Spaghetti with Tuna, Spaghetti con il Tonno


Y’all I know this sounds like kind of a funky food combination but it is sublime.  Seriously.  I first tasted spaghetti with tuna over 35 years ago when Jimmy and I were dating and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  My father had some clients in Milan, two brothers, and one of them was coming to the States, Fort Lauderdale among other places.  Both brothers, named Paolo and Adriano, had kept a lively correspondence going with my father regarding his tropical fish and made it perfectly clear they couldn’t wait to meet the world renown discus expert, Jack Wattley.  But for all his fame he was just Daddy or Dad, no big deal.  The day one of the brothers was arriving my father called me at work and issued one of his rare and few demands.  Paolo planned to prepare dinner for all of us at my parent’s house.  My mother had purchased the ingredients for the meal so, according to my father, all I had to do was leave work on time, make certain hair and makeup were in place and, above all, behave and be charming.  Can y’all hear me rolling my eyes?  That is NOT how I wanted to spend my evening.  The thought of entertaining some old, smelly, tropical fish enthusiast pushed me into a black mood.  He probably had a flabby, pot belly.  Gross.  I asked my father if I could invite my then-boyfriend, Jimmy, to the dinner party.  Misery does love company and at least there would be copious amounts of wine.  Daddy said yes.  When I arrived home I poured myself a generous glass, flopped down on a sofa and joined my little sister, Pamela, in a grumble-under-your-breath session.  Minutes later the brass bell outside the house rang.  Mama and Daddy answered the door and welcomed Paolo into the house with big smiles all around.  Pamela and I watched  speechlessly.  Who was this drop dead gorgeous man with wavy, raven black hair, piercing blue eyes and chiseled cheekbones which looked as though Botticelli had stained them with a paintbrush dipped in strawberries?  Pamela and I were agog, almost falling over ourselves to be presented to this… this Adonis.  I leapt to my feet, stuck out my tanned arm for a firm handshake and introduced myself… real friendly like.  Dad beamed.  I volunteered to help Paolo in the kitchen all the while he protested saying he had dinner under control.  I recall thinking, “Fine.  That’s just fine.  I’ll just sit over here and stare at you… all night long.”  Y’all.  What a dream boat.  Turns out he was taken.  We met his girlfriend, an Egyptian model, on one of Paolo’s later trips but we didn’t care that evening.  We were perfectly happy to blatantly flirt, ogle and stare.  I don’t think my Jimmy was too happy but as I am wont to say, ‘Just because I’m on a diet don’t mean I can’t look at the menu.”   My goodness, was Paolo easy on the eyes.  And could he navigate the kitchen.  He prepared this dinner in no time flat, with very little effort on his part and blew our minds away with this pasta dish we had never heard of.  Each ingredient plays an integral role in the overall sumptuousness of the meal.  And due to the fact this dish is so simple, it’s of paramount importance you use the absolute best and highest quality ingredients you can get your little hands on.  The dish is never served with cheese but, keep in mind, it’s your meal.  If you feel like a bit of grated parm, well, have at it.  I will say, though, it doesn’t need it.  Between the sweet onion next to the savory tuna and the kick of the hot pepper flakes on al dente spaghetti you have a vivid, full bodied dish that will have you rolling your eyes to the back of your head.  Honestly, this meal is an Italian miracle… ecstasy on a plate.  At this juncture in my life I enjoy pasta once, maybe twice a year and this dish is the one I’m willing to throw caution to the winds and gorge myself.  Have at it and enjoy!

Spaghetti with Tuna, Spaghetti con il Tonno

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 14.5-ounce box good quality spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4-1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 5-ounce cans sustainable yellow-fin tuna packed in olive oil
  • 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, strain and reserve juices for another time.  I freeze excess juices and use them as needed.
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, more if you like a real kick
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • olive oil to serve at the table
  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted (1/4 cup salt) water to a boil and cook spaghetti until just al dente.
  2. While you wait for the water to boil, put the tuna into a bowl, oil and all, and flake the tuna with a fork.  Set aside.
  3. Over medium heat add olive oil to a large frying pan and add onion.  Cook until onion is softened and translucent, about 3-4 minutes, stirring  all the while.
  4. Add garlic and and tuna to the pan and stir well.
  5. Break up tomatoes with your hands over the pan and stir.
  6. Add red pepper flakes and black pepper and stir well to incorporate.
  7. When the pasta is al dente, drain and reserve 3-4 tablespoons of pasta water in the pot.  Return spaghetti to pot.
  8. Transfer tuna sauce to pasta pot and toss well.  Over warm heat let the pasta rest 4-5 minutes to allow it to absorb the juices.
  9. Serve the spaghetti in shallow bowls with a cruet of olive oil for those who would like a drizzle.

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