Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Norma Gene and the Marilyn of all Tuna Melts

When I was in college I took a sabbatical to work overseas for a non profit aid organization and found myself being sent to work in Switzerland where I worked for about 2 years and where I had the wonderful experience of working with some of the most amazing and dedicated people I have ever met and some of the largest souls I have ever had the pleasure of walking with in this life.

We had our regional headquarters in Zurich Switzerland and I found myself all over the place in that country and Germany mostly with some brief jaunts elsewhere. It gave me my first taste of all things European especially food. I was lucky enough over my time there to be invited into some wonderful homes ,where wonderful fun and food filled evenings left me with an enormous appreciation for the origins of so many of the dishes we as Americans take for granted as our own. Yet, those dishes really have their basis in the cooking of some European cuisine.

It was a magical time as a young man to be exposed to so many new experiences and ideas. It was also the first time it occurred to me that not everyone in the world wakes up every morning and says, thank God I'm American! Cause they do not! In fact the people elsewhere know their worlds like we know ours. It seems to be a human condition to come to believe that one's way of experiencing the world is the same as everyone else, or at least the correct way of experiencing it! No wonder we have so many problems in our world with that propensity operating on every level of human living whether local or global.

That's why over time I have come to see food as something that unites people in a way nothing else does. For not only do we share ourselves with others in a social sense when we break bread together but we also share a different sensory experience in how we see the world through the flavors, textures and ingredients we bring to the table. We can break down cultural barriers and share our deepest understanding of our national ethos with others through food, and never leave our kitchens or dinning tables!

Still even as amazing as all this cultural expansion love fest is, the fact remains that occasionally the Ex-pat will want to experience a sense of home and the familiarity. A taste of home if you will. And that is really what this story is about. For as much as I loved the native foods I was experiencing, I was also aware of the fact that I had things I missed from home.

So that brings me to where I would often get a chance to enjoy those homey delights. It was at Pilatusstrasse 11 the headquarters or home office for us. It was also home and office to the President and his wife of the organization Clayton R Hurst and Norma Gene! Wonderful people, Clayton Hurst may remain the most influential man in my life, other than my own father.And he was someone who taught me more about life and love and kindness and being fully and passionately human than anyone since. He is sorely missed as he passed several years ago but remains a beacon of light for me when finding my way in life. I have found myself on occasion thinking "what would Pres. do??" A strong testament indeed!

His wife was also really awesome and a great supporter of all of us "kids"! One of the things she did for us was to make us feel a little homey when we were invited to a meal at the office. On conference days she would often make a dish which by name seems so simple and all American but with the incorporation os Swiss ingredients became a positively gourmet experience. Her famous Tuna Melts!!
Now you may not especially like tuna melts or think they are a little passe but I assure you these were not ordinary!

First off they were prepared on wonderful crusty swiss white bread. It was sliced thick lightly toasted and then slathered with a mixture of mayo flavored with rosemary. Then the tuna salad was mixed with more plain mayo, capers, cornichons , pungent red onion, celery,  dijon, garlic powder and curry powder. This was mixed together and then piled on the bread. Then this was topped with a thick blanketing slice of a special stinky Swiss cheese unlike any other. It was Appenzeller Cheese pungent like Limburger Cheese from Germany but more robust in flavor and softer in smell. And as I came to learn, the more a cheese stank, the better is tasted! Anyway these were placed into an oven and baked until warm and bubbly and served up hot with a salad and sometimes a Tomato soup! Yummy!

This was the most amazing tuna melt I had ever had and even as it was a fusion of Swiss ingredients and an American recipe it was still so good and tasted a little bit like home! And sometimes that's just what we needed. We needed a little bit of home cooking before returning to our cultural immersion!

So I give you my version of this recipe.I actually have a scrap of paper with the recipe written down that I have saved all these years! Hotdogs may have been Marilyn Monroe's favorite food, but this Norma Gene sure beats that with this sandwich!  However, I will alter it a bit because I don't have exactly the same products to work with  as she did but just the same here it goes, you enjoy Ya'll!!

Norma Gene's Swiss Style Tuna Melt ( As recreated by Forrest) makes 6 sandwiches

For the Bread

Get a thick peasant bread loaf one which when sliced would make a good size for a sandwich or do what Norma Gene did, slice a larger piece from a big round loaf in half to make a sandwich portion.

Heat your oven to 350 and place the bread slices on a baking sheet and toast until just starting to toast but still a little moist.

make compound butter: Take 5 tablespoons RT butter and mix in 1 tablespoon garlic powder 1 teaspoon black pepper, 2 tablespoons dried tarragon and a pinch of salt.

Slather with a little compound butter when warm and let melt, reserve toast.

For the Tuna Salad

4 small cans of tuna in water ( 1 cup and 1/4)
3 tablespoons capers
1 small red onion finely diced
2 stalks of celery finely diced
1/4 cup mayo ( I like Dukes Brand)
5 cornichons finely diced
1 tablespoon white wine or vermouth
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Dijon ( I like Trader Joe's)
1/2 teaspoon curry powder ( not madras)

Mix all ingredients together and let set in the fridge at least 3 hours or overnight
If too dry add a little more Mayo.

Slice Appenzeller cheese at your cheese monger into nice thick slices of cheese perfect sie for th sandwiches.

To assemble:

Divide the tuna salad between the six slices of bread.
Top with the cheese slices

Heat oven to 325

Place sandwiches on an lined baking sheet and place in the hot oven and bake until the cheese is nice and melted and the tuna warmed through. Serve immediately! Enjoy Ya'll!

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