spicy(ish) tuna pasta salad
because calabrian chilies make everything better
We began our pasta salad series with a creamy, protein-packed green number, but now that the summer sun is high upon us, let’s make room for something a little more traditional.
A quick refresher: Italy’s version of pasta salad is called pasta fredda (“cold pasta”), a riot of colorful ingredients and textures that varies widely in the details. Still, as with all Italian cooking, a few things are canon: Vegetables are mandatory but proteins are optional and, if you use them, stick to cured meats and tinned fish. Dressings are unfussy, with plenty of olive oil. And the pasta—of course, the pasta!—is always short-cut (no long strands here). Why? Because short-cut pastas like casarecce, farfalle, and fusilli are experts at retaining their structure and bite, even after marinating overnight or all day at the beach.
Enter this spicy tuna pasta salad—my ideal pasta fredda. It’s got a lot of zing and a little spice, thanks to a hefty spoonful of crushed Calabrian chilies (you know how much I love Calabrian chilies). It’s packed with farmer’s market tomatoes, milky mozzarella, briny olives, and peppery arugula. And, of course, there are large flakes of rich, oil-packed tuna. It’s so bright and so summery that if I squint really hard outside my window, the Capitol starts to look a lot more like the Palermo Cathedral.
Because this is indeed a salad—and raw flavors are harder to hide—look for the best-quality ingredients you can find. Go for the good mozzarella. Grab the super-sweet tomatoes. And, most importantly, splurge on the fancy tuna. I always opt for Tonnino, tuna that’s caught sustainably by a fishing community in Puntarenas, Costa Rica using traditional pole-and-line methods. And you can taste it, too: I’ve never had a better jarred tuna. (Ortiz is another great option.)
Finally, I chose casarecce (also known as casareccia) for this recipe, a pasta originating from Sicily but one that’s now beloved all over Italy. The name translates to “homemade” since the pieces were originally made by hand by curling rectangles of dough around a thin metal rod known as a ferretto, or ferro (more on this in an upcoming Pasta of the Month!). Its southern roots make this pasta a particularly good pairing with other warm-weather riches like eggplants, tomatoes (check), cheese (check), and basil (you could totally add some here), as well as with seafood or fish (check). The perfect base for this summer pasta salad!
I encourage you to customize all of my recipes—you know what you like best—but here I truly give you free reign. Skip the olives or the onions if you’re not a fan, omit the cheese if you’re dairy-free, and even pass on the tuna if it’s a vegetarian meal you seek. You can, of course, use any short-cut pasta you’d like. All I ask is that you enjoy it, hopefully al fresco, preferably with someone you care about, and definitely with a cold glass of something delicious.
Spicy(ish) Tuna Pasta Salad