Spaghetti with Tuna and Capers

DSC05172

When I was in college, my friend Todd and I both played the guitar and sang a little (not very well, but we were young and didn’t care). So we decided to try and take our act public. We booked a night at the student-run coffeeshop in the basement of one of the dorms and started practicing. This was the early 90s so our repertoire included songs by Pearl Jam, Lenny Kravitz, and Sting, among others. About a week before our debut, I got a phone call from the coffeeshop. They were going to print flyers to advertise the night around campus and needed to know the name of our band.

We didn’t have one.

In a panic, I told them I’d call them right back. Since this was way before the age of cell phones, I couldn’t reach Todd so I realized I had to take matters into my own hands. I picked up my pocket dictionary, opened it at a random page and pointed to a random word. Then I did it again. I decided that those two words would be our band name.

We were going to be called Mystic Rain. DSC05152

A few hours later I saw Todd at the cafeteria and I told him about the phone call. When I got to the point where I announced our new band name, Todd’s face collapsed. Here was my grunge-loving, REM-worshiping, Nirvana-fanatic friend Todd being told he was now part of a band called Mystic Rain. When I saw his reaction I realized what I’d done. We ran out of there and called the coffeeshop and thankfully, they hadn’t printed the flyers yet. When they finally did, we were billed simply as Todd and Marios.

Randomness isn’t always kind. But for every Mystic Rain disaster there’s a spaghetti with tuna and capers success. I made this dish for the first time many years ago when I was living alone and had to eat something quickly. I picked the random ingredients I could find in my kitchen and came up with this dish. I’ve made it countless times since then, for many friends, all of whom have loved it. It’s simple, but the combination of mustard, tuna, capers, and onions is a real hit. Much to the horror of my Italian friend Simona, for whom I made this once, I like to grate Parmesan cheese on top before eating it. Apparently, Italians never put cheese on seafood pasta, but call me a rebel, I love it.DSC05173

Spaghetti with Tuna and Capers

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

1/2 lb (250g) spaghetti
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small onion or three large shallots, chopped
2 5oz (142g) cans of tuna (preferably solid white albacore), drained
2 tablespoons wholegrain dijon mustard
2 tablespoons capers in brine, drained
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Cook spaghetti in a large pot in well-salted water until al dente. Before draining the pasta, reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, cook the onions or shallots in the 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium high heat until just starting to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the mustard and stir to combine. Add the tuna (breaking up any big pieces with a spatula), capers, and reserved pasta water and stir to combine. Bring to a low simmer and keep warm.

Drain spaghetti and return to pot. Scrape the tuna and caper mixture over the spaghetti and using kitchen tongs, toss well.

Serve with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Cauliflower Parmesan

DSC03825 Damn you Melissa Clark and your beguiling ways in the kitchen! I mean, come on! How do you expect us to watch you making this cauliflower parmesan, with such ease and with your trademark witty humor and not expect us to rush out and buy the necessary ingredients to make it at home? Such seducing tactics in front of a camera and in a kitchen should be illegal.DSC03816 Seriously, though. I never thought that such a thing could even exist. I’ve had eggplant parmesan and chicken parmesan and I like both of them but they often tend to be too greasy and too heavy. One of those meals that you think you definitely want to eat but that you regret the moment you finish the last bite. But cauliflower? It’s perfect. It doesn’t absorb much oil, unlike eggplant that sucks up every last drop when you fry it, and it’s not chicken, that could end up rubbery or tough. Cauliflower retains its own crispy snap but it’s enveloped in crunchy breadcrumbs that provide that brilliant counterpoint to the cheese and tomato sauce that makes a parmesan dish so irresistible. And you, Melissa Clark? You’ve won. I’m already drooling over those lemon bars with olive oil and sea salt that you have once again bewitched me with.DSC03818Cauliflower Parmesan – Adapted from the New York Times

Note: If you don’t have time or the inclination to make your own tomato sauce, use your favorite brand. Avoid anything that has too many strong flavors, like olives or artichokes. Just a simple marinara sauce, with tomatoes and basil is perfect. You will need the equivalent of 5 cups, so about 40 oz.

Ingredients:

Sauce:
2 28oz cans of crushed or diced tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly smashed with side of knife
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
2 large sprigs of basil
2-3 large sprigs of fresh oregano (optional)
4 tablespoons butter

Cauliflower:
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups panko or plain unseasoned bread crumbs
Kosher salt, as needed
Black pepper, as needed
1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 2-inch florets
Olive oil, for frying
1 cup fresh, finely grated Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ pound fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces

Directions:

First make the sauce. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir occasionally until garlic is golden brown. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients, bring to a brisk simmer and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard onion, garlic and herb sprigs. Taste the sauce and season it with salt to your liking. Make ahead: Sauce can be prepared up to three days ahead and kept in the fridge, covered.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place flour, eggs and panko into three wide, shallow bowls. Season each generously with salt and pepper. Be really generous with the salt and pepper. Only a tiny bit will end up on the cauliflower. Dip a cauliflower piece first in flour, then eggs, then coat with panko. Repeat with remaining cauliflower. Place each piece of breaded cauliflower on a large baking sheet.

Fill a large skillet with about 1/2-inch olive oil. Place over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, fry cauliflower in batches, turning halfway through, until golden brown. Transfer fried cauliflower pieces to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Spoon a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle one-third of the grated Parmesan over sauce. Scatter half of the cauliflower over the Parmesan and top with half the mozzarella pieces. Top with half the remaining sauce, sprinkle with another third of the Parmesan and repeat layering, ending with a final layer of sauce and Parmesan.

Transfer pan to oven and bake uncovered until cheese is has melted and casserole is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving.