I wanted to get this one down before the big, juicy tomatoes are gone. In fact, we have a bit longer than we think before that happens. They’re usually here til mid-October, and sometimes they’re less expensive then, since the more antsy eaters have moved onto winter squash. By then, a dish called Beach Pasta will already feel nostalgic and taste even better than its Labor Day rendition, which is already magical, oily, and briny.
The book Pasta Fresca is one of my favorite cookbooks. The pages brim over with simple Italian pastas, heavy on the oils and butters and cheeses, but also on the vegetables. Many of the dishes are quite close to one another. In the small variations lies the genius of this nifty book. Beach Pasta is just a surprising variation on a dish I make all the time: raw tomato sauce and mozzarella tossed with hot pasta. But sometimes, you had mozz for lunch (as I did every day two weekends ago, with a rainbow of roasted peppers and olive oil). That’s one time this recipe is irreplaceable, because it replaces the mozz, with a can of tuna. A complete meal forms, protein and all, without diminishing the immediacy and freshness of the cheesy original.
The first dinner, I simplified the published recipe completely, doctoring the tomatoes and tuna with nothing but a tiny bit of shallot and a clove of garlic. The second time, I was truer to the Pasta Fresca formula, only I added some shallot and parsley and crunchy bread crumbs in addition to the olives and basil called for.
More than the tomatoes, what I miss come fall is the ease of summer meals. The equipment here is just a pot, a bowl, a cutting board, and knife. You can make the sauce in the time it takes to boil water for pasta, but if you have a few minutes in the late afternoon, better to make it then and allow an hour or two for marinating. The breadcrumbs add an extra step and an extra pan, but I think they’re worth it.
- About 1 pound ripe tomatoes, diced
- ½ shallot, thinly sliced
- 10 leaves fresh basil, chopped
- 10 leaves fresh parsley, chopped
- One 6½-ounce can of tuna, preferably in olive oil
- 10 salty black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ pound pasta
- Handful of fresh breadcrumbs
- In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, shallot, herbs, tuna, olives, olive oil, and a few pinches of salt. Leave at room temperature for at least one hour, or up to about 4.
- When you're ready to eat, boil a pot of water. Salt well, the cook the pasta until al dente. While the pasta is cooking, crisp up the breadcrumbs in a small pan with some olive oil. Drain the pasta and add to the bowl of sauce. Mix well, and serve at once, topped with breadcrumbs. (It's also good room temperature.)