When the Nieces and Nephew come for dinner – I try to cook something they like, will eat with the minimum of fuss, that allows us to sit easily around a table and chat, that gives them good nutrition … and that doesn’t make too much mess.
Sofafamily all love tinned tuna (we’re not afraid of a little mercury) – seems to be one of those things handed down by our DNA. Along with a chocolate addiction and standing in tree posture when we are thinking (the girls anyway). My brother, Mark, came up with this recipe when we were living in London. I used to travel all the time, eating out three meals a day for weeks on end. By the end of each trip I was sick of restaurant food and would call him and ask: “So, what’s for dinner?”
He says he dreamt this recipe one night, and could even taste it. So set about recreating it to answer my inevitable call. It was an instant hit: and has all the tastes I love: tomatoes (which I eat every day), olive oil, salt, basil, garlic, peas and, of course, tuna. It is also a quick and easy: the sauce macerates, rather than cooks. And it ticks all the nutrition boxes for the kids.
The recipe requires a pasta that can trap and hold sauce – so any of the shapes like farfalle, conchiglie, strotzapretti or orecchiette are ideal. Go for the larger ones, they work best. But the sauce works just as well stirred through warm rice. Or even boiled potatoes.
I use a mix of large and small tomatoes which gives the sauce and nice balance of sweet and tart. I also skin them because the childrens’ ‘delicate palates’ prefer this. But that’s not essential if your tomatoes are excellent quality. The tuna should be solid and light meat (less mercury than the darker option, apparently, and we prefer the taste). It should be tinned in oil, not water. If you do have fresh tuna – grill it and serve over the pasta/salsa mix. Stir in some peppery rocket for an extra kick.
Although Italians tend not to use parmesan over fish – the kids love it – so I always dredge their bowls with a good grate of it.
To serve 6
3 cans good quality light meat tuna – lightly drained
750g tomatoes – fresh
2 cloves of garlic – chopped or crushed – depending on taste. I crush them and leave in the salsa while it brews. Then take them out before serving.
1 cup of frozen peas
1 handful basil leaves – either left whole or torn gently – depending on taste
good extra-virgin olive oil
salt + freshly ground pepper
- Score the skins of the large tomatoes with a sharp knife. Leave the smaller ones as they are. Plunge all in boiling water for a minute or so. Don’t leave them for longer or they will cook. Pour off the water and de-skin the big toms first. The smaller ones will just need to be pierced gently for their skins to slip off.
- Chop in to smallish chunks and scoop flesh, seeds and juice into a glass or plastic bowl – not tin or you can get a metally taste.
- Add your crushed or chopped garlic, gently torn or whole basil leaves. Season with salt, stir gently and set aside for the juices to be drawn out. (15/20 mins)
- Meanwhile put the water for the pasta on to boil – remember it should be as salty as the ocean or tears.
- Pour a good couple of good glugs of olive oil over the salsa. Not too much – you can always add more later.
- Fold in the tuna – breaking it down into chunks – it will flake off. I always add a bit of the oil from the can – to really intensify the tuna flavour. Turn the mixture over gently.
- Boil pasta according to manufacturer’s instructions. The kids don’t like to too al dente – so I catch it just as it is ready.
- Strain the pasta (pour it directly over the frozen peas to cook them a touch) and run under the tap briefly – the pasta shouldn’t be too hot when it goes into the salsa.
- Strain peas and add to the sauce with the pasta. Stir through, check seasoning and serve!
The silence at the table will say it all – we got muttered ‘Yummies” but not much else! And the best part? There are 5 plates, kinves and forks, one pot and one big dish to wash. It truly is pantry to sofa in 40 mins.