In last week's New York Times, Florence Fabricant adapted a pasta recipe from Barbuto to pair with Sicilian red wines in the "Wines of the Times" segment. Buried in the article is a method for oil-poaching tuna that sounds delicious. I might come back to that at some point, but for convenience's sake and because I couldn't afford fresh tuna yesterday, I stuck with the canned stuff last night, and made a few other adjustments.
And now for a side note (or, ahem, paragraph) on adjustments, substitutions, and adaptions. I used to get highly annoyed by the cooks on the reader comments of Epicurious who would tweak and adjust and leave out and put in ingredients other than the ones listed, and then leave comments about how the dish tasted bad or didn't work or took too long to cook. I figure that in most recipes, the instructions and ingredient lists are there for a reason. Improvisation should be left to people who are really pretty skilled in the kitchen (just this past weekend, I had the good fortune of spending time in the kitchen with someone whose prowess and cooking skills with nary a cookbook in sight taught me quite a bit). That having been said, there are obviously always times when a cook has to take matters into his or her own hand. Think cilantro tastes like industrial-strength rat poison? Leave it out of the guacamole. Don't have a shallot around? Use a small onion. And so on...
In this recipe, I started out by halving the recipe - it served 6 originally. I smashed a small garlic clove and minced a very small sweet onion (I didn't have a shallot) from my CSA basket and slowly cooked both in a small amount of olive oil over low heat, while the water for the pasta came to a boil. I used whole wheat penne instead of bucatini (I like the toothier consistency of the whole wheat and couldn't find bucatini anywhere). When the onion and garlic softened, I added the hot pepper flakes, olives and (soaked) capers, stirring the whole mixture together (I left out the chickpeas. I didn't think they really belonged.) Then I flaked a can of As do Mar tuna into the pan. The whole thing got shook around in the skillet together while the pasta finished cooking.
I saved some of the pasta water, then poured the drained penne into the skillet along with the water, some more olive oil, and small handfuls of chopped parsley and mint. I then went on to toast the breadcrumbs to sprinkle on top (in old times, this was the poor man's sprinkling of Parmigiano), but a friend called with an emergency and I ended up burning the breadcrumbs. Luckily, the dish tasted delicious without them.
It was pretty salty - the capers and olives and tuna all contribute to the saltiness, so I kept a light hand when salting the pasta water. Still, not for the high blood-pressured among us. The addition of the mint is a small touch, but really elevates the flavor of the dish - don't skip it! Although you could, and it would still taste good. In total, I would make this again, and don't think I'll even need to clip the recipe. It's so simple that once you make it, it's pretty easy to remember.
Bucatini With Tuna
Yields 6 servings
1 pound bucatini (or penne)
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 small shallot, minced
2 large pinches chili flakes, or to taste
½ cup pitted oil-cured black olives, sliced
¼ cup large salt-cured capers, well-rinsed
½ cup canned chickpeas
12 ounces imported canned solid tuna, drained
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
¼ cup chopped mint leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup coarse, lightly toasted bread crumbs.
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook bucatini for about 8 minutes, until al dente.
2. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a very large skillet if using bucatini, a large skillet for penne. Add garlic and shallots. Sauté until soft. Add chili flakes, olives, capers and chickpeas and cook another minute or so. Break up tuna in flakes and add. Cook until ingredients are warm. Remove from heat.
3. Drain pasta, reserving about a cup water. Add pasta, parsley and mint to skillet. Return to low heat and toss well. Add remaining olive oil and pasta water to moisten ingredients. Season with salt, black pepper and more chili flakes if desired. Transfer to a warm serving bowl, top with bread crumbs and serve.