RECIPE: Cold tuna pasta salad for hot late-summer nights

Breakfast for dinner, aka “brinner,” is a popular take on the evening meal. But what about lunch for dinner? “Linner” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, but the concept of a lighter dish typically served at the midday meal for supper is perfect for these long, hot days at the end of summer. A scoop of chilled salad with crisp, fresh greens for supper after a sweltering September afternoon sounds like an absolute tonic.

The secret to this tuna pasta salad is that it is doubled up with vegetables. It’s a half a pound of pasta married with two cans of tuna and a mountain of chopped onions, carrot and celery. Mayonnaise-centric recipes are the basis of an entire canon of Southern cooking, such as macaroni salad, tuna salad, chicken salad and various layered salad casseroles. This Tuna Pasta Salad doesn’t have a spoon of mayo in sight. It’s dressed with extra-virgin olive oil instead, making it healthier, yet still flavorful. This substitution is a small change with big results.

Both mayonnaise and olive oil are high in calories and fat. However, according to the American Heart Association, olive oil is the plant oil with the highest percentage of monounsaturated fat, which lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol and increases “good” HDL cholesterol levels. Olive oil has been shown to lower blood pressure and contains plant-based compounds that offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties known to reduce the disease process, including heart disease.

Extra-virgin olive oil is olive oil that is unrefined, allowing it to retain its full flavor profile and nutritional properties. It is most often a luminous golden-green color and has a light peppery flavor. It’s savory, mildly spicy and helps transform a lunch staple to a late-summer supper.

Dressed with a really great extra-virgin olive oil, this Tuna Pasta Salad makes for a satisfying supper. Make it before work so it’s ready to pull out of the fridge at the end of a long day.

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Tuna Pasta Salad

Since we’re adding oil to the tuna pasta salad, why not just use oil-packed tuna and save a step? Much of the canned oil-packed tuna is packaged in a lesser quality olive oil or even a vegetable oil, such as soybean or cottonseed. Extra-virgin olive oil has the most health benefits. Use water-packed tuna as a first choice so you can control the amount and quality of the oil.

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