Ah, tuna. Saviour of dieting females and shredding males alike. Nourisher of harried office workers. Sustainer of university students. Anyone who doesn’t have at least one can of tuna in their pantry is either a) a vegetarian, or b) a liar.
But it’s this very ubiquity that’s given tuna its rather boring reputation. You’re more likely to say, ‘ugh, tuna again’, than ‘oh yay, tuna again!’ It doesn’t help that most people gravitate towards the so-called ‘healthy’ tuna in brine or springwater – or even (shock, horror) those flavoured ones. Is it really so hard to add your own lemon and pepper, people?! I mean really.
No, good quality canned tuna in olive oil is where it’s at: there’s a reason why its up there with tomato passata as a staple of Italian cooking. That’s right – this isn’t some strange hybrid recipe I’ve made up (well it is just a little bit), Spaghetti al Tonno (spaghetti with tuna) is a classic Italian dish, a favourite for a quick midweek meal. I always thought it was something quick my mum made when she ran out of inspiration, but when I went to London for the first time, I stayed with a few Italians and they literally ate it every night for the week I was there. The first time they’d make it up fresh, then for second and subsequent meals, they’d fry it up in a bit of olive oil for the most delicious fritter-like crunch. Being a student on the wrong side of the exchange rate, I happily partook and never looked back.
As I said, good quality tuna is the key element of this, so do yourself a favour and get one in olive oil. You’ll drain most of it off anyway, but the taste is just so superior. I will never forget the face of one of the aforementioned Italians when the word ‘brine’ was mentioned. It was as though you’d offered her tuna in arsenic – in fact, that may have gotten a better reaction.
The type of capers is also really important – those big flabby ones are just too briny and dominate the sauce. You don’t have to get the ultra expensive salted capers (although they are amazing!), just use the smaller and tastier baby capers.
Then they are the herbs… In this version I’ve gone for a summery feel with lashings of fresh basil, because it’s spring and I love the taste. However, as you can imagine London in the middle of winter wasn’t exactly chockers with basil, so you can adapt it according to the season and what’s available – a bit of oregano is delicious, as is a big handful of continental parsley. The key is to put it in at the last minute so the herbs retain their freshness and colour.
No time-saving tips for this recipe – it’s so speedy that if you don’t have time to make it, you probably don’t have time to eat anyway! Instead, try this leftovers suggestion: heat a good glug of olive oil in a fry pan and add combined leftover pasta and sauce. Don’t stir until the bottom starts to get a bit of crispness – then only stir occasionally, scraping the bottom of the pan so you get the crunchy bits. Fry for a few minutes then serve hot.
- 1 brown onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 cans diced tomato
- 1 large (425g) can of tuna in olive oil (drained)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (see notes above)
- 2 tbsp baby capers
- 1 pinch dried chilli flakes
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 500g packet of pasta (spaghetti or penne)
- Parmesan, to serve
- Pre-heat a pan to low-medium. When hot, add the onions and garlic, and fry until transparent.
- Add the tomato and tuna, stir to combine, then allow to simmer for five minutes.
- Add the chilli, capers and season well. Allow to simmer for a further five minutes.
- Cook your pasta according to the directions on the packet. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, combine, then mix through the basil.
- Serve with a liberal sprinkling of parmesan cheese.