Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pasta with Tuna Sauce

Following a week of Thanksgiving indulgence, you might  think dinner would feature a small salad or light soup. No way, not tonight, I really craved pasta. Convinced that portion control would trump calorie count, I foraged around in the kitchen seeking inspiration. Which sauce would offer the most flavor in the least amount of time? Fettuccine al Limone is always a favorite, but cans of oil-packed Italian tuna called out "choose me, choose me."  Okay, tonight's choice would be Pasta with Tuna Sauce. Pasta, coated with a creamy, garlicky sauce featuring tuna, butter, Parmesan cheese and a handful of shredded kale, was the perfect dish to end a busy day.

Some of the best pasta sauces are the simplest, featuring few ingredients and uncomplicated preparation. That said, it's important to have fresh and high quality ingredients like good cheese and solid, oil-packed tuna. I could almost taste this sauce before I scanned the refrigerator and cabinet shelves to check on the necessary ingredients. 
  • Long pasta - check! although it was whole wheat spaghetti, the kind RL refers to as strings of cardboard. 
  • Canned tuna in oil - check! two cans of the good Italian variety. Don't even bother trying this recipe with tuna canned in water, it just doesn't work.
  • Parmigiano reggiano - check! a big chunk fresh from the deli. I love those fat wedges with a thick rind, perfect for seasoning soups after I've sliced or grated off the good stuff. 
  • Heavy whipping cream - check! hey, what was that doing in my refrigerator? We're supposed to be eating healthy again. 
  • Kale was an emergency substitute for the usual Italian parsley, (sorry Marcella) but it's now become my go-to choice for this dish.  
The sauce went together quickly as the pasta cooked and the finished dish was on the table in no time at all. Most evenings we would have enjoyed a green salad alongside and fresh fruit for dessert. Tonight we dined on pasta, one modest portion apiece... and then went back for just one more small serving. Sigh. Tomorrow it's back to veggies, but tonight I loved that pasta.

Terrific Tuna Sauce for Pasta
Adapted from Marcella Hazan's Marcella's Italian Kitchen

Serves 4 to 6 persons

2 5-oz cans of Italian-style tuna packed in olive oil*
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
a handful of fresh kale, julienned (or substitute parsley)
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 TBS butter, softened or melted 
2/3 cup heavy cream, warmed but not hot
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano reggiano
Fettuccine, linguine or spaghetti 

Optional topping: Freshly toasted fresh breadcrumbs
Additional freshly grated cheese
  1. Fill a deep pot with water to cook the pasta. Salt the water and bring the pot to a rolling boil over high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, drain the tuna of all its oil and put it in a large warmed bowl... (warm is important here)
  3. Add the garlic, kale, egg, butter, warm cream, salt and pepper and the 1/2-cup of grated cheese. Use a fork to mix all the ingredients until well blended. It is important to break up the tuna chunks... really smoosh it. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Cook the pasta until it is barely done, al dente. Drain the pasta, but not too well, reserving a cup of pasta water. Immediately add the drained pasta to the tuna mixture and toss. If the sauce is too heavy or stiff, add a few tablespoons of hot pasta water and toss some more. 
  5. I sprinkle freshly toasted fresh breadcrumbs on top just before serving - we like the crunch. Serve at once, with additional grated cheese available on the side.

*Buy the expensive stuff, packed in oil, it really does make a difference. Water packed just doesn't do it.


  1. Butter, heavy cream, Parmesan - stop! you're tempting me too much. Sounds damned good.

  2. I love the kale in this recipe - it will stand up well to the tuna and cheese. Yum!


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