Mary Beth Clark

Culinary Educator · Consultant · Author

Spaghetti with Tuna and Capers

Spaghetti con Tonno in Scatola e Capperi

For a light dinner that is quick to prepare, canned tuna tossed with spaghetti is a favorite in Italy. It completes the evening when you crave a satisfying dinner yet do not want to cook for a long time. Classic wheat, wholewheat, farro, or gluten-free spaghetti are equally delicious paired with this sauce.

Some of the best canned tuna in the world comes from Italy or Spain,  where they process premium yellowfin tuna and pack it in olive oil in the Mediterranean tradition. This healthy food is rich in niacin, B-vitamin, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Spaghetti con Tonno is usually a simple pasta just tossed with canned tuna and its oil, and sliced onions. But why not pack every bite with flavor?

Here are easy Chef Tips to elevate this family dish to dinner party fare:

* I love making Aglio-Olio sauce, garlic-infused olive oil, as the base for this spaghetti dish. Combining this sauce with sharp white onion, canned tuna, capers, and lemon is essential, and makes this dish standout compared to other versions.

* The onion is best if very sharp in flavor, so use either white onion or a very fresh onion from your garden or market. Lightly saute the onion, as written in this recipe, or use it raw.

* Add some heat by adding a pinch of ground cayenne pepper.

* Red wine vinegar freshens canned tuna. Drain the canned tuna then use it.

* This dish needs salt and acid as sharp flavor points to the oil. Grating fresh lemon zest over all and garnishing with crunchy salt and coarsely ground black pepper really adds a satisfying final note.

* Serve this spaghetti at room temperature for best flavor.

4 first-course servings or 2 main course servings. Cooking time is about 15 minutes.

1 pound (454 g) spaghetti

Aglio-Olio Sauce:
6 tablespoons (90 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 garlic cloves, or to taste, finely chopped
Sliced white onion or spring onion to taste
Pinch ground cayenne pepper, optional
1/2 cup (120 ml) pasta cooking water or as needed
2 7-ounce (2 198-g) cans Italian light tuna in olive oil, drained well
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole small capers in vinegar, rinsed, drained

2 lemons, grated zest only
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil at tableside

1. Aglio-Olio Sauce: Over low heat in a large pan, warm the olive oil, chopped garlic, and sliced onion over low heat for 1 minute to infuse the oil without browning the garlic or onions. If including cayenne pepper, add it now. Remove from the heat and reserve.

2. Boiling the Spaghetti: In a deep pot, bring lightly salted water to a rolling boil. Add the spaghetti, stirring  occasionally to prevent it from sticking together. While the pasta is boiling, scoop out 1/2 cup (120 ml) pasta cooking water and reserve. Boil the pasta until it is firm al dente because it continues cooking with the sauce.

One minute before the spaghetti is finished boiling, heat the sauce over medium heat. Drain the spaghetti, leaving a little water clinging to it, and immediately add it to the sauce. Toss thoroughly coating the pasta. Add some reserved pasta cooking water as needed to keep the pasta moist and to create a light, glossy sauce. Remove the pan from the heat. Allow the spaghetti to cool for 5 to 10 minutes to reach room temperature and absorb some sauce.

3. Drain the canned tuna. Sprinkle the red wine vinegar over the tuna and toss the tuna with a fork breaking it apart into chunks. Add the tuna and capers to the spaghetti and toss. Grate fresh lemon zest over and toss. Plate. Sprinkle salt and grind black pepper to taste over each portion. Serve a bottle of olive oil on the table for additional garnish.



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