Most couples have their special song, movie or special place which bring back memories of that special time at the beginning of their relationship when every moment spent together was lived with joy, expectation and maybe a little fear. Daniela and me have our special place too –actually more than one, though a particular spot in Cambridge has a special meaning for us– but the one thing that brings bag that special feeling is a particular pasta dish that is forever bound with a particular moment in our relationship when mere flirting turned into something more serious.
If you're expecting a story about hotly aphrodisiac pasta, I'm sorry, you're on the wrong blog. This story is about something different and just as important, or even more important some may say, in a long-lasting relationship as good sex: friendship and trust. If stories of marital bliss make you sick, this is the moment to stop reading, dear cynical friend.
On an unusually warm Cambridge afternoon I was visiting Daniela: we were already clearly interested in each other, maybe I more then she, but it was really not much more than a flirting match between us. Not yet. During that afternoon some sad news from home reached Daniela, something that saddened her greatly not only because of the event in itself, but also because of being so far away and unable to be where she most wanted to be at that moment: home, with her family. As much as I tried, I could not really comfort her with words, so I offered what for me, as Italian, always works in such moments. I offered to cook some Italian comfort food and some nice wine to go with that.
What I made that evening was decided by fate, or rather by the contents of my fridge, which luckily enough was not as bare as usual. Over that pasta dish, talk lubricated by the good wine, we started opening up to each other, slowly learning to trust and know ourselves, in a way showing a little of our naked souls under the armour each of us tends to protect oneself with. On the other hand, showing each other our naked bodies took a lot more time... but that's another story that is best kept between the two of us. (And yes, as a normal male human I wasn't too happy about that at the time.) What began that evening blossomed in the next month or so and luckily for us has never stopped. In a way, all thanks to a simple dish of pasta with tuna and sun-dried tomatoes.
This recipe I used back then has evolved and changed a bit each time I make it, but the original version was posted over six years ago on the newsgroup it.hobby.cucina. I would have loved to find the original post for you, but as much as I looked for it on google groups I could not find it. If the guy who posted that recipe back then reads this post and still manages to recognise the recipe through my modifications, let me just tell him one thing: unknowingly you and your recipe have been an extremely efficient Cupid, and for that, thank you.
In a way the recipe has also become more and more a love declaration to Sicilian ingredients: almost everything that comes in my lest version of the recipe comes from this sun-blessed island. And for that I should also thank those two great persons that are Katia and Ronald at loveSicily. If you manage to find the ingredients I listed below, definitely give them a try in this dish, they make a great difference to taste. The ones I used that evening in Cambridge were not nearly as good, though if the mood is right, the dish still works. You can still manage to knock together a pretty decent pasta without these special ingredients. The only important rule is to attempt the dish if you can find great tuna filets in oil, usually sold in glasses. Otherwise it's best to leave it: the industrial canned tuna simply won't do.
Tuna and dried tomatoes pasta
for two soul partners who are about to find each other, or for anyone who needs a little sunshine to fight a dark moment in their life
2 fat anchovy filets, from Cetara near Amalfi or from a good Sicilian producer like Campisi, chopped
1 scarce tablespoon of Sicilian capers, from Salina or Pantelleria, stored in salt, rinsed in warm water,
2 tablespoons of black olives, if you can find them definitely use the delicious bitter-sweet purple Gaeta olives, pitted and cut into strips,
a handful of sun-dried tomatoes, possibly from Pachino in Sicily,
80-100 g of the best tuna filets in olive oil you can find, or even better ventresca (the Italian name for the fat belly cut the Japanese call toro) if you can find it, flaked by hand (this time I used some ventresca from Campisi),
a sun ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped to a small dice (in summer) or a good large canned plum tomato (if San Marzano even better), also chopped to a small dice (during the rest of the year,
2 tablespoons of the best Extra Virgin olive oil your money can buy (I used this fantastic oil from Sicily made by Felice Modica),
1 garlic clove, peeled, split in half and with the green core removed (if present),
a little dry hot chilli (hard to say how much, ideally you should just be able to notice the heat without it becoming too predominant),
a teaspoon of dried oregano, if possible Sicilian or Greek wild oregano.
Timing is important in this recipe, the sauce should be ready together with the pasta, but luckily both take approximately the same time.
While you bring the water to cook the pasta to the boil, prepare all the ingredients. As soon as the water is boiling drop the pasta into it and start the sauce.
Heat oil, garlic and chilli over a medium flame and as soon as the garlic turns golden, remove and discard both chilli and garlic. Add the chopped anchovy filet and let them dissolve in the oil, helping things with the back of a wooden spoon if needed.
Once the anchovy has melted in the oil add the sun dried tomatoes, capers and olives and let cook for two minutes. Add the chopped tomato and cook for a further minute: the tomato shouldn't cook, just warm up.
At this point the pasta should almost be ready, it should only need 2-3 minutes to be cooked al dente. Add the tuna to the sauce, stirring carefully once or twice and sprinkle with the oregano. drain the pasta leaving a little of the cooking water and add to the sauce, sautee' for 2 minutes and serve straightaway.