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It's a dip. It's a spread. It's a salad dressing, a garnish for vegetables, a sauce for meats. You can top your pasta with it or use it to hold your potato salad together.

The name of this superhero? Tonnato sauce! And not only is it the most versatile sauce to have on hand all summer, it's also the easiest—and cheapest—to make. All you need is a can of tuna.

What is tonnato sauce?

The first time I encountered the magic that is tonnato sauce, I was in Italy, where it was served over a thin carpaccio of veal, a preparation that can be traced back to the mid-19th century. Originally, vitello tonnato featured veal topped with an oily sauce of minced tuna and anchovy that evolved to include capers and lemon with the fishes and oil. Here at home, I like using the pantry staple—a can of tuna—and creaming it up with mayonnaise and a few other pantry ingredients. The result?  The cheapest, easiest to make, and most versatile sauce to have on hand for pretty much everything.

Food on Table
Credit: Getty / Floortje

How to make tonnato sauce

Made in a food processor or blender, with all pantry and fridge ingredients, tonnato sauce takes literally just minutes to make. And like with any great basic recipe, you can play with added flavors to change the profile to suit your fancy.

What you need:

  • 1 can of tuna (Any brand will do but look for good quality tuna packed in olive oil. I love Ortiz.)
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sour cream or full-fat Greek style plain yogurt
  • 1 T fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

Here's all you need to do:

1. Empty the can of tuna in a food processor or blender (If you used tuna packed in water instead of oil, add about a ½ tablespoon of good extra virgin olive oil to compensate.)

2. Add mayo and sour cream/yogurt, lemon juice, good pinch of salt, and grinding of black pepper.

3. Blend to your desired consistency. (If using as a sauce for meats or salad dressing, blend it super smooth. Leave it a little coarser for a dip or pasta sauce and double the amount of tuna if you want to use it as a spread.)

4. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon, salt, or pepper to your taste.

Now it's time to play! Once you master the basic recipe (and how easy is that?), consider adding other flavorings, such as:

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • ½ a shallot
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 dash hot sauce

Store for up to a week in the fridge. Let come to room temp for 30 minutes to an hour and taste again for seasoning before serving.