Sometimes, more than anything, it’s the idea of grocery shopping that kills my desire to cook dinner, the unbearable thought of stopping in one more place, of engaging in one more transaction, of lugging one more bag home. But this week I am excited to share a pasta pantry meal for Tuesday dinner, a bold recipe for spicy spaghetti with caramelized onions, anchovies and tuna from cookbook author Maria Speck.
The dish is from Maria’s beautiful book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, a collection of recipes that focuses on whole grains like barley, farro, polenta and wheat berries, to name a few. Maria is Greek and she grew up in Germany and as a result her food is full of twists — both bright, heart-healthy and Mediterranean as well as nourishing, Old World and cozy. This is a not just a book for the health-conscious — though there are plenty of healthy choices — nor for vegetarians — though there are several vegan-adaptable recipes among the meaty — nor for the gluten-free, though it strikes me that Maria’s grain salads, soups and stews would be satisfying for the flourless, while her polenta-crusted artichoke tart is a revelation for anyone who loves quiche — which, surely, is everyone, n’est-ce pas? This is a book for living well and eating more whole grains because they’re delicious. I love my copy so much I’m buying another to give away at Christmas (dear mother-in-law, pretend you never read that!).
I first met Maria when she generously shared her aforementioned artichoke tart recipe with this blog, and I’ve loved getting to know her via email and Twitter. Based in Boston, she balances work as a writer, journalist and cooking teacher with a life of bread-baking, gardening and Greek yogurt at home with her husband. Today, I’m delighted to reveal her quick cooking tips!
On making up time in the kitchen:
Like so many of us I spend a lot of time in front of the computer, forgetting the world around me, including dinner. When I finally get into the kitchen, I’m usually starved—which means dinner has to be on the table fast. But I love simple meals. I am very happy with an Indian-spiced red lentil soup — ready in 20 minutes — served with baguette. Or a grain salad, thrown together with leftover vegetables, some feta or goat cheese, maybe dried fruit and nuts.
On relaxing by cooking:
Weeknights are often very casual in my house—except when I’m testing new recipes for an article or a book. I am a lazy cook but I almost never feel like not cooking. I find preparing a meal relaxing—it puts a border between my often crazy-busy workday and the evening.
On the importance of a well-supplied kitchen:
I feel equipped to cook up a storm on the fly. You’re hungry? I’m ready! It gives me peace of mind—my husband thinks I must have been a squirrel in a previous life.
She always stocks up on…
–Beans, herring, tuna, olives, nuts, and pasta in all shapes and forms.
–Did I mention at least a dozen different grains and beans, including whole wheat couscous and bulgur which cook up in no time?
–In my fridge four kinds of cheese are normal, three types of yogurt, cream, butter, smoked salmon or blue fish—you name it!
–Even my fruit and vegetable drawer are never completely empty. Homemade whole grain bread (always in the freezer!), cheese, butter, sun-dried tomatoes, dolma (stuffed vine leaves), and whatever else I can locate, especially radishes.
Cook large, be creative:
I’ve learned from my Greek mom to never cook small amounts of anything. Make a large pot of staples ahead, be it lentils, dried beans, brown rice, millet or wheat berries. I often do this on weekends. They can become hearty soups and salads during the week just by adding a few sautéed or roasted vegetables — whatever is in season — plus herbs and spices. Sometimes I add a pan-fried chicken breast, salmon, or grill some tofu under the broiler. And if I run out of ideas, I make vegetarian burgers from these nourishing staples, just like my Greek grandma, by adding cheese, eggs, herbs and spices. First class finger food—what’s not to love?
On pasta for all seasons:
A simple pasta dish is one of the great last-minute meals I always can do. In the summer, I might just chop up fresh herbs and garlic, add olive oil and Parmesan — voilà, dinner! In the winter, my spicy whole wheat spaghetti with caramelized onions, anchovies and tuna hits the spot.
Spicy spaghetti with caramelized onions, anchovies and tuna
From Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck
Note from Ann: I’m not usually a fan of canned fish, but there is something deeply savory and satisfying about this pasta’s contrast of bold, briny, oceany flavors with sweet cooked onions. And happily — since I’m always wary of reheating fish — these leftovers are actually delicious cold, like a pasta salad eaten beach-side in Positano. “I use tuna only as an accent here,” says Maria. “By all means, open two cans if you like more fish on your fork.”
3/4 lb/340 g whole wheat spaghetti
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (2-oz/60-g) can oil-packed anchovies, drained, 1 tablespoon of the oil reserved, filets chopped
1 lb/454 g red onions (I used one gigantic), peeled and thinly sliced into rings
1 cup chopped green onions (about 7), the dark green tops chopped finely and reserved separately
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 (6-oz/170 g) can oil-packed tuna, drained
1/2 cup oil-packed black olives, pitted and chopped
3 tablespoons capers, plus 2 tablespoons of their marinating liquid
Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente, according to package.
Heat the olive and anchovy oils in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sliced red onion and cook, stirring frequently until it starts to caramelize and brown at the edges, about 5-7 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the green onions, garlic, and red chili flakes to taste. Push the vegetables to the sides of the pan and add the anchovies to the center of the skillet. Cook, pressing on the filets with a wooden spoon until they disintegrate, about 1 minute. Add the tuna, olives, capers and their liquid; stir to combine and cook until heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning (note from Ann: I needed much less salt because of all the salty components).
Drain the pasta, reserving 3/4 cup cooking liquid. In the pot (or if your skillet is large enough) combine the pasta with the onion-tuna mixture and 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid. Toss to combine, adding dashes of cooking liquid to loosen the pasta, if necessary. Sprinkle with the finely chopped green onion tops and serve immediately.
(All non-pasta photos, courtesy of Maria Speck.)