A cool, quick dinner for hot summer nights

by Terry B on July 18, 2007

All you cook is the pasta for Pasta Shells with Italian Tuna and Artichokes. Recipe below.

I first posted this recipe over at Patricia’s Technicolor Kitchen in May. She had done a delicious Brazilian Rice and Beans dish here at Blue Kitchen, and this was my chance to return the favor. Now that we’re in the thick of summer heat and other excuses to avoid the kitchen, I thought it was worth repeating here.

This one of my summer favorites—a quick, colorful pasta that makes a great lunch or light supper. The only thing you cook is the pasta, so the kitchen doesn’t get too hot. It’s also another great example of just how versatile pasta can be once you think beyond red sauce.

In Italy, a no-cook pasta sauce like this is called a salsa cruda. The room temperature sauce slightly cools the cooked pasta, and the pasta slightly warms the sauce, making for a meal that feels less heavy than many pasta dishes. The shells catch bits of tuna and the other ingredients, delivering big taste with each bite.

There are so many wonderful flavors at play in this dish too—garlic, lemon, parsley, tuna, artichoke hearts… and my favorite, the briny tang of the capers. They combine for a fresh, bright meal that just tastes like summer. In fact, I’ve been known to make it as a winter lunch for that very reason.

A note about the tuna. For this dish, bring out the good stuff—quality tuna packed in olive oil. The olive oil becomes part of the sauce. I use a brand imported from Italy. As you can see in the photo, the quality of the flesh is far superior to the ground-up mush you often find in canned tuna. Spain also produces excellent olive oil-packed tuna, so whichever you can find locally will work.

Pasta Shells with Italian Tuna and Artichokes
Serves 4

For the salsa cruda:
2 6-ounce [168 g] cans imported Italian tuna in olive oil
1 6-ounce [168 g] jar artichoke hearts, drained, bigger pieces sliced in half lengthwise
1/4 cup [60 ml] capers, drained
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup [120 ml] chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves [see Kitchen Notes]
freshly ground black pepper to taste

12 ounces [340 kg] medium pasta shells [see Kitchen Notes]

Bring a large pot of water to boil to cook pasta. While water is coming to a boil, mix the salsa cruda ingredients in a large bowl, big enough to hold the pasta as well, once it’s cooked. Do not drain the tuna—add the olive oil it’s packed in to the bowl. Break up larger chunks of tuna into bite-sized pieces.

When water comes to boil, salt it generously, then cook pasta according to package directions, until al dente. Drain pasta, add to salsa cruda and toss. As the hot pasta mixes with the salsa, the fragrances you’d been noticing as you worked with the ingredients will explode. Divide into four pasta bowls or plates and serve.

Kitchen Notes

Parsley. This under-appreciated herb provides a perfect foil for some of the bigger tastes in this dish. Particularly the garlic, since parsley has long been touted as a natural breath freshener. But with summer gardens in full swing, feel free to substitute or add other herbs. Basil also works very well with this recipe.

Easy on the pasta. When you add the cooked pasta to the salsa cruda, start with about 2/3 of it and stir it in. Then judiciously add the rest, a little at a time. I generally end up adding almost all of the 12 ounces, but you don’t want the pasta to overwhelm the other ingredients. Pasta is cheap. When you mix looks about right, throw out any extra cooked pasta you have left.

Also, feel free to substitute pastas. I like the shells because they scoop up bits of the salsa ingredients. But farfalle or any other short pasta would do too. I wouldn’t use long pasta, though. This isn’t the kind of sauce that clings to noodles.

Also this week in Blue Kitchen

“What are you in for?” “Dinner.” A prison restaurant, pairing wine with corndogs and a global perspective on home, at WTF? Random food for thought.

Rescue me. Overcoming my own personal musical doldrums, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Kalyn July 18, 2007 at 4:26 am

Ah, yes. I still have this one on my list of things to make.

Anh July 18, 2007 at 5:23 am

I love tuna pasta. Your recipe sounds so delicious! My must-try.

