One Man’s Pantry Spaghettini with Tuna and Tomato

January 12, 2010
2 Ratings
  • Serves Two
Author Notes

To me “cooking for one” and perhaps a date means a well stocked pantry with dependable, preserved ingredients. One of my own favorite things to play with is canned fish; but most particularly high quality imported tuna from Spain. As much as I like Italian tuna the quality of the Spanish product far surpasses it. We like Ortiz and As Do Mar labels. Usually we are talking about “bonito del norte” and the various ways it’s caught, butchered and tinned in olive oil. It’s a lengthy subject.
But I first discovered this preparation of pantry tuna, tomato and pasta in a Marcella Hazan cookbook more than twenty years ago and thought “what a cool idea”. But I’ve learned over time, that it’s not a Marcela invention and that other Italian cooks have their own riffs on it as do I.
The heart of the dish is the tuna. Don’t even think about substituting Starkist for even one single second. Tuna like this can be expensive with “ventresca” being the priciest. And the anchovies need to be good also. "Pizza anchovies" have no place in this. —pierino

Test Kitchen Notes

Since this pasta dish uses pantry staples, it's the perfect dinner for a weeknight when you're pressed for time. We loved that it was so simple to prepare; the pasta cooked while the sauce was simmering away. The tuna and olives (we used Kalamata), when combined with the melty anchovies, make a tangy, pleasing flavor combination. Using a high-quality tuna is important, as it better retains its meaty texture to make the dish more substantial. As an added bonus, the dish was great reheated as leftovers for lunch. This will certainly become a regular addition to our quick-and-easy dinner rotation! —kitchen_ninja

What You'll Need
  • 1 4 to 7 oz tin of oil packed tuna (depending on your appetite, and what you can source)
  • 1 cup (about 8 oz) good quality canned, diced tomatoes
  • 1 garlic, chopped
  • 2 anchovies (use, jarred ones please)
  • 1 tablespoon capers (salt preserved variety) soaked in cold water to rinse
  • 1/4 cup cup pitted olives of your preference (or not pitted, you know the pits are in there and don't care)
  • 2 generous handful of spaghettini or similar strand like shape, as much as you think you can eat on your own
  • If you have fresh basil growing, a handful of that in chiffonade is fine to add but optional
  • Olive oil for the pan
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Instructions and insurrections:
  2. Cover the bottom of your 12” skillet with olive oil and bring up to a shimmer, meanwhile chop up the anchovies
  3. To the pan add the garlic, just to color, without letting the pan get too hot; add the anchovies and stir with a wooden spoon until they just melt
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir until everything just begins to simmer
  5. After about 10 minutes of simmering add the olives and the drained capers and at this point get your pasta water boiling
  6. After another 5 minutes or so, add the tinned tuna (be sure to remove it from the can first) and drizzle in any residual oil. Stir well and season with salt and pepper and continue to simmer
  7. If your pasta water is now boiling, hit it with some salt and then cook the pasta until just al dente. Now drain the pasta using your preferred method and transfer it to the sauce, not vice versa. Cook for under a minute more. Now would be the time to add some basil chiffonade if you happen to have any.
  8. Note to cook: there is no reason to over embellish this dish. Go ahead and tweak it if you like. I did, many times. The key is that the tuna and tomato should sing in harmony with the capers and olives in the chorus and the anchovy as the deep, barely audible bass sound. This is so damn easy but so damn good. If you reach for a cheese grater you will be arrested. By all means look up the Marcela Hazan recipe with the caveat that ours is quite different, but it’s what launched me down this twenty year road.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • lydia.sugarman
  • Linn
  • boulangere
  • pierino
  • dymnyno
Standup commis flâneur, and food historian. Pierino's background is in Italian and Spanish cooking but of late he's focused on frozen desserts. He is now finishing his cookbook, MALAVIDA! Can it get worse? Yes, it can. Visit the Malavida Brass Knuckle cooking page at Facebook and your posts are welcome there.

8 Reviews

lydia.sugarman October 22, 2013
Yum! Even without anchovies which I just cannot like, it was delicious! Added a little chopped roasted red pepper.
Linn September 28, 2013
This looks like the optimal method for canned tuna. For me it all started with an Italian concept "tonno e piselli" - quick, dirty, delicious. But this one just would never work the way I wanted. So, I have been trying for more years than I care to admit to figure out how to use a good tin on tuna. And I think you have nailed it. Thank you.
boulangere February 23, 2012
Leave it to you, pierino. Beautiful recipe, beautifully written.
pierino May 13, 2011
Okay, given that this a dimes and pennies competition you are allowed to use Starkist. But I won't respect you in the morning.
dymnyno January 15, 2010
Love it...simple and classic and as you said probably all in the pantry. Have you tried Coral tuna...a Hawaiian product?
pierino January 16, 2010
Thank you. I just wish I could yank that stock dead fish photo of it. I tried to upload my own a couple of times and it just wouldn't work---even with different photos. This has happened before, c'est le vie.
lastnightsdinner January 12, 2010
A classic combo - wonderful. I will say that American Line Caught tuna works well in this sort of preparation, too, though the jarred or tinned bonito is still my favorite.
pierino January 12, 2010
In which case, I beg you to search this out: from Ortiz, Bonito del Norte "reserva de familia"---this actually carries a "vintage" date. This is line caught tuna, packed in olive oil within 24 hours and allowed to "rest". It is just so sweet and amazing, and I just retested it tonight, given that I can suggest sources.
Now, wait for my tinned sardines!