Pasta with Tuna and Tomato Sauce

Are you a fan of canned tuna? I love keeping a few cans on hand in the pantry, usually for whipping up the occasional tuna salad sandwich. Tuna also works with pasta, quite well actually (check out tuna pasta with capers in white wine sauce). But I had no idea it also worked with pasta and tomato sauce and cheese until this dish, recommended to us by a reader (thank you Audrey), a favorite of hers from the 1967 classic Mama Leone’s Italian Cookbook. We’ve changed the recipe only slightly from the one reader Audrey gave us, we’ve cut the butter in half, to 1/4 cup from a half cup. And we tossed in some chopped fresh basil, because we have plenty growing in the garden. Oh my gosh, this is so good! Wow. And easy too.

My only caveat is that I think you need to be a tuna lover (or liker at least) to like this recipe. It only calls for one 6-ounce can for a recipe that serves 4, so it’s not as if the tuna overwhelms the dish. It doesn’t. But you definitely taste the tuna. Obviously if you want to skip the tuna, you can make something similar with a little bit of cooked Italian sausage in place of the tuna.

  • Prep: 5 minutes
  • Cook: 35 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8.

Tuna packed in olive oil is highly recommended for this recipe. If all you have is tuna packed in water, you can try draining it and then adding olive oil to the can, and letting it soak in the olive oil in the fridge for several hours, but you will get the best results if you start with tuna packed in oil.

Ingredients

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 28-ounce can of tomatoes, whole or crushed
  • Salt
  • 1 pound pasta shells
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 6-ounce can tuna packed in olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped or torn
  • A generous 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Method

1 Melt the butter in a medium pot on medium heat and add the can of tomatoes, including the juice. If you are using whole canned tomatoes (or fresh ones) crush them with your (clean) fingers as you put them in the pot. Simmer gently, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

2 Once the sauce is cooking, heat a large pot of well salted water to a strong boil. Add the shell pasta to the boiling water and cook at a vigorous boil, uncovered, until al dente, cooked through but still a bit firm to the bite, which is usually whatever the time specified on the pasta package minus about 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.

3 Pour off the excess oil from the tuna can and stir the tuna into the tomato sauce. Add the ricotta cheese, and add salt to taste. Turn off the heat. Mix the sauce with the pasta in a large bowl. Mix in the basil.

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4 Pour the pasta into a 2 to 3-quart casserole dish and top with the parmesan cheese. Put under a hot broiler for 4-6 minutes, until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serve hot.

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