Tag Archives: easy pasta sauce

Pasta al Tonno – tuna, olives, and capers in red sauce

14 Jan

Back in the 90s, pasta was the staple food of single women and gay men. “The Italians don’t get fat and they eat it every day,” was part of the reasoning (not getting fat being one of the particular obsessions of single women and gay men for reasons that are probably obvious).

Then there was the speed and efficiency of pasta; if you can boil water and saute garlic (or open a jar), you can probably put together a pre-club, pre-booze meal even while doing your pre-club ablutions and outfit selection (and mixing a pre-club cocktail — or two — while blowdrying).

Finally, pasta was a perfectly acceptable dish to serve guests for a dinner party; if you grated your own Parmigiano Reggiano and the sauce included mushrooms — and there was plenty of wine –, why you were practically a gourmet chef! What could be more right?

Pasta al Tonno – one of the fastest pasta dishes known to man. Tuna and olives (green or black!)

Then The Dark Cloud of Carbohydrate Catastrophe descended upon single-woman-and-gay-mankind.

The devious Italians had tricked us by using less sauce, lighter sauce, only having one serving, and actually walking places to stay thin. We flocked to the safety of sliced steak and mesclun salad to contain our belly fat.

Now that I am a mom, pasta is back in my life. The aforementioned speed and efficiency is critical, the leftovers-for-lunch potential unparalleled, and so is pasta’s ability to be the receptacle for so many healthy vegetables that might otherwise languish on the side of a little kid’s plate, a line in the sand of Who-Is-Really-In-Charge-Here Beach, a combustible place where any parental victory is likely a Pyrrhic one.

But for a long time I was pretending not to eat the pasta I was making for Leandro. I say pretending, because, as so many moms, I was tasting to the point of having no meal left to serve at the table and finishing whatever he left on his plate – you know, all the bad little mommy habits that lead to the dreaded belly fat and the matronly figure before one’s appointed time.

So enough of the bullshit and the pretending. I am making pasta dishes that I like and eating them with my son like the civilized human being that I am (and hoping to once again have that slim, single-pasta-eating-woman of the 90s figure).

This is one of the fast dishes I learned to make in Italy (where I lived for two years, acquiring pasta skills for the 90s), slightly modified to reflect my Latin pantry. I made it for Leandro for the first time this week and he loved it and I loved it and BASTA! Enough talk – here’s the recipe!

Pasta al Tonno I (serves four; cooking and prep 20 minutes)

1 lb. pasta of your choice (this sauce clings and is also chunky, so most medium shapes – long or short – will suit)

1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

½ Cup onion, chopped fine

(2-3 anchovies packed in oil, optional; use paper towels to sop up excess oil)

28 oz can crushed tomatoes

10 pimiento-stuffed green olives, drained indifferently and sliced

2 tsp capers, drained indifferently

5 oz can tuna packed in water, not drained (you should drain it if using tuna packed in oil)

Salt to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a medium-large saucepan at medium high until oil is fragrant. Add onions, stir to coat, then lower heat to medium-low. When onions are translucent, add optional anchovies, breaking up with your spoon. Add crushed tomatoes and stir to mix. Stir in olives and capers and simmer for five minutes. Add tuna (with water from can), stir to combine and break up. Simmer for an additional five minutes. Add cooked pasta to saucepan and stir to combine. Salt to taste and serve. This dish doesn’t really require grated cheese, but go ahead and try it with Parmigiano Reggiano if you like! Serve with crusty bread for dipping.


Spag bog? Spag bol? Spaghetti Bolognese!

22 Jun

My dear Kate over in England thought I had made a spelling error when we were chatting via Facebook and I wrote “spag bog” as I was cooking this dish this week. I thought the same when she wrote “spag bol”. Turns out we are both correct in our not-quite-right-ness. According to The Times (UK), it has been called both bog and bol in England since the 1970s when Spaghetti Bolognese arrived in that country. The Times opines that the Brits were afraid to attempt to spell or pronounce it, so they shortened it to something more manageable for the English-speaking tongue.

