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Eating and Roadtripping with Linda Ronstadt
The music icon talks Sonoran food, the beauty of life on the border, and playing in pizza joints
“I don't cook, I just read cookbooks. And dream.”
We have a couple of special guests on Food with Mark Bittman today, plus one of my favorite co-hosts. Let’s talk about the most famous person first: Linda Ronstadt, who was an icon when I was young, a woman who came out of nowhere, a genre-breaking singer with a voice as smooth as mercury and a song selection that seemed both anachronistic and wildly appealing.
Linda grew up in Tucson, and as you probably know, the deep southwest was officially the United States, but much of it, culturally, was and remains Mexican — there’s that great saying: “We didn’t move south of the border; they moved the border north of where we live.” Linda’s family straddled that border, something that was easier to do and more common in those days. They did that so much with family, and friends, and errands on both sides that she and many others came to think of that area not as the U.S. or Mexico, but as a fluid state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora.
Fast forward sixty years (give or take); Linda has returned home regularly her whole life; she considers herself a border person, a Sonoran. She leads an old-fashioned hippie-style bus trip, the bus filled with people who are decidedly not hippies, but some at least once were. And among these people is former New York Times editorial board member and writer, my friend Lawrence Downes.
When Lawrence called a year or so ago and told me he was going to Sonora with Linda Ronstadt, to look at food, nature, and culture, and that they were going to write a book about it — the book is out now, and it’s called Feels Like Home: A Song for the Sonoran Borderlands — I knew I had to get them on the podcast. Kerri Conan, my good friend and colleague — who, like me, is somewhat of an aging hippie — joined us. It’s a rollicking and fun conversation, filled with good spirit, and beauty, and love, and I hope you enjoy it.
Please listen, subscribe, and review. Below, you’ll find the recipe from Feels Like Home — Jackie Ronstadt’s Tunapeños! — featured in today’s episode.
Thank you, as always. — Mark
Jackie Ronstadt’s Tunapeños
Just so you know that this book isn’t all about the distant past, I’ll mention that not long ago I was watching the excellent series Fleabag with Lawrence. It was season two, where Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character falls for an unattainable priest. As we binged the series, I binged on tuna-stuffed jalapeños. This is an Arizonan thing — definitely not a recipe from Grandpa Fred’s day — and it’s been a Ronstadt family appetizer for years. I learned about them from my sister-in-law Jackie, who married my brother Peter. “What is this gringo food?” I asked her. I was just shocked. I thought, “People are really doing this?” And then I ate one and I went, “Okay, I’m eating up the whole plate.”
We call them tunapeños. I told Lawrence that the tuna you get in cans today is no match for the tuna of my childhood—the flavor is insipid, somehow—but he wanted to try anyway. I will admit that his was pretty good, with mayo, chopped onion, and pickles. I ate most of them myself. — Feels Like Home
12 fresh jalapeño peppers
3 cans solid white albacore tuna in olive oil (preferred) or other tuna
1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 scallions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons dill pickle, diced
1 teaspoon dried dill, or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika, for garnish (optional)
Slice the peppers lengthwise, remove the seeds and ribs, and set aside. Drain the tuna and, in a medium bowl, combine with the remaining ingredients.
Fill the jalapeño halves with the tuna mixture. Arrange the tunapeños on a platter and sprinkle with paprika, if you like.
— Recipe from Feels Like Home