The problem with busy and the need for tuna pasta

A giant pet peeve of mine is how everyone talks about how busy they are. It annoys me on two fronts. The more obvious one being that since we’re all so busy it’s not actually unusual enough to warrant quite so much conversation space, can we agree on that? The second part is more troubling. How can one possibly explain what’s going  on when one’s life really is exceptionally booked? Not the normal busy of modern life with its commuting and dual-working couples and the bright and shiny objects that distract us on the internet (you’re welcome!), which is enhanced by the nonsense of parenthood for some of us (not all of parenthood is nonsense, of course, but shuttling people to birthday parties and bringing snacks and all that – you know what I mean, the nonsense part, the part that isn’t what you were thinking about when you thought to yourself “I should have some kids”), but the kind of busy that sort of smacks the wind out of your gut and can leave you paralyzed at your desk wondering how, how on god’s green earth, you can possibly get everything done. Sometimes that sense hits for a few hours, other times it comes in horrifying weeks-long recurring waves. What do we call that when we’re always “busy”?

So I don’t know what to say except I’ve been quite occupied. Of course, much of that occupation has been of my own creation (I am such a hard-ass boss!) and I even enjoy the bulk of the actual work, but if anyone else wants to drive my son to a “Pump It Up” birthday party on Friday night, I wouldn’t complain one bit.

Some of the flurry has been recipe work for others, so I can’t post about that. And the bustle and focus on writing work (which I love!) has meant meals haven’t been all that fascinating around here lately. A new-to-me version of tuna pasta has made several appearances, but an accurate picture of that looks like a dog threw up on your plate. I could style it all pretty, carefully placing tuna and herbs on the tangle of noodles so as not to overwhelm them, but that isn’t going to taste very good and it also won’t be what you end up with if you follow my suggestions below. What you will end up with, however, are empty plates, so I feel my journalistic integrity, or at least my claim to be writing non-fiction, is intact when I try and tempt you with the picture above.

Spaghetti with tuna pepper and lemon

This dish was made at the suggestion of a friend when we needed to eat lunch. These things were all hanging around the kitchen. I’ve since made it three times in the last ten days because it is easy, delicious, fast, and I usually have the ingredients hanging around my house. I try to eat more sardines and less tuna, but the intensity of my work schedule lately has brought out cravings for the deeply familiar. Things from childhood: tuna, peanut butter, apples, carrots, cottage cheese. Sardines would work beautifully in this dish, and are a much better choice in terms of keeping the ocean functioning for a few extra years. If you use tuna, you might want to do as I do and shell out the extra money for hook-and-line caught pacific albacore tuna (here are a few brands I like). I also have been known to make a delicious tuna tomato pasta or a tuna olive and caper pasta. This sardine pasta can really fit the similar bill, too.

Put a pot of water on to boil. While that’s heating up mince a few cloves of garlic, finely chop 4-8 green onions, and mince about a cup (less is fine) of whatever fresh herbs you can scrounge up — I particularly like a mix of flat-leaf parsley, mint, and basil in this dish.

At this point there are two ways to proceed: the faster way or the fewer dishes way.

Faster way: Put a large frying pan over high heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, swirl to coat the pan, and add the garlic and a few red pepper flakes or a dried chile or two if you want some heat. Let that sizzle for a few seconds and add the green onion. Cook, stirring, until the onion is softened. Add about 1/2 cup white wine, if you like, and a can of tuna, including the juices in the can. Break up the tuna and cook, stirring a bit and perhaps reducing the heat to keep things cooking but not flailing around wildly in there, until the wine is reduced by at least a half, about three minutes.

During all this, when the water starts boiling, add enough salt to make it taste as salty as ocean water and  1/2 pound of spaghetti (this sauce, with a bit more olive oil, could stretch to cover a full pound, but I might consider adding more tuna at that point). Note that this sauce works very well with whole wheat pasta. Cook until almost tender to the bite, when it needs just another minute to cook, remove a cup of the cooking water, and drain the noodles.

Grate some lemon zest over the sauce mixture – about half a lemon’s worth. Add the herbs and at least 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (I’ve been known to add more, but I have a thing for black pepper) and stir everything together. Add the reserved cooking liquid, stir to combine, and dump in the pasta. Use tongs or two forks to help combine everything. Cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the pasta is al dente. Squeeze a tablespoon or so of fresh lemon juice over the whole mess, toss again, taste, and add more salt, pepper, or lemon juice as you see fit. This makes three or four reasonable servings or two “I cranked out the pages this morning and my brain needs carbs” starving-writer servings.

The fewer dishes way: Prep everything while the pasta cooks, but wait to cook the sauce in the pasta-boiling pot after you’ve drained the noodles.