It’s the capers, of course, that make this uniquely Sicilian. Whether the Sicilians were the first to utilize the little buds, I don’t know. I buy a giant economy sized bottle of capers at my local Italian market. A large jar isn’t cheap, but I’ve had this jar for about 5 years, I think. Caper berries are also available – they’ve just been allowed to mature to a bigger size, hence they’re berries, rather than buds. I do like capers a lot, but only in small quantity. I once ordered chicken piccata at some restaurant and it had so darned many of them, and probably a bit of the pickle juice, I couldn’t eat it. But in moderation, they add a kind of piquant character to any dish in which you choose to use them. Just be sure to rinse them a little before using them.
I think capers are not common in tuna salad, but when I had this, it was just really, really good. There’s nothing else in it that is that unusual. I’ve never been able to put my finger on why this combination is so darned good, but maybe it’s the capers and lemon juice together that bring something different to the equation. And the fact that you use imported tuna packed in oil. And there’s no mayo in it. There’s just lots of flavor there.
Sicily abounds with lemons. There are lemons on trees obviously, lemons in the market, lemons in art, lemons in ceramics, lemons even in the ancient carvings. If you buy dinnerware, often it will contain pictures of lemons. The early people obviously found every possible way to utilize the citrus. Sicilians use lemon juice in lieu of vinegar, so it’s found in every avenue of their cuisine. And how could I forget Limoncello? Oh, so good is that liqueur.
But we’re talking about a pasta salad here . . . this came from a Joanne Weir cooking class some years ago. I’d have gone right on by this recipe had I not tasted it, figuring what’s one more cold pasta salad with tuna. But this was just different. Better. Tastier. Tangier. Every time I’ve made this it has renewed my enjoyment of it.
Sicilian Tuna Salad
Recipe: Joanne Weir, author and instructor
COOK’S NOTES: Buy the oil-packed tuna, since the flavor is significantly better. The salad is really good and can be made up ahead. It keeps for 4-5 days with little or no deterioration. It is a fairly dry pasta salad – you can add more oil if you want to. If it’s summer and you can find good tomatoes, they are a wonderful addition to the top of the salad or on the plate with it.You can use different pasta if you would prefer.
6 ounces tuna in oil — drained
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 pound penne pasta
2 tablespoons lemon juice — must be fresh
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons capers — rinsed and drained
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil — chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro — chopped
1. Drain the tuna as much as possible. Place tuna in a large bowl and using a fork break it into flakes. Set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of salt, then add the penne, stir well, and cook ONLY until pasta is “al dente,” firm to the tooth. This will be about 10-12 minutes depending on the brand. Drain well.
3. Meanwhile, into the bowl add the lemon juice, olive oil, remaining salt, and the pepper. Then add the hot, drained pasta and stir well.
4. Add the capers, parsley, basil, and cilantro and mix gently. Taste and adjust for seasonings. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
5. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl or divide amount individual plates. It is better if it is served at near room temperature. Garnish with additional Italian parsley sprigs or basil leaves.
Per Serving: 359 Calories; 11g Fat (28.4% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 970mg Sodium.