Sometimes, I make my boyfriend a packed lunch.
I make myself a packed lunch to take to work almost every day of the week. On most days, I have soup: minestrone, spicy tomato, browned butter and spinach (that one is amazing). I work in a tall, cold, imposing building whose silhouette dominates the landscape (no, it’s not the Gherkin). I have worked there for almost five years, having moved fairly seamlessly from my last exam at university to its Portland Stone embrace. Time, and a little bit of seniority that I have accumulated, have made me feel comfortable enough to microwave my soup in its lockable plastic mug and sip contentedly at my desk, building up warmth from within. At their desks, my colleagues in turn munch on salad (one colleague has a convenient stash of salt, pepper and basil-infused olive oil behind her desk, which she douses over goat’s cheese and leaves) and porridge.
My boyfriend, however, has in this time moved between several jobs. The kitchens he has described have varied: one had a microwave so crusted with layers of unwashed food that he refused to warm up a lunch in this biohazard. In other workplaces, he has had limited space for lunch, sitting chock-a-block with colleagues. In short: he has never felt entirely comfortable with bringing in something as sloppy, slurpy, and potentially messy as soup. However, I often draw the line at making something else on a Sunday night, and he doesn’t expect me to.
A few nights ago, however, there was a confluence of enough stuff in the fridge that I offered to make him a tuna pasta salad for his lunch. He likes tinned tuna and I don’t; if he eats a commercially prepared tuna sandwich I am guaranteed to rear back in horror. So obviously this was an act of great and noble sacrifice on my part.
The handfuls that I used to make up his packed lunch were as follows. Most of a pack of tiny pasta stars, a handful of which, and no more, had been tossed into a minestrone soup. The green tops of a bunch of spring onions, which for some reason I had had only used the white bulbs of. One and a half Little Gem lettuces. Half a tiny red onion. The better part of a jar of Veganaise I had bought in an experimental spirit (so yes, I used vegan mayonnaise to make a fish-based dish. Ho hum). A stalk or two of celery, because celery always has to be purchased in bunches, even though recipes will call for a mere stick, and as a consequence it wilts languidly at the bottom of the vegetable crisper. To this, just add the contents of a tin of tuna and one of sweetcorn (drained).
The point of this post is not so much the tuna pasta salad (although I have included the recipe for my version below – it was very well-received and can serve as the blueprint for your own fridge foraging). You can find hundreds of recipes on the internet, and most of them will be based on a classic combination of tuna, sweetcorn, mayonnaise and spring onions. The point is that the substance of meals can be found outside the pages of food magazines, fancy cookbooks and even the perfect world of cookery on the World Wide Web (there are some blogs which make me sick with envy, so perfect are the photos, so inviting the perfectly curated tablescapes of frothy white tablecloth, rustic branches and goblets of watery green glass). I love cooking from the shelves of cookbooks in my home, but it is equally important to be able to pull dinner and lunch together from disparate ingredients if you want to avoid filling the compost bin. You can call such dihes inspiration, or pragmatism…or just a great way to save the £3.00 a day you would otherwise spend on a Meal Deal.
Pragmatic tuna and pasta salad
- 450g smallish pasta – I used stars but elbow macaroni is a classic
- 1 tin of tuna (120-160g), drained
- 1 tin sweetcorn (the tin I used was quite big, around 340g, yielding 285g drained sweetcorn), drained and well reinsed
- 3-5 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1/2 – 1 bunch spring onions, sliced
- 1/2 – 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 1-2 stalks celery, finely sliced
- 1-2 Little Gem lettuces, finely sliced
- Cook the pasta in boiling water according to the directions on the packet
- Meanwhile, slice up the spring onions, onion, celery and lettuce and mix together in a bowl.
- Drain the sweetcorn and tuna and add to the bowl of vegetables. Mix well so that everything is evenly distributed. The tuna should have broken up into irregular flakes and chunks.
- Once the pasta is cooked, drain and let cool, 10-15 minutes.
- Add the pasta to the tuna mixture and mix well so that all the ingredients are evenly distributed. Warning: you may need to do this over two bowls.
- Mix in the mayonnaise, dollop by dollop, until the mixture is evenly coated. The total amount will really depend on your fondness for mayonnaise and desire for a creamy texture