Zuni's Pasta with Preserved Tuna

By • February 4, 2014 • 37 Comments



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.
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Comments (37) Questions (0)

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2 months 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.

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4 months ago MaryAlice

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

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5 months 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.

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6 months ago Heather

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

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6 months 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.

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6 months ago cookingintheheights

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...

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6 months 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?

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6 months 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.

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6 months ago Christine

Great recipe for canned tuna - delicious!

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6 months 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.

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6 months ago pen_drifter

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

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6 months ago anne

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

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6 months 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!)

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6 months 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.

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6 months ago Cynthia In Puglia

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

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6 months 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.

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6 months 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!

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6 months ago Hal

don't want to seem ignorant but what is preserved lemon??

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6 months ago Cynthia In Puglia

Hal, see the explanation below and you won't regret it ;)

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7 months ago Park Ranger

I too really enjoyed reading Cynthia in Puglia's descriptions.
I added a packed tablespoon of finely chopped simple sundried tomatoes and it was wonderful.

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6 months ago Cynthia In Puglia

Thanks. Sundried tomatoes sound like a great addition!

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7 months ago Cari

What is preserved lemon (or is it reserved lemon??)...

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7 months ago Cynthia In Puglia

Carl, preserved lemons are lemons that have been "preserved" with salt and lemon juice (and a wide variety of spices according to taste). The lemons lose their bititng acidity over time and give dishes a wonderful lemon kick. In thid dish I would use a simple version (perhaps with peppercorns and bayleaf) but I actually have several jars with various level of spice/heat and use them daily (Hummus, in veggies, vinaigrette, fish, tagine, pasta etc). They require a few minutes to make but you must be patient in waiting to use them as their flavor develops....believe me you will be rewarded! Here is link with instructions on how to make them (or run down to a gourmet shop and pick up a jar) http://hungrytigress.com...

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7 months ago Cynthia In Puglia

I live in the South of Italy (Puglia) where this dish, and other simple but luscious fare, is a staple in all households. The ingredients change according to taste and what you happen to find in your pantry that day with the exception of the tuna, it simply must be in extra virgin olive oil and the pasta of choice is spaghetti. Every family has their own version, ours is: tuna, small black olives preserved in oil (taggiasca variety), salted capers (rinsed), lemon zest and juice, hot peppers, pink peppercorns (in brine), EVO all of which is combined at room temp while the pasta is cooking and then mixed along with a little of the cooking water saved from the pasta. This dish never fails to be a huge hit especially to those that initially turn their noses up when you offer them tunafish pasta and end up cleaning out the bowl with a slice of crusty bread.

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7 months ago Marie Weber

That is simply a lovely description! Thank you for sharing. And it is the truth, lots of people don't like the idea of tuna pasta until they try it.

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7 months ago Nicholas Day

Agreed: this is so lovely. Thanks for posting.

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6 months ago Cynthia In Puglia

Marie, Thanks! I'm always looking for new variations on this great dis...what do you add with the mustard??

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6 months ago Cynthia In Puglia

Nicholas....thank YOU for posting an unwritten recipe and giving it the honor it deserves.

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6 months ago Marie Weber

It is my super lazy dinner so it is the oil from the tuna mixed with the grainy dijon mustard, toss with pasta. Just add the tuna at the end so it doesn't get too broken up. If I have it around or need to use them up, I just sprinkle in some fresh herbs (tarragon and parsley are a great choice). I call it tuna dijonnaise to make it sound fancy.

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7 months ago Marie Weber

This looks awesome! I make a similar dish with grainy mustard. Going to try this one soon.