Fresh or frozen, ahi tuna is one of the most wonderful, flavorful seafoods out there. It’s the closest thing to red meat the sea provides, and is dense enough to be served in small portions. The less you do with it, the better, so here is a preparation that allows for a lot of complex flavors without overpowering the beauty of the fish itself.
The pasta sauce is robust and aromatic; it showcases the freshness of the ingredients and the balance of earthy and acidic tastes.
For the pasta, you will need:
- one package of good quality rigatoni
- a small onion, finely chopped
- 6 cloves fresh garlic, coarsely chopped
- 4 large portabello mushroom caps, cut into bite-sized chunks
- one box sugar plum tomatoes (cherry tomatoes work just as well), rinsed and halved
- vegetable bouillon – I use 1 cube of a tasty organic brand – the crumblier, the better, for this purpose; liquid broth works great, if you have it
- salt, pepper, thyme, and basil to taste
- olive oil
- red wine on hand
For the fish, you will need:
- 2 nice fillets of ahi tuna, thawed or fresh, rinsed
- lots of cracked black pepper
1. Put on a large pot of water to boil; salt it generously.
2. In a large saucepan or deep wok, heat the olive oil and toss in the onions and garlic; sautee until golden, stirring frequently. Add the thyme and basil.
3. Add the mushrooms and tomatoes to the mix, and cook until the tomatoes soften into sauce, and the mushrooms release their juices.
4. Crumble the bouillon cube over the vegetables and add a cup or more of water, to thin the sauce to the right consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste; adjust the seasonings, and add more herbs if necessary.
5. Add the rigatoni to the water and let it cook according to the directions on the package or your own pasta secret.
6. Allow the sauce to simmer; if needed, thin with a few splashes of red wine. This will lend richness and depth to the sauce.
7. Pull out a small plate and grind freshly cracked pepper all over it, to cover the surface.
8. Dust the ahi fillets in salt and then press them into the pepper, turning them to cover each side.
9. In a heavy, hot skillet, sear the tuna in a little olive oil; when you can see the color beginning to change through the steak, turn the fillets and splash the pan with red wine, and let the fish simmer. The wine will thicken into a glaze. Turn the fish again and dredge it in the sauce. Remove from heat.
10. Strain the pasta and drizzle with olive oil (and dried or minced fresh parsley, if you have some on hand.)
11. Add a handful of capers to the sauce and mix well. Taste. If the sauce is too astringent, add a spoonful of brown sugar. If you like it spicy, add sriracha or other low-vinegar hot sauce.
12. Combine the noodles with the sauce and pour into a large serving platter.
13. Cut the tuna with the grain into thick slices, and fan them across the top of the pasta. They should be seared and dark on the outside, and still pink on the inside.
Serve with grated pecorino romano, warm bread, a crisp green salad, and the rest of the red wine. Delicious!