3 Simple tricks for a perfect Italian pasta – and a fool-proof recipe too

7 Aug

Italy is a country, like France and China, where food and dining has achieved a sacred status. It’s cuisine is inextricable tied to geography, history, economics and culture. Perhaps it’s no wonder that when Italian cuisine is taken out of Italy, something vital is lost.

Pasta in America suffers from a more-is-more attitude. My stomach turns when I see pasta on the menu with an overdose of ingredients: chicken breast, broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, goat cheese, olives and cream…ew.

A truly delicious and authentic Italian pasta will have only a few well balanced ingredients, 20110807-113604.jpgand the process is as important as the ingredients. I’ve been fortunate to have learned over the past few years how delicious and simple authentic pasta recipes are, so now I share one with you.

Pasta al Tonno (pasta with tuna) is a super-fast, super delicious traditional Roman dish that can be ready in about 10 minutes, using ingredients you probably have in your kitchen. I’ll admit that when I tell people I’m cooking this for them, most initially find the thought of pasta with tomatoes and tuna rather unappetizing – until they try it (I thought it sound nasty too at first). What’s more, this classic dish literally only takes 10 minutes or less to prepare.

In learning to make this, I learned that not only the ingredients matter, but a few simple steps in the process make all the difference.

Pasta al Tonno Recipe
Ingredients for 2 generous servings

Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 medium fresh ripe tomatoes
Standard size can of tuna, drained (btw canned tuna is perfect here, no need to use tuna sashimi!)
Splash of red wine
Penne pasta or spaghetti – do not use other shapes. I still don’t entirely understand the rules that govern the pairing of sauces with pasta shapes, I just know that that penne and spaghetti match with pasta al tonno and this is not up for debate. It doesn’t have to fancy or expensive pasta, but it should be at least made it Italy. Alessandro thinks Barilla is inexpensive, easy to find and good quality.
Salt and pepper

Boil salted water in a big pot for pasta
Heat about a tablespoon of the oil on medium low heat
Add the garlic

Secret tip #1: garlic matches with fish or seafood garlic sauces, onion matches with others. I used to think Italian food = lots of garlic in everything, but have now seen the error of my ways. If I were making this sauces without the tuna, I would substitute onion for garlic, as the garlic would overpower the delicate flavour of tomatoes by themselves.

20110807-113802.jpgSecret tip #2: tilt the pan so that the garlic is submerged in the oil. This prevents it from becoming bitter. The same trick should be used in recipes that call for onion.

Add the pasta to the water.

Add the tuna to the garlic and oil (untilt the pan before you do this) Let it sautée in the oil for 2 minutes. Splash a little red wine in there.

Add diced tomato to the tuna mixture. Let the tomatoes sautée until the are soft and blended with the tuna. This takes about 4-5 minutes. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Keep an eye on the pasta and make sure that you do not let it cook beyond al dente. But before you drain the pasta don’t forget…

Secret tip #3: reserve a cup or so of the pasta water, THEN drain the pasta. Place the pasta in the pan with the sauce once the tomatoes is soft, and mix it in together. Add a little of the pasta water to the mixture, this allows the sauce and pasta to blend together perfectly. If the sauce seems too dry to you, add a little more. Honestly I don’t know why this makes such a big difference, especially since we go to such great efforts to drain the pasta; but trust me, it does.

Ecco qua! Serve witha little drizzle of olive oil and garnish of Italian parsley, and enjoy immediately (with a glass of red on the side).

And whatever you do, don’t put parmesan cheese on top (repeat after me, no dairy with fish or seafood).

 

 

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3 Responses to “3 Simple tricks for a perfect Italian pasta – and a fool-proof recipe too”

  1. Robyn August 8, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    Ah, the great garlic debate! We have one cook in our house who loves it in everything, and another who prefers onions. I’ll point my counterpart in the direction of your post!

  2. David August 17, 2011 at 3:58 am #

    Thank you for the cooking lesson! I’m the garlic nut.

    The holy trinity = garlic, olive oil, and basil. (Salt: it’s a given).

    But tuna with tomatoes. What will my kids think?! And fresh tomatoes: good flavourful ones are hard to come by in Canuckland.
    I recently made a simmered fresh tomato thingie that was surprisingly above expectations. Thanks for reminding me to try again.

    • A Life in Rome... August 17, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

      Love the family cooking debate!! You must try this recipe – it’s wonderful. Try Thorpe’s produce stand at Brickworks market, he has amazing fresh, organically produced tomatoes at the best price in the city! Last summer I tried a HUGE specimen called a Sicilian dinner plate. Mmmmmmmmmm…..

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