Pasta al tonno a modo mio

Frankpasta, primi piatti31 Comments

Pasta al tonno a modo mio

For the most part, the dishes we present here at Memorie di Angelina are taken from the time-tested canon of Italy’s rich culinary tradition. But like many other home cooks, I do enjoy improvising in the kitchen every once in a while, usually riffing off a familiar recipe.

I call this particular bit of improv pasta al tonno a modo mio, or Pasta with Tunafish “My Way”. In the traditional recipe for pasta al tonno, tunafish is simmered in a tomato sauce. Here the sauce is entirely uncooked, more of a dressing—or condimento as they say in Italian—than an actual “sauce”. And while there’s a bit of fresh tomato, the dressing is mostly in bianco.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler. You just throw together a can of tunafish, a cut up fresh tomato or two, and a few seasonings in measurements you can leave to your  personal taste and mood, all mixed with a healthy pour of best quality extra virgin olive oil. Let everything macerate while the pasta cooks, then toss the pasta in the condimento and serve. That’s all there is to it.

This simple pasta has become one of my go to dishes for the dog days of summer, when even I don’t always feel much like cooking. And simple as it is, if you enjoy tunafish your taste buds will be happy, I promise. There’s no other way I know of making pasta al tonno that lets the briny taste and meaty texture of the tuna shine through like this one.

Ingredients

Serves 2-3

  • 150-200g (5-7 oz) casarecce or other short pasta
  • Salt

For the condimento:

  • A clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 can (200g/7 oz) tunafish, packed in olive oil, well drained of its canning juices
  • 1-2 medium tomatoes, cut into pieces
  • A handful of capers, preferably packed in salt, rinsed and squeezed dry
  • A handful of olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, minced
  • Olive oil, lots of it
  • Salt, to taste

To finish the dish:

  • A few fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces if large
  • A drizzle of colatura di alici (optional)
  • A sprinkle of minced parsley (optional)

Directions

First, put a large pot of water on to boil and salt it well.

Meanwhile, make your condimento: Get yourself a large bowl. (A wooden salad bowl is ideal here.)Take the garlic and rub the inside of the bowl vigorously with the cut ends of the garlic halves. (If you want a slightly more intense garlic flavor, leave them in the bowl and remove them just before you add your pasta. Otherwise discard them.)

Now break up the tuna into largish chunks and place in a large bowl. Add the capers, olives, red pepper flakes, parsley and olive oil to the bowl and very gingerly give it a turn or two to mix everything together, taking care not to break up the tuna fish too much. Taste and season lightly if it needs it.

When the water has come to a bowl, throw in the pasta and cook it until it is perfectly al dente. Drain the cooked pasta well and add it to the bowl, along with the basil leaves and a drizzle of colatura if using. Give everything another quick turn to mix—again, very gingerly to avoid breaking up the tuna.

Serve, topped with a sprinkle of parsley for color if you like.

Pasta al tonno a modo mio

Notes on Pasta al tonno a modo mio

As quick and easy as it is, there are a few nuances to look out for in this dish. First off, you’ll need to account for the uncooked sauce. Cook the pasta just as you like to eat it, since it will cook no further in the sauce. And make sure there is no excess water lurking in its nooks and crannies or you’ll dilute the sauce. It’s also key not to let the tuna break up too much, as it tends to do, so be gingerly, as I’ve indicated, as you mix the sauce and then mix in the pasta, tossing it only once or twice each time.

Don’t be shy with the olive oil. You’ll need lots of it to allow the flavors to meld and coat the pasta. On the other hand, you will probably want to go easy on the salt when you season the sauce, as many of the ingredients are salty by themselves, especially if you use the intensely salty colatura. You might even find you don’t need to season the sauce at all, although being a “salt fiend” I always do myself.

You can use any pasta you like for this easy-going dish, although I’m partial to short, twisted pastas like the caserecce pictured here, or the concave pasta shells called conchiglie that catch the bits of tuna nicely. Long pastas, to my mind, don’t go well with chunky sauces like this.

