Spaghetti al Tonno or Spaghetti with Tuna Sauce

This rustic Italian tuna and pasta dish is not your mom’s tuna noodle casserole—though don’t get me wrong, I am in no way knocking casseroles. My mom used to make a killer tuna version—cream of mushroom soup and all—and it was one of my childhood favorites. But for those of you who hate the stuff, or prefer their pasta dishes lighter, prettier, and bit more authentic, you’ll appreciate this lusty tangle of spaghetti. The tuna, warmed with plenty of minced garlic, capers, and olives, as well as a generous drizzle of olive oil and wine, melts into a pleasantly salty, rich-tasting sauce.

The secret ingredient here—in fact, the secret ingredient in many pasta dishes—is the pasta cooking water. If you prepare a lot of pasta, you likely already know this, but if not, take note: The addition of 1/4 cup or so of reserved pasta cooking water, as you toss pasta and sauce together, does pretty magical things. The starch in the water contributes a fabulously creamy finish, creating a luscious sauce from something as simple as garlic and olive oil.

Or in this case, tuna and olive oil. I haven’t mentioned that the sauce comes together in oh, about 10 minutes—less time than it takes to boil water and cook the pasta. As such, this is a perfect weeknight dish, requiring little more than a reach into the pantry. Hey, kind of like tuna noodle casserole! Except better, since I’ll bet no one described your mom’s tuna noodle casserole as lusty.


Spaghetti al Tonno or Pasta with Tuna Sauce

Adapted from Italian Classics by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine
Serves 4-6

3 Tbsp. olive oil
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
1/2 c. dry white wine
2 Tbsp. minced Kalamata olives (I use Kalamata olive spread, since we always have it in our fridge)
1 Tbsp. capers, drained and chopped
2-7 oz. cans tuna (I use Genova brand, packed in olive oil, or use white tuna packed in water; either way, drain well and break up the chunks into fine pieces with your hands)
1 lb. spaghetti
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley leaves (I often substitute minced scallions because that’s what I have on hand)
3 Tbsp. butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put on a large pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes, turn heat to low, and saute until fragrant but not browned, 3-4 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a simmer, and cook for 1 minute. Add the tuna, olives, capers, and a sprinkle of salt, and cook until heated through, 1 minute. Set pan aside. Add the pasta to the boiling water, cook until al dente. Reserve 1/4 c. of the cooking water, and then drain the pasta. Return pasta to the pot and add tuna sauce, parsley, butter, a generous sprinkle of salt, several grinds of black pepper, and cooking water, tossing until pasta is evenly coated with sauce. Serve immediately, with additional grinds of black pepper if you like.