Friday-Night Spaghetti with Tuna and Black Olives

(recipe, Lynne Rossetto Kasper)

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Tuna never tasted so good. Tossed with spaghetti in a sauce of crunchy onion, black olives, garlic, and parsley, canned tuna is the essence of sound home cooking. In the hands of country cooks from Sicily to the Veneto, these few ingredients from the cupboard turn into a magical meatless sauce for pasta in almost no time — a Friday-night dinner or quick supper after a movie.


  1. 2 large cloves garlic
  2. 2 Tbsp. fresh Italian parsley leaves, tightly packed
  3. ⅛ tsp. salt, plus more to taste
  4. 1 lb. spaghetti
  5. 6 qt. boiling salted water
  6. 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  7. 1 medium red onion, cut into ¼-inch dice
  8. 2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped
  9. 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  10. 1 6.0 oz. can tuna packed in olive oil, lightly drained
  11. Freshly ground black pepper
  12. ⅓ cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
  13. 1 Tbsp. vinegar-packed capers, drained


  1. Chop the garlic and parsley with the salt in a food processor. Or mound the salt in a small pile near the edge of a cutting board. Crush the garlic into it with the side of a knife blade. Add the parsley and chop everything fine.
  2. Drop the spaghetti into fiercely boiling water and cook until it's a little firmer than you'd like it. Quickly measure out about 1¼ cups of the pasta water and set aside. Drain the spaghetti in a colander.
  3. As the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic-parsley mixture and half the onion. Sauté until the onion is beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Don't brown the garlic. Blend in ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water and cook to nothing. Stir in the anchovies and tomato paste, along with about ⅓ cup more of the reserved pasta water. Continue stirring over medium heat 1 minute. Blend in the tuna, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Cook another minute, adding a little pasta water if there's no moisture in the pan. Remove from the heat.
  4. If the sauce has dried up, stir in enough pasta water to moisten the bottom of the pan. Toss in the drained pasta, the remaining red onion, the olives, and the capers. Toss over medium heat a few minutes to thoroughly cloak the spaghetti with sauce. Taste for seasoning and serve hot. No cheese is needed for this dish.


A generous amount of pasta water plays three roles in this sauce. A little added to the garlic sauté helps to finish cooking the garlic while protecting it from burning. A little more added later dilutes the tomato paste and anchovy mixture, actually turning the sauté into a sauce. Finally, once the tuna is in the pan, a few more tablespoons of pasta water assure that the sauce will cloak the spaghetti, not remain dried up on the bottom of the sauté pan.