I call this my miracle dinner; it has been saving my life for around 25 years. You can assemble it in under 10 minutes and it is SO FLIPPIN’ DELICIOUS! It’s the equivalent of a comforting savoury hug – it’ll make you feel better about life, even if your day has been total shit. I first started to make it when I was a teenager – my Mum brought home a Sainsbury’s paperback cookbook called ‘Pasta Italian Style’ by Patricia Lousada, and I found within its pages a version of this sauce which I have tweaked over the years. Patricia, wherever you are, I owe you a huge debt for introducing me to the idea of melting anchovies and tuna together – it’s genius!
I used to make this dish at university, much to the disgust of my housemate Alan, a flame-haired soft metal obsessive who only ate potatoes out of a tin and listened to Heart. He would flounce into the kitchen, wrinkle his nose and complain that I was eating ‘cat food’. I just couldn’t respect him – especially since he wouldn’t even make a cup of tea or do his own grocery shopping. His mum actually drove his bags of food shopping all the way from Basingstoke to Southampton on a weekly basis because he was too lame to shop for himself. He was like a giant ginger man-baby!
Anyway, ALAN, there is something massively addictive about the umami-savouriness of the tuna and anchovy mixed together – it doesn’t taste ‘fishy’ in the slightest. The black pepper in the sauce adds a lovely mellow heat, and I’d encourage you to ramp it up a notch with a dash of ground white pepper and a shake of fish sauce as well for extra pokiness. Butterbeans are my saviour and are much less hassle than boiling pasta – just open a can, heat them through in this sauce, add some parsley to balance the flavours and it’s a brilliant and satisfying dinner. Parsley with its minerally tang is the perfect foil to the oily fish. I eat this every time I’m home alone – it saves me from a lifetime of only eating toast and fried eggs, takes roughly the same time to make and is much healthier.
Don’t be freaked out by how much oil is in the recipe, it’s essential to add enough to lubricate the sauce. Too little and your mixture will be dry. Try not to use extra-virgin olive oil, which gets damaged by heat. Just use regular olive cooking oil. But I’ve made it plenty of times with extra virgin, so don’t worry too much.
Below is the version with butter beans, which you can also do with pasta.
1 x 400g cans of butter beans (you can use most tinned pulses, eg cannellini beans, flageolet or borlotti beans, but probably not black or kidney beans as they taste too strong)
1 x 200g can of tuna steak in oil
6 – 10 anchovy fillets in olive oil
3 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper – LOTS
A few shakes of Asian fish sauce (optional)
1/4 tsp ground white pepper (optional)
2 good handfuls roughly chopped parsley OR some chopped spinach OR a few florets of broccoli, cooked al dente.
Gently heat the oil in a saucepan, then add the anchovy fillets. Melt them over a low heat, gently prodding with a wooden spoon until they fall apart and go mushy. Add the tuna, then mash it in with your wooden spoon. Heat through until gently bubbling, then grind in as much black pepper as you can handle. I like it nice and peppery – about 1 heaped tsp of freshly ground black pepper (this equals about 30 – 50 grinds of a big pepper mill. I go for the full 50). Add the optional fish sauce and white pepper, mix in. Add the drained butterbeans and stir until everything is heated through. Just before serving, add the chopped parsley / spinach / broccoli and mix through.
Melting the anchovies, then adding the tuna:
If you eat this sauce with pasta, which it’s brilliant with, choose nice fat tubey shapes like rigatoni or penne.
To make the sauce for more than one person, just multiply the ingredients per person, and don’t try to hold back on the olive oil in the sauce, trust me, it’ll be too dry without it.
Low carb version
You could also mix some cooked broccoli florets with the sauce instead of beans or pasta – the metallic green-ness of the broccoli goes amazingly well with the anchovy/tuna combo. Just steam some broccoli until cooked al dente, then smother it in the sauce. Delicious. I still prefer it with the beans, though.
Have you got a trusty 10-minute recipe that has seen you through many years and never let you down? Please share below!