Sicilian cuisine fascinates me because it is a historical culinary road map documenting the layered influences of many cultures (from Normans to Arabs) that settled there and governed the island over time. Our trip to Sicily several years ago left me in awe of the bold, assertive flavors and diverse variety of dishes that make Sicilian food so unique. I was smitten with their use of nuts, dried fruit such as raisins and apricots, citrus, saffron and spices in savory dishes and especially pasta, all thanks to the North African/Arab influence.
This tuna pasta dish is a reflection of that and a spin off of Pasta con le sarde, a pasta with fennel, saffron, pine nuts, raisins, and sardines. My recipe has pasta coated in a rich tomato and wine sauce with chunks of tuna, toasted pine nuts, plump sweet raisins, lemon, and dill running through. It's a rich, hearty dish, one that my husband and I think is a winner. I hope you do too!
Sicilian Pasta with Tuna, Pine Nuts, and Raisins
Notes: This is no place to skimp on tuna. Try to find best quality jarred tuna that has the sustainability seal and is packed in olive oil. Marsala is a rich, slightly sweet fortified Sicilian wine. If you do not have any on hand you can substitute with a white wine for a lighter sauce or a sweeter red wine for a more robust sauce. Alternatively, I have not tried them in this dish, but Madeira and Sherry are similar fortified wines that might also work.
3/4 lb (375 grams) short-cut pasta (a thinner spiral shape is best: gemelli, fussilli, rotini, strozzapreti)
2 mugs reserved pasta water
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/3 cup raisins
3/4 cup Marsala
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
280 g (drained weight) jarred tuna
Juice from 1/4 lemon (more to taste)
1 tsp. salt + freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch dill, chopped (~1/3 cup)
Boil water in a large pot. Drop pasta and cook to al dente. Just before draining, reserve 2 coffee mugs full of pasta water.
While pasta cooks, heat a large saute pan with high sides over medium heat. Toast pine nuts in the dry pan until lightly golden. Pour pine nuts into a small bowl and place pan back on stove. Turn heat to medium-low, and add olive oil, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, and raisins. Break up tomato paste in oil and cook out for a minute.
Turn heat to medium, add Marsala and balsamic vinegar, and gently simmer until fragrant (~1-2 minutes). Break up tuna with a fork and add to sauce along with lemon, salt, pepper, and 1 mug of reserved pasta water. Simmer for a minute for flavors to merry, then add pasta and most of pine nuts and dill (reserving a little of both for garnish), and stir to coat in sauce. Add as much of remaining pasta water as you need to create a sauce, and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and lemon if needed.
Remove from heat and serve in bowls, topping with remaining pine nuts and dill.