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The fridge is stocked; the pasta machine is at the ready; and the pasta is drying. I am expecting a house full of company tomorrow and it won’t be long before the house is buzzing with voices big and small. But tonight in the quiet before the chaos, I have a night to myself – to spend a therapeutic evening cooking, making homemade tagliatelle, in the quiet of the eve.
Thankfully, our mother passed on her love of making homemade pasta to my brother and I. She worked tirelessly both at holidays and many time on the weekends making homemade pasta or gnocchi for the neighborhood, sending tray after tray out the door with my dad for delivery. Neighbors and family would wait patiently for my dad to arrive with steaming trays of homemade pasta. We were always part of the process. My brother and I would stand on a chair and help roll out the gnocchi or carry the pasta sheets draped all over the kitchen to her spot at the pasta machine. We would finally get the hang of rolling the gnocchi into just the right shape or picking which pasta sheet was dry enough to cut into the fresh strands of homemade ‘macaroni’.
I lost my mother to Alzheimers in 2007 and now as an adult, I often wish she could be with me in my kitchen, guiding my hand to shape the gnocchi as she did for me when we were young. I always feel her presence as I buzz about the kitchen, making sure that the consistency for the pasta dough is just right or that I roll the pasta sheets just thin enough. (Although I do have to ask, where was she the year my gnocchi fell apart in the water and I was forced to serve lumps of gnocchi glue to the entire family? I truly needed her presence for that one.)
With the pasta sheets now draped about the kitchen and I covered in flour, I needed something easy and quick for dinner. After a quick peek in the panty, I knew exactly which dish to make – pasta with tuna and tomatoes – one of my go-to dishes when the days are long and cooking time is at a premium. This is true comfort food for me. There was always a bowl of this pasta waiting for me when I would return home from college.
This pasta had seen me through many a rough patch during college – breakups with boyfriends, a tough exam, and then there was the time I showed up at home with my new boyfriend only to have a dozen red roses delivered from the other boyfriend. (Oops! Ate LOTS of pasta that night!) My mother, true to form, would often send me back to campus with foil-wrapped trays of homemade lasagna or pots full of her wonderful meatballs. My dorm mates quickly replaced the neighbors as they too waited patiently for me to return from the weekend with my Italian surprises.
I make this pasta with Italian tuna fish, which is canned in olive oil rather than water. The flavor is richer. I keep a stock of it in the pantry for just this purpose. However, tuna canned in water will do as well. This pasta is ready in minutes and can be used as a backdrop to add in many other ingredients – olives, spinach, pancetta, capers, whatever you have on hand. I occasionally put grated parmigiano on this dish but please don’t tell! The Italians balk at the thought of combining cheese with fish as it overpowers the delicate taste of the fish.
Pasta with Tuna and Tomatoes
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
2 fillets of anchovies or 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
2 (5 ounce) cans tuna, packed in olive oil, drained
Pinch (or more) red pepper flakes
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
About 3/4 pound pasta
Chopped fresh parsley, basil
Put a large pot filled with salted water to boil over medium heat.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet or sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add in the sliced garlic and sauté for a minute being careful not to let the garlic burn. Add in the anchovies or anchovy paste and stir to incorporate.
Add the tuna and the red pepper flakes. Stir to incorporate, breaking up any large chucks of tuna with the back of a wooden spoon. Add in the diced tomatoes. Allow to simmer for about 15 minutes until a bit thickened. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
When the water boils, add the pasta and cook according to package directions until ‘al dente’. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water. Drain pasta.
Add pasta to sauce and toss. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and basil.
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.