Make the most of pantry staples with this back-pocket tuna and pasta. The recipe is quick with few ingredients. Using top-quality oil-preserved tuna elevates this simple and satisfying dish.
You know how it is when you walk in the door after days or weeks away from home, travel-weary and very, very hungry?
Maybe you just order take-out and move on, because chances are the only things in the fridge are shriveled limes and sour milk. But for me, extended periods away often means I’ve been eating things I didn’t cook myself, making the craving for homemade, comforting food even stronger.
Times like that call for a good pantry, which always has your back. It shouldn’t require much work or thinking to throw together a delicious and satisfying pantry meal. The whole point is to nourish yourself, and the sooner the better.
Stock your pantry thoughtfully, and be rewarded when hunger strikes.
My mother made a version of this dish for us almost weekly and I’ve always loved it. She kept it much simpler by using just canned solid white tuna, spaghetti and chopped parsley, and it’s been one of my back-pocket meals for most of my life. After I tasted oil-packed tuna in jars though, it’s been hard to go back to canned Bumble Bee — perfect for tuna salad sandwiches (on white bread and only Hellman’s mayo) but otherwise there’s no comparison.
Tuna preserved in glass jars retains its nice firm, flaky texture, unlike canned tuna which often looks like mushy bland pâté when you open it. In southern Italy, tuna preserved in oil, tonno sott’olio, is a prized food to make and keep. Jarred tuna is a bit more pricey, but I think the extra bucks are totally worth it. After all, we’re making dinner here! I find that one jar and a pound of pasta feeds a small family very nicely and elegantly.
It might seem counterintuitive, but I don’t use the oil the tuna is packed in for a few reasons:
- Extra-virgin olive oil is my oil of choice for cooking, and as precious as these jars are, the oil the fish is packed in is probably not extra-virgin but more likely a lighter “pure” oil.
- The oil can taste diluted or watered down after its processed — not what you want in your finished dish.
My favorite brands to have on hand are Tonnino and Ortiz, both available at many grocery stores.
LINGUINE WITH SPICY TUNA SAUCE
- 1 jar (7-8 ounce) oil-preserved tuna (I like Tonnino or Ortiz brands)
- Sea salt
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 or 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
- 1 teaspoon medium-hot chili (such as Aleppo) or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/2 cup dry-packed sundried tomatoes, cut into slivers (soak in hot water for 10 minutes if very dry)
- 1 pound linguine or spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons EACH chopped fresh thyme and Italian parsley or 1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
- Lift the tuna from the jar with a fork, leaving the oil in the jar. Put the tuna into a small bowl and break into smaller pieces with the fork - don't shred too much as large chunks are nice.
- Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil, adding 1 tablespoon of salt per quart of water.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium low heat for a minute. Toss in the garlic, chili and tomatoes and cook just until the garlic starts to sizzle. Remove from the heat and stir in the tuna and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
- Cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water before draining. Immediately add the pasta to the skillet. Use tongs or two large forks to toss the pasta with the sauce, adding a bit of water to loosen the sauce (you might not need all the water).
- Sprinkle the herbs over the pasta, then taste and add more salt or chili if you like. Serve hot.