Life-saver recipe #1 “Pasta Tonata”

For this first entry I have chosen a dish which is dear to my heart for many reasons.  My mother dubbed this classic “Tuna Noodle Hot-Dish” – my children have christened it “Pasta Tonata”: a rose by any other name still tastes as sweet!  I have to admit our version is considerably more low-cal, whereas my mom’s was down home, stick-to-your-ribs Midwestern comfort food (with cream of mushroom soup and grated cheddar).  But this is one of the quickest and most flexible meals around.

What you need:

Pasta  –  My version of this dish can be served hot or cold so I suggest you avoid the noodly spaghetti-oids and opt for more fork friendly varieties of pasta which are fun to look at as well. The amount depends on how many hungry mouths you want to feed and/or how many meals you want to cover.  I have used penne for convenience.

Tinned tuna – Preferably dolphin friendly (humans of the sea), open one tin per 250 grams of pasta to be prepared.  In brine or oil according to your preference.

Onion and Garlic  –  If you have done your Sunday garlic/onion preparation you will need two handfuls of frozen chopped onion per 250 grams of pasta to be prepared, and 1-2 tablespoons of frozen chopped garlic.  Otherwise one medium sized onion and 3-5 cloves of garlic depending on their size and your taste.

Salt and Dry Herbs – to taste.

Virgin Olive Oil (optimal, yet optional) you can use any seed/vegetable oil

Variable Ingredients – Tomato, cucumber, olives, fresh peppers, fresh basil/chives/cilantro (the herbs can be fresh or frozen).

What you need to do:

Put a big pot of water to boil. (If you have an electric kettle you can save time by boiling half of the water there then adding it to the pot)  Boil at least one liter for each 250 grams of pasta.  Adding a pinch of dried spice (here I’ve added basil but oregano, laurel, rosemary also add character) while boiling can really perk up your pasta or rice!

While your water is heating, deal with the garlic and onion.  If you are using tuna in oil, strain the oil into a sauce pan and use medium heat to “soften” the bite of the onions and garlic.  If you are using tuna in brine, strain over the sink (too much sodium!).  Pour a ¼ cup of water (the best is to use water from your boiling pasta/rice) into the sauce pan and add your onions/garlic.

While things are boiling and softening chop your fresh ingredients.

When the onion pieces start to become translucent add the tuna along with the spices you like and stir well.  Remove from heat.

Once the pasta has boiled (to your liking, I’m an ‘al dente’ girl but others prefer spongy) strain and cool under the tap shaking vigorously.

If you are using tuna in oil you can add just a splash of olive oil for extra flavor, for tuna in brine put 1 tbsp of olive oil for each 250 grams of pasta boiled in the pot and toss.

Pour the onion tuna mixture over the pasta and toss well.

Add any fresh ingredients of choice and toss well.  (Only for the amount to be served immediately)

How to serve:

If some like it hot, you can serve with a bit of grated cheese or fresh ground pepper.  If you want to serve it chilled it is best to add the fresh ingredients and toss right before serving.  You can also garnish with lemon slices/wedges, sprigs of basil, slices of tomato – in short whatever you have handy.  Remember it is always preferable to add oil before serving.  Heating oil changes its chemical properties and often destroys its health benefits.

A glass of white wine or beer will compliment this dish nicely.  If you don’t care for alcohol then sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice or a slice of fruit is fun.

VARIATIONS ON THE THEME:

You can follow the same steps whether you are using pasta or rice, tuna, salmon, chicken, turkey or pork.  Each time you can add a different combination of vegetables for color, flavor and nutrition.  Adjust the time you saute the protein source unless you have frozen your meats pre-steamed, if your cubes are bite sized they don’t take very long to cook through.

FOR VEGANS:

Replace the animal protein with tofu, eggplant, zucchini and/or mushrooms.

COST PER SERVING:

I prepare enough for ten servings and, using tuna and extra virgin olive oil, the cost is $1 per serving (about 0.80Euro).  Cost of individual ingredients  may vary slightly from location to location.

Victoria Andre King is a freelance writer and audiovisual professional her novel The Führer Must Die is available for pre-orders and will be released on November 8th 2016 with Yucca Publications, an imprint of Sky Horse Publishing NYC.

A light yet satisfying, inexpensive yet tasty dish!
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