Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Recipe: Grilled Tuna & Pasta

The first few times I did this, I planned ahead. Well, except for the first time, which, of course, was an adventure on “what’ve we got? what’ll we do with it?” This time, I didn’t have any fresh spinach, only frozen. I didn’t have any fresh basil, only dried. And no pignolis at all. But you know what? It was still delicious

here's what you'll need . . .

tuna steaks (1/3 Lb. per serving)
1 medium lemon, juiced and zested
½ lime, juiced
sesame oil, 1 small sploosh per serving
red pepper flakes, ¼ to ½ tsp.
freshly ground Tellicherry
garlic, 1 - 4 cloves (we use 1 per serving)
red onion, 1 small
tomatoes, 2 - 4 (we use 1 per serving plus 1 more)
olive oil, 1/3 cup plus some more
angel hair (or fettuccine or linguine or your favorite skinny noodle)
fresh basil, about 1/3 to ½ cup julienned
fresh spinach, one 10 oz. bag feeds 3
pignoli, a small handful
chicken stock, 1 cup or so
fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Here's how you do it.

Wash your tuna steaks thoroughly and pat them dry. Place in a glass or ceramic dish and make a marinade. Start with a small sploosh of sesame oil and rub it all over both sides of the steaks. Then add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes (just a few - you want a trace of flavor here, not a lot of hot) and a sprinkle of coarse salt (always after the oil, so it won't dissolve immediately). Next, add a goodly grind of black pepper and finally the juices (no seeds, please) from ½ lime and ½ the lemon. Rub everything all over, turning the tuna a few times to coat thoroughly and to distribute all the ingredients throughout the marinade. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Two is fine, maybe even three, but any more and the tuna will ‘cook’ in the citrus. Turn the steaks every 20 minutes or so.

Tuna marinade

While the tuna marinates, make some garlic oil. Mince 1- 4 cloves in an electric thingy (food processor - we use a little 2 cup Black & Decker model that works just fine). When the garlic is minced, add the olive oil (1/3 cup or so) and whirl it till it's emulsified. Let the garlic oil sit at room temperature for an hour for the flavors to blend, stirring every now and then. And if you don't have an electric thingy, just mince the garlic, toss it in a bowl and whisk it with the oil until your arm gets tired. Voila! Garlic oil!

chop some garlic

While the oil rests, wash the spinach and the basil leaves (remove the stems from both), and dry thoroughly.

Cut the basil leaves into a thin julienne. Take a leaf and roll it up from bottom to top into a thin cylinder. Slice hair-thin rings off the cylinder, let them unfurl - or give them a gentle 'fluff' with your fingertips to encourage them to unfurl - and then cut the strips in half. You should end up with a nice pile of julienne basil strips, each about 2" long.

Since I didn’t have any fresh basil, I put a healthy tablespoon of dried basil in a little bowl, stirred it up with three Tbsp. of cold water and let it reconstitute for an hour. Then I drained off the water, squeezing out any extra, added a drizzle of olive oil, and forked it all into a ‘definitely not pesto’ kind of paste.

Slice the spinach leaves into ½" wide strips. (Stack a few leaves, roll them up from one side to the other, and slice off ½" strips.)

Since all I had was frozen spinach, rolling and slicing nice strips was not going to happen. But hey, just let the spinach thaw, drain off any liquid, and whack it up into whatever size bits you like. The spinach and basil substitutions affect the texture of the final dish more than the taste (though the fresh ingredients do have a ‘brighter,’ ‘greener’ flavor.)

melt your spinach

Dice the red onion into ¼" dice or ½" or chunks or . . .

Chop your tomatoes into ½" chunks. The Italian Plum tomatoes work best for this dish, but use any kind of fresh tomato you can find - even if it does resemble a tennis ball more than a tomato! And you want to get rid of most of the seeds and extra sloppy bits. (After cutting the tomatoes in half before chopping them up, I usually just give them a gentle squeeze-roll in the hand. A quick flip of the wrist, and whatever flings out into the garbage disposal is gone. Tomato deseeded!)

sauce veggies

Now, somewhere along the line here, you want to cook your angel hair pasta. Since angel hair takes only about 3 minutes to cook, the time constraint is bringing the water to a boil! So, whenever it's convenient (and when you can pay attention - 'cause angel hair turns to glue after the 4th minute!), cook up the pasta. And underdone is by far better than over done! You are going to 'cook' the pasta again, after all. So, cook it up, drain it as dry as you can, and oil it thoroughly. (And there's no way to achieve 'thoroughly' without getting your hands in the pot for at least 2 - 3 minutes! Use enough of your best olive oil to make every strand glisten and slip through your fingers with ease.)

Paint the tuna steaks with garlic oil and grill them about 2 - 3 minutes per side over a pretty high flame. You want some distinct and noticeable brown on the outside but you don't want to cook them all the way through. They'll finish on their own while waiting to take their place in the skillet.

Tuna grilled

Finally, get that skillet out and heat it up. You're about to put this all together and serve a feast of ambrosia!

Tuna sauce ingredients

If you’ve got some pignoli, toast them in the fry pan as it warms up. Be sure you keep them moving constantly so they don’t burn. After about 2 minutes, declare done and pour the nuts out onto a plate to wait.

In the rest of the garlic oil, sauté the onions until they are tender (don't let them brown, just get them translucent). Then toss in the tomatoes. Sauté for about 1 minute (it really does help if you have a clock in view for this one, but if not, just do the old counting trick!), and then add ½ the chicken stock. Stir it all up and let it cook for at least 2 - 3 minutes.

cook that sauce

Next, add the pasta (for this batch, I used linguine)

cook that sauce

and cook it up in the pan mixture, tossing continuously until it's completely coated. Add the remaining lemon juice and the lemon zest; toss and cook, toss and cook. Now, add the basil; toss and cook. Add the spinach and a few pignoli. Toss a few more times and add some more chicken stock if you like (I do!). Stir, toss, and serve to plates. Top each plate with a tuna steak; pour ring of parmesan cheese all around the edge of each plate and put it all on the table with crunchy French bread and big salad.

Tuna sur la table


  1. Hello there. I made a food-related post and thought this would be the proper time to send out an invite to my (otherwise very quilty) blog.

    hope you're doing well. send my love to auntie cath. xoxo.

  2. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Are you the Tommy J of the "Tommy .j Sauce" overpass sign near Bordentown NJ are you?

    A friend and I were wondering who might have authored it so I googled tommy j sauce.

  3. Hi anonymous,

    Thanks for stopping by and looking around!

    I'm sorry to say that I am not the Tommy J of the overpass sign in NJ, though I do know that at least a couple of bottles of my world famous Serendipity (grillin' and dippin') Sauce have traveled down the New Jersey Turnpike in the past few months.

    However, since I'm still hopeful of commercializing the sauce, the recipe is not on the blog.

    Hope you find your sign maker, but in the meantime, try out all the recipes you find here . . .


  4. This recipe was great! Thanks!