Seared Tuna with Olive Tapenade Relish

One of the first school field trips I remember taking as a kid was to an eleotrivio, a traditional olive oil mill. I have vague visual memories – a dark room, the circular fiber disks that are filled with olive paste and pressed to extract oil, the round millstones in the grinder – but it’s the memory of how it smelled that has stuck with me through the decades. A wet and grassy smell, pungent from the slight fermentation of the leftover olive paste, it was exciting and a little overwhelming for my young olfactory nerves. Like in a duckling seeing its mother for the first time, the smell imprinted itself in my brain, so that every time I open a jar of olive tapenade I flash back to that dark and musty eleotrivio of my younger years.

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The recipe I have here calls for tuna steaks but you can substitute any fish steak (sword fish would work well, or even salmon). The real star is the olive tapenade relish. It’s thick, earthy, and a little sour, with a healthy kick from the shallots. You’ll find yourself thinking of the tuna as the supporting player, the implement you use to get the relish in your mouth, instead of the main player in the dish.

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You can make more than you need and keep it covered in the fridge for several days. It’s another one of those sauces in my cooking arsenal that I can whip up quickly and dress up a weeknight meal into something special. And as an added benefit, just opening the jar of tapenade takes me on a mini time-travel trip to a time when the simple smell of crushed olives was a discovery to be cherished for years to come.

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Seared Tuna with Olive Tapenade Relish – Adapted from Epicurious.com

1/2 cup olive tapenade or olive spread (I use black olive tapenade but you can use the green kind or a mix)
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (you can also use red onion or 1/3 cup white onion)
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar (or red balsamic vinegar if you can’t find white)
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from organic, unsprayed lemons; preferably grated on a Microplane zester)
salt and pepper
4 6-ounce tuna steaks (3/4 to 1 inch thick)

Mix tapenade, shallots, oil, vinegar, and lemon zest in medium bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Brush tuna on both sides with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tuna steaks and cook to desired doneness, 1-2 minutes per side for medium-rare.

Serve tuna steaks with relish on top. Accompany with a simple salad or roasted vegetables.

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