Lydia July 18, 2007 at 10:22 am

I remember this recipe, and now is the perfect time, because the parsley in my herb garden is at its prime. In July and August I make lots of dishes that feature parsley as an ingredient rather than as an afterthought. Then, during the rest of the year when I can’t harvest my own parsley, I have a hard time bringing myself to buy it in the market.

Patricia Scarpin July 18, 2007 at 12:39 pm

Even though it’s 14ºC here, Terry, you’ve made me feel like cooking this delicious dish again – even if I have to heat it up a little! :)

reeeeeen July 18, 2007 at 4:25 pm

Looks wonderful, I’ll definitely be trying this one!
Just wondering though, can I use fresh tuna as opposed to the canned tuna you list (and add some olive oil)?

Christine July 18, 2007 at 4:31 pm

Just what I need in this 110 degree Arizona heat. Wonderful! :)

Terry B July 18, 2007 at 5:26 pm

Kalyn and Anh—Do give it a try. It tastes far better than anything this simple has a right to.

Lydia—Even when Marion and I have had a garden, parsley always seemed to go rangy on us, so I just consider it a store bought herb.

Patricia—I think some of us would go for your 14ºC right about now [that’s 57ºF for the metrically challenged]. When I was a baby, we lived outside Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the winter, it often stays below -18ºC for weeks at a time. My mom really loved ice cream, though, and would eat it while sitting on the space heater!

reeeeeeen—I’m sure fresh tuna would only elevate this dish. Just be sure to be generous with the salt.

Christine—At some point, even being a dry heat is still just plain hot, isn’t it?

Shauna July 18, 2007 at 11:04 pm

hey Terry- This is not a foodie comment, but a Boombox comment! LeRoy Pierson will be releasing his first CD in like 20 years, I think this Saturday, at BB’s. Wish I could be there. I’m hopefully sending a certain familial representative to capture a purchase item.

ann July 19, 2007 at 2:08 am

Oh my god, any pasta with canned tuna is my absolute favorite on the day. I wish the boy liked canned tuna, but he doesn’t. It makes me sad, but then again, it also means I look forward to any meal I eat alone, because it’s always pasta and canned tuna. Funny, no?

toni July 19, 2007 at 2:34 am

That looks really delicious.

Terry B July 19, 2007 at 3:07 pm

Shauna—Thanks for the reminder. I already have someone buying one for us. Anyone who’s going to be in St. Louis this Saturday, stop by BB’s Jazz Blues & Soups. You’re in for a musical treat [check out “What’s on the kitchen boombox?” from a few weeks back to read about Leroy Pierson].

Ann—I think we all have “home alone” meals that we eat when significant others aren’t around. Do try this the next time the boy isn’t home for dinner.

Toni—From reading your blog, this dish does seem right up your alley.

claudia July 27, 2007 at 4:57 pm

yesterday i went and bought some fancy italian tuna. gotta love european those labels – makes the $4 slip through your fingers easier! i’ll leave out the artichoke hearts though – unless i can get fresh ones. i just don’t like the vinegary, pickledy kind. anyway this looks fabulous. shoulda been on bittman’s 101 list.

laura August 4, 2007 at 11:53 pm

Made it for the boyfriend a couple nights ago, as this version looked like more fun than the version I grew up with (tuna, capers, red onions, kinda plain). He declared it the best thing I’ve ever cooked. Which means better than Batali’s short ribs or a lasagna with a bolognese sauce that took the eons you would expect, etc etc. I appreciated the compliment, but it was a little disheartening that the best thing ever took 20 minutes, compared to the hours I sometimes invest.

Beth June 8, 2008 at 9:14 pm

Oooo – it’s HOT in Central New York! This is just what I was looking for.
But you know what? I live where there is a Wegman’s, and they have a basting sauce that is olive oil with herbs and garlic. I’m going to make life even easier yet by buying tuna in water, draining the water, and substituting the basting sauce for the garlic. I’ll still put in fresh parsley – have to keep it real!

Terry B June 8, 2008 at 11:54 pm

Beth—I’ll be interested to hear how it turns out. I hope you add the lemon juice, though—it plays a big role, brightening the overall taste.

Rike July 4, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Looks delicious! I will make this tomorrow, even though it is cool here in the NW.
And I will try to cook a bit less than 340 kg pasta:)

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