Of course, the better the tuna, the better to result. If you want to splurge on best quality ventresca, go for it. But above all, you want to choose a good quality brand of tuna that’s packed in olive oil. Even though you’ll be dousing it in olive oil to make the sauce, only olive-oil packed tuna will give this dish (or any other, in my humble opinion) the right flavor. You also want a tuna that is packed in chunks. The mouth feel is immeasurably better than the cat food like shreds that come in cheaper brands. For my everyday needs, I use Genova brand yellowfish tuna, which I buy in bulk at our local big box store at very reasonable prices. (Disclaimer: Despite the misleading name, it’s from Thailand, not Italy.)

Variations

I don’t always use the olives—and, if fact, I did without this time—but I usually do, as they add a appealingly zesty touch. A drizzle of lemon juice—not too much—would brighten the dish, although personally not overly fond of acidity in my pasta sauces. If you want a more assertive garlic flavor, mince it and add it to the sauce. If you want something more substantial, omit the capers and olives and add some boiled (or canned) cannellini beans. And instead of garlic, you might like some diced red onions, which brings the dish rather close to the classic antipasto salad tonno e fagioli.

Like most pasta dishes, pasta al tonno a modo mio is best freshly made. But unlike most other pastas, it can be made ahead and enjoyed at room temperature. But don’t refrigerate it, as the cold ruins the texture.

Pasta al tonno a modo mio

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 2-3

Pasta al tonno a modo mio

Ingredients

  • 150-200g (5-7 oz) casarecce or other short pasta
  • Salt
  • For the condimento:
  • A clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 can (200g/7 oz) tunafish, packed in olive oil, well drained of its canning juices
  • 1-2 medium tomatoes, cut into pieces
  • A handful of capers, preferably packed in salt, rinsed and squeezed dry
  • A handful of olives, pitted and roughly chopped
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, minced
  • Olive oil, lots of it
  • Salt, to taste
  • To finish the dish:
  • A few fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces if large
  • A drizzle of colatura di alici (optional)
  • A sprinkle of minced parsley (optional)

Directions

  1. First, put a large pot of water on to boil and salt it well.
  2. Meanwhile, make your condimento: Get yourself a large bowl. (A wooden salad bowl is ideal here.)Take the garlic and rub the inside of the bowl vigorously with the cut ends of the garlic halves. (If you want a slightly more intense garlic flavor, leave them in the bowl and remove them just before you add your pasta. Otherwise discard them.)
  3. Now break up the tuna into largish chunks and place in a large bowl. Add the capers, olives, red pepper flakes, parsley and olive oil to the bowl and very gingerly give it a turn or two to mix everything together, taking care not to break up the tuna fish too much. Taste and season lightly if it needs it.
  4. When the water has come to a bowl, throw in the pasta and cook it until it is perfectly al dente. Drain the cooked pasta well and add it to the bowl, along with the basil leaves and a drizzle of colatura if using. Give everything another quick turn to mix—again, very gingerly to avoid breaking up the tuna.
  5. Serve, topped with a sprinkle of parsley for color if you like.
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31 Comments on “Pasta al tonno a modo mio”

    1. A place called Deruta, near Perugia, in central Italy. If you like them, you can purchase Deruta plates online from many different sources.

  1. When I was growing up, “tuna salad” meant tuna, tomato wedges, thinly sliced onion and chopped fresh basil dressed with olive oil. Always served with Italian bread. We never tossed it with pasta but I will definitely do that now. Thanks, Frank.

    Janet

  2. This sounds like a delicious recipe for summer, Frank! I love how easy this is, and (like most Italian recipes) it really highlights the importance of using quality ingredients. I could see how a really flavorful olive oil drizzled over this pasta would be a thing of beauty!

    1. You’re so right about the importance of using quality ingredients in simple dishes like this one, David. And yes, I think this dish is pretty beautiful. 😉 Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. We have a very different version so I can’t wait to try yours, Frank! Ours has no tomato or olives (or garlic, of course) but is heavy on capers and lemon and the best olive oil. Love that yours has the two things ours doesn’t.

