The Pasta Dish I've Eaten for 25 Years

When I say I’ve eaten this pasta dish for 25 years, that’s literally true. Most weeks I’ve had this dish twice, once for dinner and the leftovers for lunch the next day. There have been weeks when I’ve been out of town, on vacation, or my eating schedule is thrown off for some reason. But it isn’t a stretch to say that 42–45 weeks a year I eat this pasta dish, and still love it.

On the face of it there’s nothing remarkable about the dish. It’s so simple it’s barely a recipe at all, more of an approach, open to many variations. The simplicity is one thing that has drawn me back week after week. It’s easy to throw together after a day’s work, and takes about 30 minutes from start to finish. It’s versatile and can be made with any kind of pasta.

Made with summer tomatoes, fresh basil and high-quality Parmiggiano-Reggiano, the dish is superlative. In the middle of winter when supermarket tomatoes aren’t at their best and fresh basil isn’t available, it’s still delicious. So delicious that every week when I sit down to eat, I close my eyes to savor the first bite and mention to my family (again) how good it is.

Basic Pasta Recipe

1/2 lb. dried pasta, any shape
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 ripe tomatoes (about 1 lb.)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped, or fresh parsley, minced
9 oz. tuna packed in olive oil
Freshly-grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, or similar cheese

Core and roughly chop the tomatoes and place them in a small bowl. Add the garlic, a bit of salt and pepper and the fresh basil. (Serve parsley separately if using.) Pour the olive oil over the tomatoes and gently toss. Let marinate while you’re preparing the pasta and other ingredients.

Place the tuna, freshly-grated cheese and parsley (if using) in separate dishes to pass around the table.

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain and place portions in individual serving bowls. Allow diners to serve themselves tomatoes, tuna, cheese and parsley.

Optional ingredients that might be nice
Chopped green onions
Chopped black olives
Anchovies instead of tuna
Fresh oregano instead of basil

A few notes
  • Whole grain pastas work fine in this dish. Though I’ve never tried any, I’m guessing non-wheat pastas (such as spelt) would work as well.
  • Use a good, fruity extra-virgin olive oil.
  • The tuna and cheese add a fair amount of salt, so go easy when salting the tomatoes. Diners can always add more salt at the table.
  • The dish can be made with dried basil or other dried herbs, but fresh basil elevates it to something special. If fresh basil isn’t an option, fresh parsley is a good alternative.
  • Some people shy away from canned tuna packed in oil, probably judging it to have too much fat. I am at the opposite end of the spectrum and almost never eat tuna packed in water, finding it dry and rather unappetizing. Tuna packed in olive oil has a wonderful, silky quality that is terrific in this dish. You’re right, it isn’t low-fat.