Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pasta with tuna, anchovies and tomatoes

This was a recipe snipped out of the Observer food monthly years ago - I forget who it's by, some famous Italian cook. Basically it's a kind of pasta puttanesca jacked up with white wine, fresh instead of canned tomatoes, and good tuna. I trot it out every so often usually at the instigation of my dear wife, who loves it. I never look forward to eating it because it combines things that I don't normally think of myself as loving (tuna, tomatoes, olives, pasta) but whenever I do eat it I'm reminded of how good it is. It's also a good meal for people who like Italian food because it's composed of things that most such people are likely to have anyway - fresh tomatoes, good tuna in olive oil, etc. I have made it with tinned chopped tomatoes and cheap canned tuna, but it's not as good because the tuna dissolves and it all just turns to sludge. It should be lumpy, this dish.

You need (for 2 people):

enough dried pasta of your choice, probably something long and stringy, i.e. spaghetti or linguini as opposed to fusilli or penne;

1 jar of good quality tuna in extra virgin olive oil, or two cans of good tuna in olive oil might do if they're not very big cans;

three cloves of garlic;

1 peperoncino (small dried chili pepper);

six anchovy fillets;

a large glass of white wine;

a double handful of smallish fresh tomatoes, washed and halved;

vegetable stock (I use Marigold stock powder);

black olives;


1 lemon;

a handful of fresh basil leaves, rinsed and torn

black pepper.

First, put your water on for your pasta. Next, open the tuna, heat a large heavy-bottomed frying pan and pour a good glug of the oil from the tuna jar into the pan - besides the fact that it's already infused with delicious tuna aromas, using the oil from the tuna jar will save you using your own precious oil. When the oil is good and hot, throw in the anchovies. They will spit oil all over your hob, your arms (if you don't step back quickly enough) and the surrounding areas. Live with it. When they are beginning to dissolve, throw in the garlic and peperoncino and quickly follow this with the tuna. Let the tuna cook for a couple of minutes, taking care not to let the garlic burn, and when the tuna is beginning to colour a little then add the wine and let it bubble, scraping up any anchovy. When the anchovy has dissolved in the wine/oil mixture, add the tomatoes to the frying pan and also add the pasta to the pasta water, assuming of course that the water's boiling by now, which it should be. So now you're cooking your pasta and your sauce simultaneously. Add as many stoned and halved black olives and as many capers as you like, being aware that too many olives and capers are a Bad Thing. The tomato halves should be softening in the sauce. Throw in a mugful of vegetable stock to add liquid to the sauce, although if you're me you just throw in a spoonful of good stock powder and a mugful of boiling water.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it well and add it to the frying pan, tossing it with the sauce so that it soaks up all the tomatoey, tuna-ey, aromatic, salty goodness. You should not need to add any salt to this dish - it's well salted already from the anchovies, the olives, the capers and the stock. If you feel the need to add salt anyway, you are clearly accustomed to too much salt in your diet and should cut down, starting right now.

When the pasta is well tossed with the sauce, serve in bowls, squeezing half a fresh lemon over each bowl and as many torn basil leaves as you like (I love fresh basil with a tomato-based pasta sauce and will usually add a fistful to my own portion). No, you don't add parmesan, it will taste weird with all the fish in this sauce. Just a good twist of freshly ground black pepper and you have a killer bowl of pasta.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the rather pretty finished dish, but this is what the sauce looks like before you add the pasta and basil. Yeah, I know it looks a bit like you're cooking tuna and tomatoes in a phlegm-based sauce, but that greenish liquor is in fact a combination of natural tomato juice, white wine, olive oil and dissolved anchovy, and is delicious. Trust me, it all looks nicer when it's tossed with pasta and basil.

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