  4. Far prefer s fresh tuna salad to a cooked one and yours is a delight – shall check your recipe against mine. as the enjoyment of the dish methinks almost entirely depends on the quality of the tuna one can buy . . . I do not like the big carbon footstep but must admit the Spanish and Portuguese brands we can buy here are far superior in flavour to ‘local’ Asian-produced tins available at every supermarket . . . and I happily eat this the year around . . . 🙂 !

    1. Thanks Eha! The quality of the tuna definitely makes all the difference, and the Spanish and Portuguese really are the tops when it comes to canned or jarred tuna. Though don’t tell that to any Sicilians…!

  5. Thanks for the recipe Frank. We’re catching fresh tuna here on Long Island NY this summer. I’m going to try this with the pasta cooled like a salad and add some Tuna crudo or try it warm with grilled tuna.

    A little trick that mom taught me when using pasta in a salad, cool it on a baking sheet with Half the olive oil or the dressing you intend on using…it allows the pasta to stay separate and bright after cooling.

  6. Pasta with tuna sauce was our Friday night special when I was growing up in the 60s along with fish sticks- delicious, especially on a cold wet evening.
    This summer version sounds delicious and I will have to try it- thanks for reminding me

  7. Do you know, I’ve never had pasta with tuna? My cousin always makes it, but I never have; don’t know why?! Looks wonderful! I just heard about colatura di alici when I was south of Naples last month. Silly me, I should have bought some to bring home! I stayed in Santa Maria di Castellabate (made famous in the movie Benvenuti al Sud; have you seen it? Hilarious!)

    1. OMG! You really have got to try this then. It’s a staple in our house for a reason!

      Never been to the place or saw the movie, but now it’s definitely on my list.

  8. What a wonderful dish! Good quality canned tuna is excellent stuff, and this is a neat way to use it. I love the stuff, but haven’t used in as a sauce for pasta (glad to learn the word condimento, BTW). But I will, I will. 🙂 Thanks!

  9. buona sicuramente. I think most tuna sauce are pretty bad, because the canned tuna ends up dry (it is often already dry from the beginning) – not to cook it is a good idea. I also love the cream and tomato sauce in Hazan, again basically uncooked. Using more tomatoes, maybe pomodorini, this would become a great pasta salad that, as u say, should never be refrigerated. what I like of sauces such as this one it that they r versatile, with or without tomatoes/olives/capers ecc…. always good

  10. Hi! I was blown away by this recipe and it was somewhat cosmic for me because for years now I have done something similar that I made up! We owned a place in the Poconos for a while and I would always keep a stash of ready to go ingredients when we first arrived at the vacation home so that we could eat before hitting the supermarkets. I would always keep in a supply of tuna, canned chopped tomatoes, black olives, chilli flakes, olive oil and vinegar and of course some dried pasta. As I live in the UK, it was a long journey to Newark and a drive to PA and the next day we would need some rest before figuring out our food needs for the week. Along came my famous pasta salad which is so similar to yours but I used canned tomatoes instead of fresh as that was our needs. But the canned ones did wonders as they added lovely juice to the pasta. I always cooked that up on the day after our arrival and then we found the strength to shop for other fresh things. But it was always a staple and a good thing to have – a cupboard meal. It was delicious and once when I brought a friend with me, she said she loved it and went back for seconds. Amazing that I saw this today because it did remind me of my little invention, but it seems the Italians were well ahead of me on that one.

  11. This looks so great, Frank, for a hot summer night! It took until last week, but we’re finally getting some warm summer weather here in Seattle. I might have to give this a try when it’s too hot to cook!

  12. I actually use Portuguese tinned tuna, though usually by it from Milano Italian supermarket here. No idea where it was actually caught.

  13. Love this! And great photos! I love having canned tuna around for when we get from trips – it’s so easy to whip up a pasta like this. Except for the fresh tomatoes, of course!

    1. Thanks, Mimi! This definitely is one of those spur of the moment cupboard dishes that comes in handy when it seems you have “nothing” in the house. And in a pinch, it’s actually quite nice without the tomato.

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