I just didn't feel like shopping. And let's face it, sometimes we don't. That's when the pantry comes in handy. It's good to have recipes like this in the repertoire. All told, I pulled this together in about 15 minutes—just enough time to bring the water to boil and cook the pasta al dente.
The recipe is adapted from Judy Rogers' famous Zuni Cafe Cookbook, where she calls for preserving fresh tuna at home with fennel seeds, chile, lemon zest, bay leaves, and other aromatics. I'm sure it's absurdly delicious, but I decided to use the same flavors with a can of high-quality tuna from the grocery store. If you buy tuna packed in olive oil, it's generally the best quality—just add crushed fennel, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest while toasting some pine nuts, and their wonderful flavor permeated the whole dish.
But it's those pine nuts that made the difference; they work surprisingly well with the tuna, adding their unmistakable flavor and offering some texture.
- 1 pound short pasta, such as orrechiette or penne
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tablesoon capers, roughly chopped
- 1 can tuna in olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Cook the pasta until just shy of al dente, according to pasta box directions.
In the meantime, heat the pine nuts in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium heat. Cook until toasted and fragrant but not burned, 1-2 minutes, then add the oil, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest. Cook for an additional minute until the spices are fragrant, then add the tuna. Stir carefully, avoiding breaking it up too much, until warmed through.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking water, and add the pasta to the skillet. Toss well to coat, then add some of the pasta water, about 1/4 cup, and cook over low heat until the pasta is al dente and the sauce and noodles cling together well. Add pasta water as needed to achieve the right sauciness. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.