Tuna again, but no excuses. Point is, fishing it is often banned, to maintain stocks and preserve the species (at least that’s the official line). I hope it works. I for one am quite happy not to find tuna every time I want it if it means I can continue to enjoy it in the future. Ironic really, since I imagine it’s always available back in the UK (at a price), where it is not a native fish. But I’ve got used to periodically saying goodbye to some of the things I most love to eat (apricots, peaches, fresh mint, artichokes and tuna), knowing that they will come back next year. When the food you eat depends on the seasons, and not on your supermarket’s ability to source worldwide, you will be eating better, cheaper, and with a clearer idea of the natural cycle. Anyway, food philosophy aside, the point is that my beloved tuna at the moment is available, and seeing as this is not an occurrence as frequent as one would expect in Sicily, I’m scooping it up with gusto.
I will come clean and admit that I generally detest pasta with fish, but not due to any aversion to pasta, or fish for that matter. If anything, it’s due to my love of fish, which should play the lead. When I have a fish lunch, I will often avoid any other food groups, so that I can savour the fish to the full. The other day, for example, I was walking home and saw a blackboard outside a fish restaurant advertising the day’s catch, which included sea urchins and oysters. Good aperitivo material, I thought, washed down with a glass of Franciacorta. As it happened, the aperitivo became lunch, and the raw oysters and sea urchins ended up being joined by an albacore tuna tartare and a plate of deep-fried prawns, squid and salt cod. No vegetables or pasta in sight. Fruit too, was out of the picture, unless we count the grapes in the wine and a squeeze of lemon. So, if I’m trying to peddle pasta with fish today, believe me, it’s good. I really wouldn’t bother if it wasn’t.
The best cut to use, as is often the case, is tarantello, located between belly and tail, which gives a perfect balance of tender and lean meat. If you use tuna from the belly of the fish, as I did, be prepared to spoon off any excess oil before adding the herbs, lemon and tomatoes. This is one of my favourite cuts, tender and full of flavour, but like its piggy cousin, belly pork, also very fatty.
- 360g pasta, tortiglioni or rigatoni for preference
- 500g fresh tuna, skin and bones removed
- 1 handful salted capers, well rinsed
- 5 cloves garlic, topped, squashed and peeled but left whole
- 50g toasted almonds
- 200g datterino or cherry tomatoes, halved
- Good pinch of dried chilli flakes
- A generous handful of fresh mint, chopped
- Juice and grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Soak the tuna in a bowl of salted water (one level tablespoon is enough) for an hour. Drain and dry with kitchen roll. Cut into pieces roughly the same size as the pasta.
- Put the pasta on to cook, and while it is doing so, heat a little oil in a large frying pan (or even better a wok) over a high heat and add the tuna pieces. Using your best sauté technique, turn them every now and then, moving and flicking the pan (try to avoid using a spoon, since this may break up the tuna). Once the tuna has started to brown, add the garlic, almonds and capers and continue to cook over a high heat, occasionally flicking the pan.
- If at any point the garlic starts to turn brown, remove from the pan. You can always add it back at the end if you like.
- After about eight minutes, when the pasta should be almost ready, spoon off any excess oil (especially if using tuna belly, which releases large amounts of fat). Drain the pasta and add to the tuna pan, along with the tomatoes, chilli, mint, lemon juice, lemon zest and a few twists of black pepper. Continue to cook over a high heat, constantly moving and flicking the pan, until the tomatoes start to soften (a couple of minutes at most).
- Divide the pasta between plates and add some more fresh mint, a twist or two of black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. I imagine toasted breadcrumbs would go well on top too. Just don’t add grated cheese, whatever you do, which would not only taste strange but completely ruin the contrast between the meaty umami of the tuna and the refreshing lemon, tomato and mint. And of course the locals would probably kill you.
Serve with a light Sicilian red (Frappato or Cerasuolo di Vittoria spring to mind), or a hefty, barrel-aged Chardonnay if you prefer a white