Pasta al Tonno, Pasta with Tuna and Tomato


Pasta al Tonno, Pasta with Tuna and Tomato



In the United States, we are familiar with a limited number of pasta dishes. By contrast, in Italy, where pasta is ubiquitous, there are dozens if not hundreds of different, named, pasta dishes. Many of those are lighter, or simpler, than what we are used to. But in Italy, pasta typically serves as an early course in the dinner, or sometimes as a snack or light lunch, and not as the main dinner dish.


I first encountered pasta with tuna in Sicily, in Syracusa specifically. As I recall it was made with a “long” pasta, spaghetti or possibly linguine. But the dish can also be made with “short” pasta.


I’ve since learned that most of the tuna fishing by Italian fishermen is based out of coastal villages in Sicily. And while pasta with tuna and tomato is made elsewhere in Italy, it is a specialty in Sicily, particularly when made with fresh tuna. I’m pretty sure, though, that the pasta al tonno I first ate had canned tuna, as the dish typically does in Italy.


Here’s a delightful, fairly light, Pasta al Tonno, that can serve as part of a dinner, or as a light meal in its own right, accompanied by a simple salad. This dish is relatively quick and easy to make, but should be cooked shortly before eating.


In Italian cooking, pasta dishes that feature seafood, rather than meat or vegetables, rarely also contain cheese. Cheese makes a pasta dish heavy, and the point of seafood is lightness.


The best canned tuna for this dish is imported from Italy and is solid and packed in olive oil. At our local supermarket the closest I can get is Yellow Fin tuna canned in olive oil with the brand name “Genova.” which though not actually from Italy works satisfactorily for the dish.


The Italian trick of gently frying the garlic, somewhat crushed, in olive oil till golden then removing it keeps the floral essence of garlic without any of the bitterness or coarseness.


The recipe serves 6 people as the pasta course of a bigger dinner or as a light lunch or supper meal. In Italy, salad is served after the main course, but here we’d typically have the salad along with the pasta or dinner.


1 (4 to 5 ounce) can solid-meat tuna packed in oil, preferably olive oil

3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and partially crushed (with the bottom of a tumbler)

2 tablespoons capers, drained (optional)

1/4 teaspoon dry crushed red pepper flakes

1 (14-ounce) can petite diced tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 medium-sized fresh basil leaves, or leaves from 4 sprigs flat (“Italian”) parsley

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces (1/2 pound) spaghetti, or short pasta, such as Rotini or Ziti


Have all the ingredients ready, cans opened, etc. Keep the juices in the tuna can, since they are used in the recipe. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a teaspoon of salt, ready to boil the pasta.


Heat a heavy, shallow pan to medium-low, and gently fry the crushed garlic in the olive oil, stirring very frequently, until the garlic is golden colored. Lift garlic out of the pan, keeping the now-flavored oil in the pan. Add the drained capers, if used, and stir and fry about 10 seconds. Add the crushed dry pepper and stir and fry 5 seconds. Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pan. Press the lid of the tuna can gently into the tuna and add the juices to the pan. Stir and fry the tomatoes over medium heat a few minutes until the liquid is reduced somewhat. Stir in the salt and basil or parsley leaves and turn off the heat.


While the tomatoes are cooking, add the pasta to the boiling, salted water, and stir well for the first minute so the pasta doesn’t stick together. Then stir it less frequently. After 5 minutes or so, begin biting into a bit of the pasta to check for tenderness. When no crunch is present, and the pasta reaches the tenderness you want, drain it in a colander, catching some of the pasta water in a small bowl.


Put drained pasta into a bowl to mix, add the cooked tomato sauce. Using a fork, break up the tuna in its can and add it to the pasta. Toss this all together briefly. If the mixture is dry, add a little of the reserved pasta-boiling water to moisten it. Taste for salt, and if needed add a bit. Transfer mixed pasta to a serving bowl and serve immediately.


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