It turned out to be a perfect supper plan. After my lovely afternoon with the family at Wisley Gardens, a simple, easy-to-prepare supper was ideal. It was really a store-cupboard meal, even though the idea of just rooting around to see what I had in store wasn’t the inspiration. The inspiration was Donna Leon’s Unto Us A Son Is Given – her 28th Commissario Brunetti novel.
My book group has a theme once a month and in April our theme was crime. One of the authors who came out as well liked was Donna Leon and her Brunetti series. I was pretty sure I had one of the books somewhere … don’t we all buy books we don’t get round to reading, or not for a long time? … but I couldn’t find it anywhere. So I ordered the latest in paperback: Unto Us A Son Is Given.
As a freelance book editor, I spend a lot of time reading books that I might not choose to read. Sometimes this works well and I discover a new author I like a lot; sometimes it’s a struggle to read a book word by careful word which is a necessary part of the job. So my new Donna Leon waited until there was a break in work – and what a treat it turned out to be. I really don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get to know Commissario Brunetti. Apart from being set in beautiful Venice (that I love and know so well), Brunetti – much like his counterpart down in Sicily, Commissario Montalbano – is very fond of his food, and food features quite a lot in the book. Brunetti goes for lunch with a colleague one day to a favourite restaurant, the colleague ‘passed a menu to Brunetti. It was a show gesture and meaningless. Brunetti always ate paccheri with tuna, olives and pomodorini’. And thus my supper was born. I didn’t have paccheri (large tubes of pasta commonly used for fish dishes in Italy), but I did have linguine. And I ordered the next, 29th, Brunetti novel for my next reading treat …
I didn’t really need a recipe but thought it was fun to look through my books. It took a surprising amount of time (for someone who has so many Italian cookbooks!) but then I found pretty much what I had in mind in Giorgio Locatelli’s Made at Home. Giorgio uses spaghetti rather than linguine. He does use tinned tuna but is more particular about his olives than I was planning to be. I had some good quality pitted Kalamata olives open, but Giorgio says you must always use olives with stones then ‘crush them, so that the bitterness from the stone is released into the flesh, before pitting them’. A step too far for me yesterday … I also put some shallot into my tomato sauce, not just garlic as he does, because that’s the way I like to make it.
I had some excellent quality tinned chopped tomatoes which I buy in Corto Deli; they’re amazing. I also had some very good tuna in olive oil that I buy in Waitrose to keep in my store cupboard. I normally use it for sandwiches at lunchtime; maybe a salad but mostly I’ll buy fresh tuna if planning to make a meal with it.
The dish is very easy to put together; it’s also adaptable. If you have a different kind of pasta, use what you have; it’s OK to use green olives rather than black; if you don’t have capers or fresh parsley, leave them out; if you don’t like spicy food leave out the chilli. The essentials are the pasta, tuna, tomato and olives. As I was cooking just for myself I made the sauce with one 400g tin of tomatoes but kept half back to freeze for another day, before adding the tuna, olives and parsley at the end.
Linguine with Tuna, Tomatoes & Olives
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely grated
- 1 pinch of dried chilli flakes
- 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- level teaspoon capers
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- linguine (about 100g per serving)
- a few black olives
- small (80g) tin good quality tuna
- small handful roughly chopped parsley
Heat the olive oil with the chopped shallot in a medium-sized saucepan. As the shallot starts to soften (1-2 minutes), add the grated garlic and pinch of chilli. Let it cook for another couple of minutes until the shallot has softened but not coloured.
Add the chopped tomatoes and capers. Season with salt and pepper (take care with the salt if your capers are a bit salty; if preserved in salt, rinse them first. Also bear in mind saltiness of olives at the end). Give it all a good stir, bring up to a simmer and then turn heat down to low and cook gently with a lid for about 10-15 minutes. [If you’re cooking for just one, divide the sauce in half once ready to freeze one portion for another day.]
Meanwhile, cook the pasta (about 10 minutes or according to instructions on your packet). Try to match the cooking time to when the sauce will be ready so everything can go together as it’s done.
Add the olives, tuna (flake it a bit as you take it from the tin) and chopped parsley. Stir carefully to mix all well together. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water. Tip the pasta into the tuna and tomato sauce, with a little of the water. Stir well over a medium heat for a minute or two.
Transfer to a serving plate and – if the fancy takes you – sprinkle over a little more chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.
It really was delicious. I served it on one of my lovely Italian plates for maximum gorgeous effect. It’s the sort of dish that you can quickly put together from ingredients easily found in your store cupboard but despite its simplicity, it’s very special. Hopefully Commissario Brunetti would approve!