Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tuna and Tomato Pasta, Stage 1: Denial

I've never been a fan of tuna. And by "never been a fan", I mean that most times the very thought of tuna makes me want to throw up. I have an ingenious reason for why this is--when my mom was pregnant with me and my twin sister, she had a strong aversion to tuna, which made her want to throw up. She also had strong cravings for baked potatoes and for milkshakes. Which, by that logic, is why to this day I hate tuna and love baked potatoes and milkshakes, right? Well, not really. I recognize that baked potatoes and milkshakes are not exactly obscure cravings, and I find that most people don't like the smell of tuna, which is really what puts me off.

Within the past few months, I gave tuna a semi-fair shot for the first time. It's all thanks to Noah--when my parents pull the whole "just try a little bit and see if you like it" thing I usually respond with "but I don't like it why do you keep trying to make me eat things I don't like?". But recently Noah did the same thing. "But Noah," I said, "I don't like tuna. You know that." But he didn't have to ask too many times before I agreed to at least try it. I believe my reaction was "I guess it's not quite as terrible as I thought it was." It helps that Noah rarely steers me wrong on the food front--he was the one who convinced me that not all hot dogs were disgusting, and that mustard can be okay in some preparations (not that I've actually touched the mustard in the fridge, and in fact this hasn't stopped me from pretending it's not mine). One tip that I have for people trying to get their kids/significant others/friends to like tuna is not to make tuna salad the first thing you try. While it may seem logical to throw them into the fire in that way, introducing someone to tuna through something that is composed entirely of tuna with virtually no other flavors to complement it is very daunting. When Noah left to move back to New York and left me all his food products, included in those food products were two cans of tuna*. The only thing I knew how to make with tuna was tuna salad, and I just didn't think I could stomach that. Luckily, just then I came upon a recipe for tuna and tomato pasta. It seemed perfect to me because the tomato flavor would balance out the tuna and would make the whole tuna-eating experience a lot easier.

Because of my extreme denial that I was eating tuna, the recipe that I linked to was really only the jumping-off point for the dish I made. My dish had two main considerations: 1) I needed the tuna to be a little more sneakily incorporated into the dish than the recipe seemed to want to do, and 2) I didn't have any of the ingredients on hand except for the two cans of tuna, the seasonings, and one 28-oz can of tomatoes, which would have to substitute for the fresh ones. Here's my, uh...recipe.

How to Make Tuna And Tomato Pasta If You "Don't Like" Tuna:
1. Start your pasta going first--the sauce takes only a couple minutes to throw together, so you'll have some downtime while the water boils and stuff. Choose an appealing-looking pasta--I chose campanelle because I'd never used them before, they looked like they'd hold sauce really well, and they were adorable.
2. At about the time your water is boiling and you're ready to dump the pasta in, heat up a little olive oil in a large pan or skillet. If you're like me, take 5 tries to open the cans of tuna, pondering the great mystery of why, with all your skills in the kitchen, you still can't seem to operate a can opener correctly. Once the oil is all sizzly, dump in your 2 cans of tuna. Immediately use your wooden scraper or other implement to mash the tuna into the tiniest possible pieces, so that when you eat the finished product the individual bites of tuna will be relatively small.
3. Let that tuna cook in there for awhile, basically until you get tired of waiting around. I found it took me about as long as it took the pasta to finish cooking, so like 5-8 minutes. It didn't change terribly noticeably during that time, which is why I say just kind of keep cooking it until you think "yeah, I guess that's good".
4. Dump in your tomatoes. How much of the can you use depends on just how much you want to hide that tuna. I dumped in part of the can, but that didn't look like enough, so I put in more and then discovered I'd actually used the entire 28-oz can. If you hadn't caught on by now to the fact that this isn't a meal you should be making if you're interested in a finely nuanced dish where all the flavors come out, it should be dawning on you right about here. This dish has two purposes: to satiate hunger, and to get protein from the tuna without noticing you're doing it.
5. "Chop" your tomatoes by repeatedly stabbing them with your scraper or other implement until they come apart. I would have bought diced tomatoes if I knew this was what I was using it for, but all I had were whole peeled ones. I used a combination of a scraper and the slotted spoon from the pasta to get the tomatoes into pieces. Stir this whole mixture around and let it do its thing for a few more minutes.
6. Season with whatever appropriate seasonings you have lying around. I used a lot of oregano, and then as an afterthought I put in some of a bottle I found in the cupboard that was labeled "Italian Seasoning", which was probably just more oregano, but I used it anyway. Stir around and you're good to go!

I'm eating it right now, and my verdict is that it did what I wanted it to do: I can taste the tuna a little bit, but it is heavily offset by the large amount of tomato I put in. It does not make me want to throw up. I have a rather large bowl, and I will eat all of it and will continue to do so for the next few days.

Of course, some of you are probably thinking, "but Florence! This is kind of cheating, isn't it? How will you ever experience the glories of tuna if you make dishes where you can't even taste it?" The answer, my friends, is baby steps. This is just one stage in the tuna journey. I'm sure I'll reach Acceptance eventually. But for now, a bowl of this is a big accomplishment.

What are your favorite tuna recipes? If I'm at the store and convince myself to actually buy more tuna (which would be an even bigger step), maybe I'll make them!

*When I told my sister that I was making tuna and tomato pasta despite my aversion to tuna, she said, "but if you don't like tuna, why not give it away? You don't have to eat it." My response: "no, no, I have to do this, I should broaden my horizons!". What I meant: "I don't have a lot of money and that tuna will bring me at least 3 meals and then I won't have to go grocery shopping in the next couple days." The fact that Noah left me all his food when he moved has probably halved the amount that I've had to go grocery shopping these past couple month, but now that stockpile is running pretty low. Pretty much all I have left is a bottle of clam juice, a can of red curry paste, that poor lonely jar of mustard, and about 5 different kinds of vinegar (we here at the FBTS homestead are serious about our vinegar).

Also, an additional safety note: daydreaming while washing out tuna cans is a Bad Idea! My mind was totally somewhere else while I was rinsing those cans earlier (I think I was thinking something along the lines of "I have a headache, I'm sleepy, why do I have to go to work tomorrow"), and I grabbed the tuna can on the unfriendly end (the part of the top that gets exposed when you used the can opener on it). The sharp edge of the top was like, "Hahahaha! I kill you! *slice*" and then I was bleeding. Cooking is dangerous, kids. Or at least, doing the recycling is.

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