Emergency Lunch! Pasta with Canned Tuna

Whatever anyone says, every parent has a few quick meals they occasionally knock together for their children when they have no time, nothing much in the cupboard, or simply can’t think of what to make. It’s not all slow-cooked stews, roast chickens and schnitzels; sometimes you need to knock something together in 10 minutes, using stuff that you always have lying around. That doesn’t mean it needs to be unappealing food though, it just might not be very fancy, which is fine. You work hard enough as it is. Give yourself a break.

Today, I’m at home with my two year-old, who had a temperature last night, so has stayed home from nursery. I was planning to eat god knows what (something out of a tupperware container in the fridge, I expect) but her presence made me feel like I should throw together something you could call A Meal for lunch.

I’m not sure I know a parent who doesn’t have something they do with a can of tuna to pull a meal out of thin air for their family. Children all seem to like it, it’s relatively cheap, it keeps forever, and it has a air of wholesome good health about it which makes you feel vaguely like you’re caring for your offspring.

This recipe, if you can even call it that, is endlessly customisable. Substitute the pasta for a baked potato, some bread, rice, a salad or whatever you have handy. Use any canned fish you like or have lying around, use any piquant, pickled vegetable in place of the capers and gherkins, use tarragon or dill instead of parsley, use creme fraiche or yoghurt in place or mixed in with the mayonnaise. Just really, do what you like. That’s the name of the game.

This lunch, in terms of Italian food, makes The Pizza Hut Buffet look like a a rustic banquet on the side of a Neapolitan mountain. The pasta here is just a vessel for carbohydrates and a likely thing to find in your cupboard, nothing more.

Apologies for writing three pasta recipes in a row (though not that sorry). I promise the next one will be something else!

For two people, you will need:

  • 160g pasta (I used wholewheat spaghetti, but really, use literally anything)
  • A 170g can of tuna
  • A spring onion
  • A pickled gherkin
  • 1tbsp capers
  • The picked leaves of a small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
  • 100ml mayonnaise
  • 1tbsp grainy french mustard
  • 1tsp cheap balsamic vinegar
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Put the pasta in a deep pan of salted boiling water and cook according to the packet instructions.

Drain the tuna and put it in a mixing bowl. Finely slice the spring onion (whites and greens), gherkin, capers and parsley and add to the bowl. Add the mayonnaise, mustard vinegar and a good slug of olive oil, followed by a good, medium-coarse grind of black pepper, then fold together gently til well combined. Taste and adjust accordingly. I aim for a nice balance of piquant, salty, peppery and creamy, with a slight but vital more of sweetness imparted by the balsamic vinegar.

Drain the pasta well once it’s cooked, then run briefly under cold water, before shaking dry again. Add the tuna mixture, toss together thoroughly, then heap into a couple of bowls. Dress lightly with a little more olive oil if you like.

It’s not fancy, you won’t be making it at any dinner parties, but it takes 10 minutes and is, I think, delicious in a very universal, relatable way.

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