One Pot Pasta al Tonno

Our eldest daughter is graduating from high school this year.  With this milestone comes off-the-chart fits of emotion (I’m sure the good people of Goleta can hear my sobs) and a ridiculously hectic schedule of events and activities. I know I’m not alone here; even in non-milestone years, the end of school is always jam-packed. All this busyness has made my usual grocery store visits fewer and farther between, forcing a lot of creative cooking from what we have on hand. Some dinners are better than others, but two things definitely help put more betters on the table—excellent pantry items and the garden at your fingertips (you didn’t think I’d write a blog without incorporating the garden, did you?)

My go-to easy meal tends to be pasta as it can be fast and simple and always satisfies. For years I’ve been reading recipes for those “one-pot” pasta (where you cook the pasta in one pan with the water and seasonings). I was reluctant to try—maybe it’s the Italian traditionalist me or perhaps pig-headed would be more accurate?  Ultimately, the lack of dishes won me over and the result was so worth it:  super tasty, so simple to prepare, and so much less clean up.

After trying a few recipes online, I decided to freelance my version.  After several variations and developments for ingredients, I came to a few conclusions. I prefer a short pasta with a bend in it like casarecce or fusillioni because it holds up well and allows the sauce to pool in the bendy parts. I also love using a can of tuna for protein, an ingredient the teens didn’t even realize was in there because it broke down during the cooking process– adding all that phenomenal flavor sans tell-tale chunks.  Then I headed to the garden for a Meyer lemon, parsley, and mint (oh, please don’t skip the mint, it adds exceptional freshness.)

But the secret to this recipe (and all recipes really) is to use the best quality ingredients even the canned items.   Suggestions for the pantry items in this recipe came from my dear friend Sara, who knows all things Italy and is a fantastic cook too. The salt-packed capers, the Mutti’s canned cherry tomatoes, and Callipo canned tuna are all a must! The Callipo tuna is a yellowfin tuna from a small fishing village in Italy and it may be hard to find but oh so delicious. The small cans come in multiples and are the perfect size for 1/2 lb of pasta. If you only have the larger size cans that’s totally fine, too, just make sure they the best quality tuna packed in olive oil. If you live in Santa Barbara, you can find the Mutti and Callipo at World Market… sometimes. If not, here’s where you can find them online:

Mutti Cherry Tomatoes

Callipo Tuna in Olive Oil 

I love this Fusillioni  — it’s great for pestos, too!

Also, the capers are always best if packed in sea salt (also a gift from Sara’s travels to the island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily. What can I say? The girl is amazing!) Here’s a source to buy online Sea salt-packed capers from Pantelleria

I expected fewer dishes, but the result was a super succulent sauce, pasta cooked al dente, and a crowd-pleasing dinner that came together in a snap. The starch releases from the pasta in the best way causing the aromatics and flavors to bind even more than in the typical practice of cooking pasta. The best part about this recipe is that it’s delicious. It started as a busy weeknight dinner but has been elevated for entertaining on a Saturday night with vintage wine and great friends. Who knows maybe it will even grace the table of a graduation party dinner as a pasta course.

Wishing all of you a safe and beautiful start to the summer and congratulations to all the grads — it’s been a hard slog and I am so impressed by the tenacity of all involved.

Pantry One Pot Pasta al Tonno

Serves 4

1/2 lb short twisted pasta, such as casarecce or fusillioni

3 cups of water

1 – 14 ounce can Mutti cherry tomatoes

1 – 2.8 ounce can Callipo tuna, packed in olive oil, drained

1/4 cup salted capers, rinsed

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon Diamond Crystal Kosher salt

1/2 tsp chile flakes

Zest of one Meyer lemon

1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice, from 1 lemon

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for garnish

Place pasta, water, tomatoes, capers, garlic, and tuna in a large braising pan (no smaller than 2 1/4 quart) and bring to a low boil. Add salt, chile flakes, oil, parsley, lemon zest, and juice, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a solid simmer, stirring occasionally and breaking down the cherry tomatoes with the back of a spoon. Cook until pasta is cooked through and most (not all — it’s best if it’s a little brothy) of the liquid is absorbed– about 15 minutes.  Add the cheese and stir to incorporate. Spoon into bowls and garnish with more cheese and chopped parsley.