Friday, June 17, 2011

Uncle Jon and Aunt Wilma’s Tuna Pasta

When my parents brought me a jar of the tuna that my Uncle Jon caught off the coast of Washington State and my Aunt Wilma canned (yes, the Aunt Wilma of pie baking fame, for those of you who have read Communion), I knew I had to do something better with it than just swish it around with some mayonnaise and make sandwiches. I felt duty-bound to make a meal worthy of their efforts—for as Aunt Wilma wrote to me, “It’s hard work catching the tuna, messy and time-consuming to can it, BUT very rewarding.”

So off I went, flipping through cookbooks and scouring the Internet. Usually, comes to the rescue, but this time around the most enticing recipe turned up on the Fine Cooking website: Fettuccine with Tuna, Lemon & Fried Capers. Aside from just sounding delicious, this recipe also appealed because it would give me the chance to use some other ingredients begging for my attention:

1) The lemons from the tree in my driveway (their season was coming to an end, and I was dying to use as many as possible).

2) Fettuccine from Pappardelle’s, the new pasta shop at the Third & Fairfax Farmer’s Market.

I’d already tried the garden herb fettuccine: TO DIE FOR, tossed with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon juice, fresh basil, olive oil and grated parmesan!! For the tuna recipe, the lemon basil pasta seemed like a good choice. Because I was going to make a big batch for my parents and Julie’s clan, and because the freshness of Pappardelle’s pasta gives it lots of flavor, I mixed one eight-ounce package of the lemon herb with two packages of plain fettuccine. The result: divine! Every ingredient—especially the fried capers (I went heavy on this)—made the flavor of the tuna stand out. Even though I’ll have to use store bought tuna next time around (sigh), this is definitely a dish I’ll make again.

Fettuccine with Tuna, Lemon & Fried Capers
adapted from Fine Cooking (recipe by Tony Rosenfeld)

Serves 4


- Kosher salt
- 1 lemon, scrubbed
- 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; more for drizzling
- 1/4 cup small capers, rinsed, drained, and patted dry
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 12-oz. can or 2 6-oz. cans solid white tuna in water, drained well
- 1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 3/4 lb. dried fettuccine
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil

2. Using a zester tool (called a channel knife), zest the lemon into thin strips, or, using a vegetable peeler, shave off the zest, then slice into very thin strips. Juice the lemon to get 2 Tbs. juice.

3. Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a 10-inch or larger straight-sided sauté/frying pan over medium heat. Add the capers and cook until they start to brown and get crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and cook until it starts to crisp and curl up, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the capers and lemon zest to a plate lined with a paper towel—it’s fine if a few capers remain in the pan.

4. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the garlic to the remaining oil in the pan and cook, stirring, until it browns lightly but doesn’t burn, 2 to 3 minutes.

5. Add the tuna and red pepper flakes and cook until the tuna just heats through, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat.

6. Meanwhile, cook the fettuccine in the boiling salted water, stirring often, until it’s just tender to the tooth (see the package for cooking time). Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta.

7. Return the sauté pan with the tuna in it to medium heat. Add the drained pasta, 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water, 2 Tbs. of the lemon juice, and the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil. Cook, tossing and stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes to blend the flavors. If needed for moisture, add the remaining pasta water.

8. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice.

9. Serve immediately, drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with the capers, lemon strips, parsley, and a few grinds of black pepper.

Cooking note: I'm a lazy cook, and after preparing all of the ingredients, I just tossed them together with the pasta in a big bowl. Not as pretty to look at on the plate, but equally tasty!