My wife and I are notoriously picky pasta eaters. We find it hard to go to restaurants and order pasta. With the price of food in restaurants it’s hard to justify a mediocre pasta dish. Therefore we tend to eat our pasta dishes at home. There is nothing more satisfying than a simple, spicy, and flavorful dish of pasta with the ingredients you can find in your own refrigerator.
Fortunately along the way in life I’ve been lucky to experience great pasta dishes working at Chez Panisse in Berkeley California. Still a young bus boy I was ordered to go on vacation not knowing I even had vacation from the office manager Penny Dedel. I decided it would be a good idea to learn little about where everyone said our food was coming from by taking my bicycle on a tour and eating everything I found along the way. Places like Italy, France, or the regions in and around the Mediterranean Sea were geographical locations that our menus pointed towards as an influence and it sounded like a great region to ride a bicycle. Soon after discovering I had a months worth of vacation I bought a ticket to Paris, France, purchased bicycle racks, panniers, sleeping bag, and tent then packed my touring bicycle in a box.
Soon after arriving in France I put together my bicycle and spent a good week eating my way through Paris. I could have stayed in Paris riding along the narrow streets and wide avenues, eating every croissant and baguette in town but my real goal was to bicycle tour through Italy. After the first week in France I made my way by train to Rome.
From Rome I rode my bicycle to Northern Italy meandering along the way and eating everything I could on my quest to understand Italian food and to stay nourished on my long rides. Along the way to and from small villages I quickly understood that Italian cooking was something bigger than I had experienced before and that seemed rooted in the region yet also not the stereotypical food that I had eaten in the Italian restaurants in my native home of the Central California Coast. I learned a great many lessons about food from this trip and one important lesson was to never truly follow the rules that food should be one way and nothing else. There are many guidelines to follow but when it came to Italian food I could see from my experience riding my bicycle that people ate what they had available to them and in season which reminded me of our dear old restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley. It made me smile when I realized how close the food we ate everyday there at the staff meal really came pretty close if not sometimes surpassed the real thing.
The below pasta recipe is pretty simple. I’m writing in general terms when it comes to this recipe and you can add whatever you want or subtract what you want to the recipe. Make sure you keep yourself aware with what is going on when cooking. Every pasta dish is a little different and that makes it fun. Take note what you like about this dish and what you don’t like. The most important thing about this dish is to enjoy the food that you make.
Spicy Pasta with Tuna, Fennel, and Sun Dried Tomatoes
First chop the onions, carrots, and fennel to near equal size or shapes. I generally use a heavy bottomed iron pan. I add a generous amount of olive oil to the pan to evenly coat the vegetables. Turn the stove on to about medium high. Add the onions, carrots and fennel to the hot oil. Make sure the oil doesn’t get too hot because it will burn. I also make sure that I watch that the there’s enough oil for the vegetables to cook evenly. Stir the vegetables occasionally so they do not burn and then lower the heat to above medium. I wait for at least 10 minutes till the onions, carrots and fennel start to caramelize but try not to cook them too long because you still want a little life in them and not over wilted vegetables that all taste the same. Often more than not add more olive oil along the way to continually bring out the flavors of the food I’m cooking. Next I add hot pepper flakes, capers, and sun dried tomatoes to the pan. I let this cook for another 3 minutes and then I add minced garlic and let it cook for a couple of minutes longer. Try to time the pasta to go along with your vegetable cooking. I usually get a big pot of salty water boiling (the water should taste like the sea!) with a splash of olive oil in it as soon as we decide that we want to eat pasta. Add the canned tuna with the olive oil to the pan. When the pasta of your choice is finished cooking pull it from the water and add it directly to the pan and mix. If your pan is too shallow, transfer everything to a large bowl and mix. Add lemon juice, salt, pepper, and more olive oil to taste. Transfer the ingredients to pasta dishes and add a firm cheese (we used Pecorino Romano) to finish it off. Garnish with more lemon juice, more hot pepper flakes, chopped fennel fronds if available and chopped parsley. I’m notorious for adding a ton of olive oil so it’s not unheard of for me to add more olive oil to the dish at the very end. Buon Appetito!
1 Canned Italian tuna in olive oil.
1 small fresh fennel bulb cleaned and sliced. (Save the small fronds on the top to chop and garnish the pasta like you would with chopped parsley)
1/2 a package of pasta of your choice
1 medium sized onion chopped
1 large carrot or two small carrots chopped
A pinch of dried hot pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of capers
1/4 cup of Olive Oil
4-5 sun dried tomatoes chopped
2 small cloves of garlic minced
A small sprig of parsley chopped and fennel fronds chopped to sprinkle on top
1 teaspoon of lemon