no-cook pasta sauce with tuna and cherry tomatoes

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strozzapreti pasta with tuna, cherry tomatoes, olives

This pasta is good for:

  • when there is no time to make dinner but you still want real food
  • the pantry is empty (or almost)
  • it’s Monday
  • you are on low cal
  • before leaving for holidays
  • returning from holidays
  • unexpected informal dinner guests
  • whenever

This pasta has a sad version and a happy version. To make the happy version you must:

  • always have some bronze-drawn durum wheat pasta or frozen fresh pasta and really good extra-virgin olive oil
  • use high quality tuna packed in oil, even better if it’s in olive oil (I use Rio Mare)

Neglecting all the above will result in the sad version. Keeping a bunch of cherry tomatoes in your freezer is a life saver.

Recipe

  • one 200 gr (6 1/2 ounce) can imported Italian tuna in olive oil, drained and separated into chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 250 gr (1/2 lb) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 300 gr/ 10 ounces spaghetti
  • a pinch sugar, salt

Optional:

  • 100 gr (3.5 oz) pitted and chopped Kalamata olives
  • 1 tablespoon capers preserved in salt, washed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 fresh chili pepper

Using a shallow pan – a frying pan with high sides is ideal – saute the garlic in 2 tablespoon olive oil over very low heat. Do not brown the garlic, you only want to flavor the oil. Add the tuna chunks and stir until just warm. Add olives and/or capers if using. Increase heat, add tomatoes and saute quickly until they are only warmed through. They should not cook and lose their shape. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar, add chili pepper if using and turn off the heat. The whole preparation should not take more than 5 min.

Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package instructions, or 1-2 min if using fresh pasta. The sauce is light and relatively dry, so it is suitable for spaghetti or short pasta shapes like the strozzapreti I used for the photo. It does not work well with fettuccine and the like.

When the pasta is cooked, turn the heat under the sauce pan to high. Drain and transfer to the sauce pan.  Stir the pasta quickly into the sauce as explained here. Add some pasta water – up to one tablespoon per person – and stir some more until the excess liquid is absorbed. Sprinkle with parsley and drizzle with fruity extra virgin olive oil. Serve on warm plates at once.

Serves 2-3

spaghetti con asparagi

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wild asparagus, a life changing experience

SPAGHETTI WITH (WILD) ASPARAGUS

Foraging is all the rage nowadays, but Italians have never stopped these sort of primitive habits.

My father has never made a walk for the sake of it in his entire life. He actually drives to my aunt’s house  300 mt away.  For a bunch of wild asparagus however, at 77 he still challenges the Umbrian slopes and the occasional viper. Viper? If you thought we had a quiet life up in the Assisi hills, read my friend Rebecca’s story about picking wild asparagus.

Tasting wild asparagus is a life changing experience and per se enough of a motivation to come to Italy in the spring. These fragrant strips of green are in the league of foods for the gods, like truffle or aged balsamic.

As all things intensely aromatic they need minimal manipulation and condiments. If you don’t have wild asparagus, take thin green cultivated asparagus. Just remember that your asparagus should still be green when you eat them. Please don’t overcook them to brown sadness. In order to succeed with this very simple recipe you need really fresh asparagus, fruity extra virgin olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan.

Recipe

  • 100 gr /3 oz wild asparagus or 300 gr /10 oz cultivated ones, cleaned and washed
  • 1 large garlic clove, very finely chopped
  • 1 small chili pepper, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 tablespoons EVO oil
  • 2-3 tablespoon grated parmesan
  • 350 gr /12 oz spaghetti

a) If using cultivated asparagus grill them in a little olive oil, infuse with garlic and chop as explained for risotto . Transfer them in a pan large enough to hold all the pasta you are cooking.

b) If using wild asparagus cut them in 2 cm/ 1 inch long pieces. In the above large pan, saute the garlic in 2 tablespoon olive oil until fragrant, about 30 sec. Add the asparagus and cover with water. Increase heat to high and cook stirring occasionally, about 6 or 7 min. By the time the water has boiled away the asparagus will be soft but still bright green.

At this point you have garlic infused asparagus, add the sliced chili pepper, cover and reserve.

To cook and sauce the spaghetti to perfection, please follow this method carefully:

While the asparagus are cooking, bring a 5 liter/ 5 quart pan of water to the boil. Add two heaping tablespoons of salt and bring to the boil again. The water has to be plenty and as salty as the sea otherwise the pasta will be bland.

Cook good quality spaghetti according to package instructions until just al dente. Drain and reserve at least 1/4 cup of the pasta water.

