November 14th, 2013
The holiday pressure is on, but I’m determined to make more room for fun this year.
It’s not that I haven’t wanted to have fun other years. It’s just that I’ve had a hard time letting go. Determined to “do it all”—I’ll be more organized this year; I’ll start a few weeks earlier—I’ve missed out on a lot of the joy of one of my favorite times of the year.
To make room for fun, I’m pushing some of my normally high ranked priorities down the list. Maybe you think you know what comes next. Family dinners, meal planning, nutritionally balanced plates: they can all move to the side during this busy time. Right?
For me, well balanced family dinners are particularly important during this time when so much of the food we’ll be eating out is so, well, unbalanced. And meal planning? There is no way that I can put well balanced meals on the table, especially during busy times, without being disciplined about meal planning. Even if that means scrawling ideas on a piece of paper that I keep tucked under a wad of knotted, unwashed hair. My meal plan keeps me sane.
So, yea, some priorities get temporarily demoted, but others get reconfigured. They take a new, more flexible shape that helps me fit in other, very important and highly time sensitive to-dos like holiday shopping, baking cookies for Santa, and playing hooky from after school classes to sip hot cocoa and hit a train show (or two).
Reshaping my approach to dinner means planning around the absolute simplest, fastest meals in my repertoire. It also means cooking a whole lot of one thing and getting comfortable with leftovers. This Tuna Puttanesca? Twice in three days. Good thing it’s so delicious!
It’s also a full pantry meal like this Pasta with Tuna and Chickpeas. All you need are things that you’ve already got—or at least that I hope you’ve got!—in your pantry: pasta, olive oil, garlic, capers, black olives, canned chopped tomatoes, and a can of tuna fish.
Most of these ingredients are self-explanatory, but let’s pause here to talk about two of them. First, though they have a place (literally one place), skip the canned black olives. Instead, I keep cured black olives in my refrigerator pantry. They won’t last forever liked canned black olives, but that’s okay. They will last a good long time and are great for building big flavor quickly, like in this dish.
The tuna fish you use in this recipe is important, too. No flaky, watery tuna please. Rather, you want chunks of premium fish, preferably packed in olive oil. I keep a fat stack of Bumble Bee tuna products among the canned items in my pantry. Partly because I work with them, but also because I buy tons of their products (and always have). Simply put, Bumble Bee has the widest variety of accessible quality tuna products.
Of course I’ve gotten suckered into buying expensive, imported tuna, but it’s not practical for everyday use. So even for this dish, where I’m looking for a classic Italian-style packaged tuna, I grab the Bumble Bee Prime Fillet Tonno in Olive Oil. It works beautifully. If you can’t find it, though, look for a prime fillet product and opt for tuna packed in water over any oil other than olive.
Now that we’ve got that straight, it’s time to cook. If you make the sauce while the pasta is cooking, you’ll be at the stove for all of 15 minutes. Or you can take more like 20 minutes and cut down on dishes by cooking the pasta first and reusing the pot to make the sauce. Six in one, half dozen in the other. Either way, it’s a quick, nutritious meal that can be served with an easy salad or steamed green beans. You know, so that you can go back to your various holiday exploits—or whatever it is that’s fun for you.
Pasta with Tuna Puttanesca
(Can be shared with kids 10+ mos)*
1 lb linguini or spaghetti
2 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more to finish
2 cloves garlic, minced
Red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
1 3-ounce jar capers, drained
1/2 cup chopped pitted, oil cured black olives
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 5-ounce can tuna, preferably packed in olive oil (such as Bumble Bee Prime Fillet Tonno in Olive Oil)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)
1. Bring one gallon of water seasoned with 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil over medium heat. Once at a boil, add pasta, stir and begin measuring cooking time; for al dente, cook pasta 2-3 minutes fewer than indicated on the package. Drain the pasta (do not rinse), saving 3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water; set aside. (You can also use pasta that you’ve cooked in advance. Here’s how to perfectly pre-cook pasta.)
2. In a large, heavy bottomed pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and just as it begins to brown, add pepper flakes, capers, and olives. Sauté for a minute or two.
3. Add tomatoes and reserved pasta cooking water. (If you’ve forgotten to save cooking water, use regular water.) Bring just to the edge of a boil and then add drained pasta. Toss to coat and add the tuna. Toss some more, breaking up the tuna a little bit, but leaving some bigger chunks, and remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste and finish with a drizzle of olive oil. If you have it, scatter fresh parsley over the top. Serve warm.
Note: While there is nothing in this that is unsafe for younger eaters, I typically save pasta for kids 10 months and older. (I prefer to feed younger babies a diet heavy on nutrient dense fruit, veggie, and whole grain purees.) No matter how old your eater, be sure to puree or cut this into age appropriate bite sizes. I’d also skip salt on baby’s portion since capers and olives are already naturally salty.