Zuni's Pasta with Preserved Tuna

By • February 4, 2014 42 Comments

816 + Save

If you like it, save it!

Save and organize all of the stuff you love in one place.

Got it!

If you like something…

Click the heart, it's called favoriting. Favorite the stuff you like.

Got it!

Author Notes: Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook (which can never be praised enough). Judy Rodgers created the recipe as a way of saving leftover tuna on Sunday. I assume you do not have that problem, but if you do, take the time to preserve the tuna yourself. It isn't hard and it is wonderful; you can find Rodgers's method in the Zuni cookbook. What's below is her adaptation for canned tuna -- good olive oil-packed tuna. As for the pasta: Rodgers recommends penne, ziti, or ditali, but I've made this with spaghetti and perciatelli and I was pleased. Also, while we're being heretical, have I substituted walnuts for the pine nuts before? I have. Nicholas Day

Serves 4

  • 1 pound pasta (see above)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, in thin strips
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (optional, for the sake of small humans)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (optional, for the same reason)
  • 2 garlic cloves, slivered
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons capers, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon preserved lemon, rinsed and chopped (optional)
  • 12 ounces olive oil-packed tuna (slightly more or less is fine)
  1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
  2. In a small skillet, gently warm the olive oil with the lemon zest, bay leaf, chili flakes and black pepper (if using), garlic, and fennel seeds. Cook for about 15 minutes over very low heat to let the flavors infuse the oil. Then add the canned tuna, pine nuts, capers, and preserved lemon (if using). Gently nudge apart the tuna and let it warm up but not cook.
  3. Meanwhile, once the water boils, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain well and toss in a serving bowl with the tuna mixture. Serve.

More Great Recipes: Fish & Seafood|Pasta|Entrees|Fennel|Fish

Topics: Weeknight Cooking

💬 View Comments ()

Comments (42) Questions (0)


4 months ago Dan

I used whole wheat shells and three cans of tuna in olive oil (15 oz. total). The tuna was three different brands: the Trader Joe's looked the best and the Cento looked the worst. I had barely enough lemon zest, but I did have preserved lemons, so that worked out. It was delicious both warm, and later that evening (he said guiltily) cold. I can't wait to make it for guests!


4 months ago candace

This was so damn good. The flavor profile is so much more complex than I imagined. I made a few small changes: no black pepper, I added 3 diced black kalamata olives, I used chopped caper berries because I had no capers, and subbed walnuts for the pine nuts. Really lovely. I thought it had an almost traditional Chinese flavor - I'm guessing because of the fennel seeds.


5 months ago Tonya

This was excellent, everything went so well together.
I did add an anchovy as somebody suggested and used less oil. Also I didn't have pine nuts, so I used sliced almonds. It was delicious, will definitely make it again.


11 months ago Can I have a bite?

Holy smokes, this is good. A perfect weeknight meal, plus tomorrow's lunch. I didn't change a thing.


11 months ago chelsy

this dish sounds great, however i do not have tuna (and don't really like it) i have canned salmon. would that work in place of tuna?


about 1 year ago Hannah

This was brilliant. Honestly. I didn't add anything (which I ALWAYS do). This was so incredibly delicious as is. Having said that, melting an anchovy or two in the oil would probably add EVEN more of an umami element. Not that this dish really needs it, but still.
While I didn't add anthing, I made some slight changes in quantity:
1. I upped the fennel seeds a bit to somewhere between half a teaspoon and a whole one (I don't really measure spices, just shake the jar until it looks like an amount I'm happy with. This tends to be rather a lot).
2. I used the rind of half a preserved lemon (which was probably more than a tablespoon).
3. I used 1/3 cup oil. Cause we all love olive oil but... I dunno. Just letting the oil-weary know that it was delicious with less oil, too.
THANK YOU for this recipe.


over 1 year ago MaryAlice

This was so good my husband, who hates tuna, loved it.


over 1 year ago allison williams

SO GOOD and so simple. Will certainly become a staple now that I have preserved lemons on hand (I feel they really add to the flavor complexity). Also, makes a great tuna salad - add chopped onions and a tiny bit of good mayo, served on toast or lettuce.


over 1 year ago Heather

This was very good and so simple. I can't wait to try it again with preserved lemon.


over 1 year ago Heidi

This was an excellent recipe! My very picky almost-4-year-old even liked it. I used tuna that was in water, and will definitely use the oil packed tuna the next go round. The preserved lemon was very much worth it, nicely rounded out the flavors.


over 1 year ago helicopterina

fantastic delicious amazing! it's gonna be a staple in our house from now on - thank you for posting this genius recipe. and i also loved that i could infuse the olive oil and then come back to it after an unexpected pause before going on to making the pasta, tossing in the tuna/capers/pine nuts, and blending it all at the table... it's nice to have something so tasty and so flexible...


over 1 year ago melissa.velik

I made this tonight and it was good, but was I supposed to drain the canned tuna or use the tuna from that for the 1/2 cup at the start?


over 1 year ago deanna

Delicious and addictive. Added chopped kalamata olives. Couldn't wait to have it again the next day. I can my own albacore tuna, which makes this over the top great. Good enough for company.


over 1 year ago Chrissie

Great recipe for canned tuna - delicious!


over 1 year ago Lavonne Luquis

To quote my husband, "this is an over-the-top wonderful recipe." I subbed in chopped green olives, as I didn't have enough capers on hand. Thanks to all who vouched for the preserved lemon. It was the first time I've cooked with it, and it won't be the last.


over 1 year ago pen_drifter

Delicious and easy. I had everything I needed in my pantry. The leftover tuna was even better the next day.


over 1 year ago anne

Can you make this dish with spaghetti squash rather than pasta?


over 1 year ago Cynthia In Puglia

Anne, I made this dish today with zucchini "spaghetti" and it was absolutely fabulous! (I don't do spaghetti squash so can't vouch for the result) Even here in Italy we have low carb days ;).
**I use a special julienne slicer to make spaghetti from zucchini and heat them for a minute or so inEVO just to soften them slightly and then add all the above ingredients which I don't cook (no need!)


over 1 year ago Austex

This was great! We just got back from being out of town for a week and had all the ingredients for this recipe without having to go to the store. It was our favorite "pantry bottom special" ever. Thanks for the great recipe. We used the fancy jarred tuna in water and it was fantastic.


over 1 year ago Cynthia In Puglia

Exactly! This is the dish that you can pull out of your hat and will get rave reviews every time.


over 1 year ago nola2chi

Delightfully presented, thank you. I especially enjoy the opportunity to infuse and nudge.
Hadn't previously thought of putting in a bay leaf, which is odd since I'm from New Orleans and it is often used especially in seafood dishes. Grows well there too.


over 1 year ago Rhonda35

This sounds so delicious and easy - perfect "kid-raising" food. I'm going to give it a try. Nicholas, I enjoy your writing and sense of humor so much - the article that included this recipe had me in stitches!