September 8, 2012

pasta with oil-cured tuna, capers, red onions, tomatoes and basil

Feeding large parties that also include a gang of hungry Italian musicians is challenging. With one small kitchen, a few large pots and a lot of volanta..(willingness), I cook pasta for the masses with as much 'gusto' as possible. Gusto also means 'taste'. Italians are tough critics, so one can't mess around when feeding them their favorite food. I have to invent, but stay within reason.

One of the most Italianissima summer pasta dishes is pasta con tonno e capperi (tuna and capers). It's lovely to add thinly sliced red onions and cherry tomatoes as well. It's an instant one dish meal, with plenty of protein and flavor. As you can see, the sauce is uncooked and therefore, perfect for transferring from the kitchen to your table 'al fresco'.

With the overfishing of tuna, I have a moral decision to make when thinking of this dish. I choose a very good quality, specially selected tuna preserved in oil (in a large red tin) from Spain. I know the story of the Sicilian matanza. I am aware of present-day practice and over fishing that keeps certain fishes from being sustainable all over the world. Tuna was king of fishes. Smart. Plentiful and meaty. Catching and preserving it in oil has kept many island people alive for centuries. Now it's not allowed. There are quotas. It has also been a staple for Americans. That's more tuna than certain schools can generate. I don't buy tuna in America, nor do I choose it in a sushi bar against my will. Especially fresh.. I adore it in many ways..mostly raw. Here is a good article with more info on just how the Spanish are approaching the situation.  Sustainable Tuna debated on Spanish TV.

I do choose to use tuna once in a 'blue moon'; of which there was one this August. I took the liberty to make a beloved Italian favorite and the crowds jumped for joy. It's not the Italians fault that we are losing our resources. There has historically been respect and ritual in these Mediterranean waters. They took only what they needed. Tuna is nutritious and one fish can feed a family for days. The fact that it's a fish that can be preserved is another bonus.

Here is the recipe I made up in the countryside of Montifiridolfi, a tiny Tuscan town not far from San Casciano, a half hour south of Florence in the heart of Chianti. It fed 45 people amply in 95 degree weather. They took a 2 hour hike in the heat afterwards, but they weren't hungry.

On a hot day, there is nothing more satisfying that a plate of this pasta room temp with a glass of cool rose'.

Penne Ragate con Tonno, Capperi, Pomodorini, Olive, cipolla rosa e Parmigiano Reggiano

2- 8 oz   cans of good quality sustainable (Dolphin safe!) tuna preserved in oil.
1            fresh red onion, sliced in half as thin as possible
2            cups of pomodorini (cherry tomatoes) sliced in half
1/2         cup of rinsed capers in salt
1 c         of oil-cured black olives, pitted and roughly chopped (optional)
1 bunch of basil and Italian parsley, chopped fine and set aside.
1/2 c       of Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated

1 box    (500 grams) of Penne Ragate of your choice

Chop all ingredients separately and put in an ample bowl. Open the cans and break up the tuna and add to the bowl. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil. 

Heat a generous pot of water, add a palmful of good quality course salt. Bring to a rolling boil.
Add the pasta and cook until al dente, (where only a hairline of white can be seen).

Drain the pasta, preserving a cup of the pasta cooking water. Set aside. 

Toss all ingredients with the freshly cooked pasta in a large serving bowl. If it seems dry or a bit sticky, add a bit of the pasta cooking water, it loosens the pasta nicely. Add most of the parsley
and parmigiano. Distribute all chopped bits evenly. Finish by drizzling a generous amount of extra-virgin olive oil and dash the remaining parsley and parmigiano to please the eyes. 

 On a hot day, there is nothing more satisfying that a plate of this pasta room temp with a glass of cool rose'.

 It's the end of summer, but I think this dish will be a hit at least until the end of September here in 
Italia..! Buon appetito!


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