Transfer the pasta in the pan which holds the asparagus and turn the heat on high. Stir quickly and when the sauce is blended into the pasta add the cheese and half of the reserved cooking water. Stir again. The hot water will melt the cheese and will bind the condiment  so that all the flavor will be absorbed into the pasta.Use more water if the pasta looks too dry. You can also add a couple of tablespoon of cream. Drizzle with one or two additional tablespoons of  olive oil.

Now run to the table and eat it immediately, wonderfully moist, fragrant and let me say it, beautiful.

Serves 3-4

tagliolini al pesto e fave

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tender broad beans, a spring delicacy

tender broad beans, a spring delicacy

TAGLIOLINI WITH PESTO AND BROAD BEANS. Umbrians love broad beans, fave. As soon as it’s spring, crates of the long green pods start to appear in markets and shops. Those who are lucky enough to have a vegetable garden will pick the young and tender ones and give bagfuls to their neighbors as a gift. The fave are eaten fresh, just out of the pod, often accompanied by a slice of young pecorino cheese.

Spring basil is tender and flavorful enough to make pesto alla genovese, that is the real pesto with basil and pine nuts (pignoli). Summer basil is of course much better for the pesto but then the fave are finished!

Recipe

  • 200 gr (7 ounces) dry egg tagliolini (very narrow fettuccine)
  • 1 cup broad beans (yields 6 tablespoon shelled broad beans)
  • 1 garlic clove very finely minced
  • grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

For pesto alla genovese:

  • 1 bunch of fresh basil leaves, about 4 tablespoon
  • 2 tablespoon pine nuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon EVO oil

Blanch broad beans in boiling hot water for 5 min or until some of the skins start to split. Drain and refresh under cold water. Remove shells. This will take some time but brings the dish from ordinary to quite amazing. Reserve.

To make the pesto I just blitz all ingredients in a bowl using an immersion blender. If you are a purist however, please make it with mortar and pestle. Make sure to make the pesto at the last possible moment before using it in the sauce. This way the pesto does not oxidize and as a consequence all flavor is retained. While making the pesto, cook the tagliolini in plenty salted boiling water according to package instructions.

In a pan large enough to hold all the pasta, saute garlic in olive oil until fragrant, about 30 sec. Add broad beans and cook briefly to infuse them in the garlic oil. Take off the heat and add 2 tablespoon pesto.

Drain the pasta reserving 1/3 cup pasta water. Transfer the pasta in the pan that holds the sauce on high heat. Add some pasta water and quickly stir so that the sauce is partly absorbed by the pasta. Serve immediately with grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese.

Serves 2

the delciate texture of egg tagliolini is perfect for this light sauce

the delicate texture of egg tagliolini is perfect for this fragrant sauce

fresh tomato sauce

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There are two types of basic tomato sauce, one made with fresh tomatoes and one made with canned tomatoes. A fresh tomato sauce can only be made when tomatoes are at their best, juicy and sweet, in Italy generally July and August. Fully ripe San Marzano are the ideal tomatoes for a fresh sauce. Cherry tomatoes are a good alternative when large tomatoes are out of season.

cherry tomatoes quickly sautee with olive oil and garlic

cherry tomatoes quickly sautee with olive oil and garlic

Please do not use the  tasteless and watery glasshouse tomatoes for this sauce!

Recipe

  • 500 gr/1 pound San Marzano or plum or cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, very finely chopped or mashed with a garlic press
  • 5 basil leaves
  • 300 gr/ 10 ounces spaghetti
  • pinch sugar, salt

Cherry tomatoes: chop each tomato in two or four pieces

Plum or San Marzano: pop in the microwave or in boiling hot water until the skin splits. Peel and chop roughly.

Using a shallow pan – a frying pan with high sides is ideal – sautee the garlic in olive oil over low fire. Do not brown the garlic, you only want to flavor the oil. You might add a some chile pepper if you want a spicy sauce. Increase fire, add tomatoes and sautee quickly until they are warmed through, they should not cook and loose their shape. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar, no more than that you can hold between thumb and forefinger. Switch fire off, add basil leaves. The whole cooking should not take more than 5 min.

Meanwhile cook the spaghetti until al dente, strain and transfer the pasta in the pan that holds the sauce. Turn on the fire and quickly stir so that the juice of the sauce is partly absorbed by the pasta. Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and serve with parmesan or pecorino cheese on the side.

Serves 2-3

a delicious pasta dish, ready in no time

a delicious pasta dish, ready in no time