Very occasionally, I am caught completely unprepared by dinnertime. It’s not that the time itself sneaks up on me– no, my stomach is a pretty good timekeeper in that respect. It’s that dinner itself appears looming, an insurmountable obstacle that I am somehow caught unprepared to handle. I forget what I’m doing. I don’t know what to make. This doesn’t happen frequently– I am usually pretty good at planning meals in advance, making sure I have the ingredients, and timing everything out. Or I find an ingredient on the way home from work and the meal spins its own process in my head on the walk home. In general, I think I am pretty resourceful when it comes to putting dinner (especially last-minute dinners) together– utilizing the nearly inexhaustible store of recipes I’ve accumulated over the years and, when that fails, making it up as I go along. And yet… sometimes it happens. Sometimes I just don’t know what I am going to make. Sometimes I don’t know what recipe to look for, what ingredients to focus on, or even what I’m doing in the kitchen. Sometimes it just doesn’t work. But a girl still has to eat, right?
That’s part of the beauty of this meal: even on those days where you have no idea what you are doing, you can pull this baby together with almost exclusively ingredients you already keep in your pantry. The only fresh ingredient in this pasta is the tomatoes, though if you’re anything like me, you’ll have at least some of those hanging around, as well. The rest– tuna, pasta, garlic, capers, and anchovies– are all staples that you probably already have on hand. And if don’t generally keep them on hand, I suggest that you start doing so– you never know when your inspiration will take a temporary hike.
I know, it sounds weird. Why am I making an apocalypse-style pantry meal in the middle of the summer, when the bounty of fresh fruits and veggies is the largest and most plentiful of all the year’s harvests? I already told you part of the reason– I was stuck. The other reason is that this pasta is secretly a great way to showcase tomatoes. Do you have more than you know what to do with in your garden? Did you just get farmer’s market syndrome and buy way more than you will ever be able to eat on your own? This may be a good place to start using them, then, especially if you are already sick of tomato salads and sauces and those leftover stuffed tomatoes from last week— though is that really even possible? I guess this is an option in case you can be sick of such things. Or it’s an option if you’re looking for something exciting and flavorful to try with my all-time favorite summer food. And while it won’t be quite as good in the winter with the zombie tomatoes flown in from who-knows-where, this dish will still hold its own and will help even those kinds of sad, winter tomatoes shine. I promise that you will love this pasta enough that it will find a place in your dinner rotation year-round.
Spaghetti with Tuna, Tomatoes, Capers, and Basil
Heavily adapted from this Bon Appetit recipe
2 lbs cherry tomatoes (can be subbed for larger tomatoes)
2 6-ounce cans of solid white tuna packed in oil (do not drain!)
4 anchovy fillets, minced
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup small capers, drained
1 lb spaghetti rigati
2 large handfuls of basil, chopped
Sprinkling of breadcrumbs
Set a large pot of salted water over high heat for the pasta.
While waiting for the water to boil, drain the oil from the cans of tuna into a medium saucepan. Heat the oil over medium heat, and when hot add the garlic. Cook the garlic until slightly browned and fragrant, then remove from heat and pour the oil and garlic into a bowl.
Return the pan to the heat without cleaning it and reheat over medium to medium-low heat. If using cherry tomatoes, leave whole. If using larger tomatoes, cut them into chunks that are roughly the size of a cherry tomato. Add the tomatoes to the saucepan and allow to cook until they have softened and start to burst, then add them (with all of their juices) to the bowl with the oil and garlic.
Break up the tuna pieces in the two cans with a fork, then add to the same bowl as the tomatoes. Add the minced anchovies and capers to the bowl, as well. Stir well to combine.
Cook the pasta according to its box’s instructions– I generally prefer it al dente. Once the pasta has been drained, return it to the pot and pour the tuna-tomato mixture over it. Add the chopped basil. Mix everything well to combine, then serve immediately. Finish each plate with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs and a couple of basil leaves as garnish.