It’s true, I also ate pasta with tuna in college. And in high school, and after moving to Spain. My point is that the myth that pasta with tuna is a student dish is not a lie, but it is not something negative either. Let’s say that the university students in this case have come up with a combination of little effort and maximum benefit: after all, pasta with tuna is one of the many ways to customize pasta with tomato.
In Italian homes, pasta with tuna is a daily dish or almost, a way of adding a twist, as they would say there. Like all essential dishes, it can be modulated in a thousand ways: depending on the ingredients you use and the care you put into it, you can end up with a normal pasta or something memorable. That’s why in the recipe I put the basic guidelines, but for the small differences better read the notes below.
The most canonical format of pasta with tuna is spaghetti and the like; In this family we include, for ease of use, long formats such as linguine, bucatini, spaghettini. I always talk about dry durum wheat pasta: fresh pasta -tagliatelle, fettuccine, egg pasta in general- is not the best with this sauce. I’m talking about long pasta, but it’s no problem if you prefer to use a short one: penne, rigatoni or fusilli will also work very well. The important thing is that it is a quality pasta.
what a tomato
The Italian option is to use canned tomato: whole peeled, in pieces -not very common in Spain- or passata. If you use a whole peeled tomato, the texture of the sauce will be a little more rustic, since there will be some chunks left, and the flavor will be fresher, with a slight point of acidity. If you are going to use the whole peeled tomatoes, break them up little by little with a fork as they cook until they reach the texture you like. In the case of passata you will have a more uniform and creamy texture and a sweeter flavor. An Italian would never use fried tomato from a jar, but now everyone in his house…
We are talking about a simple pasta dish, so I would rule out the almadraba red tuna belly fillets: save them for an appetizer. If possible, I would also rule out poor quality preserves, those where there are only crumbs. An intermediate route is, as always, the ideal: the canned tuna in oil that you can afford will be, in short, the best choice.
With oil, garlic, tomato and tuna the base recipe would already be. But if you want to add some easy extra, I suggest some chilli, some black olives and a little fresh parsley. You can calibrate the chilli according to your taste for fire. I put a small one, but chopped: this way there will be some spice and no one finds the surprise on the plate. To make the sauce less spicy you can put that same chilli pepper, but whole: you just have to be careful not to eat it by mistake
With garlic we can also talk about the type of cut: depending on whether you leave it whole, cut in half or minced, the flavor it will give to the sauce will be different. The more you chop, the more intense the garlic aroma will be, while leaving it whole will leave a sweeter flavor.
I recommend the olives only if they are black and of quality. In Spain I really like the black ones from Aragon, or if you want to be more exotic, try ones from kalamata. Watch out for the bones! A bit of fresh chopped parsley at the end adds a fresh touch to the dish. I’ve specified “fresh” even though no one uses dried parsley right? TRUE? Finally, an option that I strongly discourage is to finish the dish with grated cheese. It kills the tuna and in this dish it makes no sense -although fish and cheese are not always at odds.
Do you know how to open a can of tuna? Well that.
for 4 people
- 500g of pasta
- extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 cayenne pepper
- 2 large cans (780g) canned peeled tomatoes or 2 cans passata (can be a little less)
- 250 g of canned tuna
- 12 black Aragon olives (optional)
- Fresh parsley
Boil the water for the pasta, in a large pot (and especially high, if you are going to cook spaghetti).
Cut the garlic and fry in a large frying pan where we will have heated four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. If using chilli, this is the time to add it.
Add the tomato that we are going to use and cook over high heat for about 15-20 minutes, until the excess liquid has evaporated (especially if it is a whole peeled tomato or crushed tomato).
Add the olives, if using, and the tuna, stirring a bit. Let cook for two or three minutes, just enough time for the tuna to come to temperature.
Cook the pasta al dente, drain it and add it to the sauce in the pan -if possible, if not mix everything in the serving dish or, in true student style, in the pot to cook the pasta-, add the chopped parsley, mix well and serve.
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