Spag bog by any name would be a great pasta sauce. Basically a ground beef (mince, if we are sticking to U.K. parlance) and tomato sauce, there are probably almost as many versions as there are folks who make it. Marcella Hazan, a fantastic cookbook writer and teacher of Italian cookery, does a classic version that involves milk and suggests 5-6 hours of simmering. I used to make her version, when I was young and childless and didn’t need any sleep, but these days? Well, as you’ll see, this recipe is pared down to basics. Continue reading

Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino (adapted for campsite family meals)

5 Jun

Disclaimer: This is in no way an authentic version of the Roman classic dish of spaghetti with garlic, oil and hot red pepper flakes. I have lived in Italy, I have had (and made) the real aglio- olio….and it is sublime in its balance and simplicity. I am not trying to improve on perfection. I am just adapting it to my imperfect life!

My adaptation is also pretty sublime, simple and balanced, but it is definitely not the original. So with apologies to Patrizia and Sandro (whose agonized “No!” when he saw me add cheese to the dish once still reverberates in my head) and any other Roman who happens upon this recipe…here we go!

This is a version that I cooked up in 15 minutes this week at a windy beachside campsite on a propane camp stove for me and my pre-K camper (who has just — thank heavens — made the breakthrough to spicy food). So convenient and successful, I made it twice over the week. I also sometimes add broccoli crowns to the pasta water when there are about four minutes left in the boil

Aglio, olio e peperoncino (adapted for camping)

The classic Roman versión uses spaghetti, but that is currently too messy for my kid. I like a tube-y or curly pasta. For the purposes of our camp kitchen I used three-minute rotini – a pasta that boils up in three minutes. It is decidedly flabby compared to regular pasta, but was adequate for the less fussy camping life. I actually prefer Bionaturae’s organic whole wheat pastas in this dish; they add a nutty flavor that I like very much. This is also a one pot dish (except for the colander) which is great when you haven’t got running water!

Serves two, but is quite easy to double up

½ lb pasta of your choice (preferably spaghetti or something long and lean rather than scoopy. If you choose the broccoli option, penne is a good choice)

(one or two handfuls broccoli florets; optional)

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 to ¼ tsp hot red pepper flakes

1/4 cup grated grana padano or parmigiano reggiano

Boil the pasta according to package instructions, making sure to salt the water well. If using broccoli, add to the pasta water 3-4 minutes before the pasta is fully cooked. Drain and reserve in a separate bowl or the colander. In the same pot that you cooked the pasta, add the olive oil, lowering heat to medium. When the olive oil is loose and fragrant, add the garlic and red pepper flakes (to taste) and stir around until the garlic is golden (not brown). Add the pasta (and broccoli) back to the pot and mix well, adding grated cheese. Serve!

Cheesy Chard Pasta

7 Mar

Chard is one of those leafy greens everyone should eat more of. It’s actually as delicious in winter as in summer and provides calcium and all sorts of other nutrients and has a bit more body than spinach (but can be used in much the same ways with a little extra cook time).

My son loves spinach pasta (which appears in an earlier post “My kids loves spinach” https://hotcheapeasy.wordpress.com/2010/11/02/my-kid-loves-spinach/) and never notices the difference when I serve the chard variation. He especially digs in when I use curly, frilly or curvy pasta that he can get his eager litle fingers all over– I am attributing that to a chromosomal enthusiastic male response to visual stimuli that I have been hearing a lot about lately.  That’s hot!

It is also fast and easy and really hearty-comforting.

Chard Pesto for Pasta (serves four)

1 lb. fiore (pinwheel) pasta

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

3-5 cloves garlic, chopped

(1/8 tsp hot red pepper flakes, optional)

1 lb. chard, washed, stems removed and chopped fine*

1 Cup broth or water

Salt and pepper to taste

Several Tbs grated cheese (preferably parmigiano reggiano or gran padano) or crumbled feta or, why not both?

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a generous skillet with a cover. Add garlic and stir around for a minute or until turning golden and fragrant. Add hot red pepper flakes if desired. Add chard and stir to coat. Sauté chard until bright and beginning to wilt, then add water or broth. Bring to a simmer and cover, turning occasionally. The idea is for the chard to really soften, which will take 10-15 minutes. If you run out of cooking liquid, add a ladleful of water from the pasta pot. If I want the chard really fine (to encourage more consumption by my toddler, I will spread the cooked chard on a cutting board and chop some more when it is a bit cool.

 Drain pasta and mix with sauce and a generous amount of grated cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

*Save the stems, chop and use in another recipe; they are delicious as part of a stir-fry or just sautéed with onions to top burgers.

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