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Rapha Cooks: Tuna
Words and Photos by Matt Card
If you’re lucky summer has settled in where you live and the after-work hours are filled with evening rides and training races. With so much time in the saddle, it’s hard to want to spend more than the barest minimum in the kitchen. When I want a good meal in a hurry, I’ll follow the lead of Italians and use good-quality prepared foods. Case in point: canned or jarred tuna packed in olive oil. The stuff isn’t cheap, often quadruple what you’d pay for a can of flaky Bumblebee or Chicken of the Sea, but it’s worth every penny for its deep, clean, oceanic flavor and dense, chewy texture. The fish tends to be yellowfin, albacore, or bonito—none of which are considered endangered, so feel free to consume without an iota of guilt. Ortiz, a Spanish brand, is one of my favorites and widely available. For those of us in Oregon, there are a host of locally caught and preserved brands of tuna that rival the imports.
Italians use the stuff in all manner of dishes. Most simply, they’ll crumble it out on crostini and top it with extra-virgin olive oil and herbs (use the best quality, “ventresca,” tuna, or fish cut from the belly, for this). Two of my favorite dishes require only slightly more effort: a spicy pasta and a white-bean salad. For the pasta, it’s simply a matter of tossing the tuna with a handful of assertive ingredients and the pasta. Sauteed garlic, crushed chili, sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies, capers, and herbs all highlight the fish and require no more than a quick warm up in a hot skillet—it takes less time to prepare the topping than for the pasta to cook. And please, don’t even think about adding cheese—cheese and fish should never, ever cross paths. Period.
As for the cannellini bean salad, it might take you 10 minutes to prepare. Reach for imported beans: in my opinion, most American brands suffer from a mushy texture and bland flavor. If you can’t find decent beans, reach for chickpeas, which taste nearly as good.
A simple mix of crunchy vegetables and a bright dressing bring out the best in the tuna. I personally like the salad with a fair amount of heat and acidity, both of which can be provided by pickled peppadew peppers, an addictive round, South African grown sweet-hot pepper.
While each recipe is based on one can of tuna and designed to serve two to three, they can easily be doubled to serve twice that.
Farfalle with Tuna, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Herbs
Serves 2 to 3
Ortiz-brand tuna is widely available and outstanding. And make sure to use good-quality anchovies too; otherwise they will undermine the tuna.
6 to 8 ounces farfalle pasta
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon capers
3 to 4 oil-packed anchovies, chopped fine
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, hydrated in boiling water (if dried), and sliced thin
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
Ground black pepper
1. Bring large pot of water to boil and season aggressively with salt. Cook pasta, stirring frequently, until al dente, drain.
2. Meanwhile, combine oil, garlic, pepper flakes, capers, and anchovies in large skillet over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is very soft and just beginning to turn golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and cook until hot, about 2 minutes. Gently stir in tuna, herbs, and pasta; gently blend and sprinkle liberally with lemon juice and ground black pepper. Serve immediately.
Tuna and White Bean Salad with Fennel and Lemon Vinaigrette
Serves 2 to 3
Round, sweet-hot Peppadew peppers can be found jarred or in many olive bars.
While the salad can be served over greens (arugula would be best), it can also be squeezed into a sandwich or used as a crostini topping.
Juice of 1 lemon
1 medium-small shallot, sliced very thin crosswise
3 to 6 Peppadew peppers, chopped
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, halved, cored, and sliced very thin crosswise
4 tablespoons chopped, mixed fresh herbs (mint, marjoram, oregano, parsley, basil)
1 can imported cannellini beans (14 to 16 ounces), rinsed and drained well
6 to 8 ounces oil-packed tuna, drained and carefully broken into large pieces
In large mixing bowl, combine lemon juice, shallot, peppers, sugar, and large pinch salt. Allow to sit 5 to 10 minutes before whisking in olive oil; season to taste with additional salt if necessary. Mix in fennel and herbs, then gently fold in beans and tuna. Serve.
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