Here’s a quick note on another staple weeknight dinner: pasta al tonno. Very fast and almost as easy as opening a can.
Put your pasta on the boil. The sauce will take no more time than it takes for the water to come to the boil and the pasta to cook.
Begin making your sauce, as for many tomato and other sauces, by frying a clove or two of slightly crushed garlic (and a peperoncino, if you like a little ‘heat’) in some olive oil over gentle heat
As soon as the garlic begins to give off its aroma and very slightly brown, add some crushed canned tomatoes and simmer them until they are well reduced. Then add a few anchovy fillets, a handful of capers, a few pitted black olives, some chopped parsley and a can of tunafish packed in olive oil. (A small can will do for two people.) Simmer only for a minute or so and turn off the heat.
When the pasta is cooked very al dente, add it to the tomato and tuna sauce, along with a ladleful of the pasta water. Allow the pasta to simmer in the sauce for a minute or two until it is well coated with the sauce. Serve immediately. Do not serve with grated cheese.
NOTES: Like so many other Italian dishes, the success of this dish will depend largely on the quality of your ingredients. So find the best imported canned tomatoes you can find. (One day I’m going to do a post on choosing canned tomatoes–it’s absolutely crucial and, in the US at least, tricky business.)
The tuna is, of course, key. At a minimum, use tunafish packed in olive oil. “Light” tuna packed in spring water and the like will result in a mundane, rather insipid dish. If you can find it (and afford it) there are some excellent premium brands of imported tuna from Sicily. The ‘Ortiz’ brand, from Spain, is also very good. The belly of the tuna, known as ventresca, is the tastiest part. If you can find imported anchovies and capers packed in salt, all to the good–otherwise, anchovy fillets in olive oil and capers in vinegar are acceptable substitutes. Anchovies packed in salt come whole and will need to be filleted and rinsed; the fillets in olive oil can be used as is. Capers. whether packed in salt or vinegar, should be rinsed and squeezed dry.
Finally, try to find small black olives, packed in brine or oil, preferably Gaeta or nicoise. Avoid canned olives–their taste is not characteristic of Italian cooking. If that’s all you can find, feel free to simply omit them. In fact, many recipes, such as the one given by Ada Boni in Il Talismano della Felicità, calls only for tuna and anchovies. Boni tells you to add the anchovies to the oil with the garlic. She also calls for a pinch of oregano, not chopped parsley. Personally, I find that this version provides a more delicate taste–however paradoxical that may sound when talking about these assertive ingredients.
Pasta al tonno can also be made in bianco, or without tomatoes. Just add the tuna and other flavorings directly to the garlic and oil soffritto, and saute for a few minutes. You can also make an entirely raw tuna sauce, in which case you should either omit the garlic (which would be a bit too strong raw) or rub the inside of the bowl in which you are mixing the ingredients with a half clove, to give the dish just a hint of garlic flavor. A more elegant version of this dish can be made with fresh tuna and cherry tomatoes. Here’s the recipe.
Perhaps the most common pasta to dress with this tuna sauce is spaghetti. But short pastas like penne, as well as concave ones like conchiglie, are also nice. Tonight I used—a bit unusually—some orecchiette that were lying around. This was the first time I had tried this combination and found it quite nice, actually.