

5 thick slices rustic bread

2 6-ounce cans tuna

1 small red onion, diced

1/3 cup diced roasted red pepper

1 celery rib, finely chopped

1/3 cup bread-and-butter pickles, diced

1 cup loosely packed salad greens such as arugula, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

5 slices cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Arrange the bread on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until just barely browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside. Reduce oven to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the tuna, onion, roasted red pepper, celery, pickles and salad greens. Mix well. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard and mayonnaise, then mix it into the tuna.

Spread the tuna salad over each slice of bread, then top with a slice of cheese. Bake 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Makes 5 servings.

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