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
4 to 7 oz tin of oil packed tuna (depending on your appetite, and what you can source)
(about 8 oz) good quality canned, diced tomatoes
anchovies (use, jarred ones please)
capers (salt preserved variety) soaked in cold water to rinse
cup pitted olives of your preference (or not pitted, you know the pits are in there and don't care)
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
In This Recipe
Instructions and insurrections:
Cover the bottom of your 12” skillet with olive oil and bring up to a shimmer, meanwhile chop up the anchovies
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
Add the tomatoes and stir until everything just begins to simmer
After about 10 minutes of simmering add the olives and the drained capers and at this point get your pasta water boiling
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
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.
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.
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.