Tuna, Chilli and Lemon Pasta. My Comfort Food.

September 16, 2010

As I mentioned in my last post, I am working interstate this week. For the past five days, I have been hanging out in a fairly remote town, north of Canberra. While it is really pleasant, and oozes that typical country town charm, I do miss home. I long for my own bed. I do not enjoy layering heavy blankets and enclosing myself in a woollen jumper cocoon to stay warm at night. And I pine for internet access that doesn’t demand you jump from corner to corner to gain a signal.

I also miss my food…

I like to think that I am fairly flexible, and can make the most out of whatever situation I’m in – from all perspectives, not just in a culinary sense. However, it is getting a little frustrating not being able to make myself a nice bowl of hot porridge in the morning, or take my pick of toast topping from my ever expanding nut butter line-up, or mix up a smoothie in the afternoon.

On my first night here, some take-out noodle soup was fun. But it is now day five, and the novelty has officially worn off. I miss my kitchen. I miss my food. I’m itching to exercise my culinary skills. I want to slice and dice. I need to simmer and stir. I simply must season, sip and slurp.

Now I may seem a little dramatic, and it wouldn’t be the first time 😉 Yet I have only just been asked to return to this friendly little town next week, and so this yearning for home comforts is magnified – especially since it is my birthday next week. I don’t particularly fancy turning 25 whilst having a party for one, singing “happy birthday to me” and blowing out my candles all on my lonesome (aha! my dramatic streak resurfaces…)

This weekend, my aim is to soak up a bit of TLC at home before returning interstate. In all honestly, it is nice working with the people in this town and spending time with some gorgeous elderly lovelies.

The first thing I want to do upon my return tomorrow night, is enter my kitchen and cook. I want to make some hardcore comfort food. I am craving food that makes me feel warm and loved, that leaves me glowing from the inside out. Food that will soothe my soul after a hectic week. Each slice of onion will cut through my concerns. Any worries I may have will be washed away with those obligatory, cutting onion induced tears.

And I know exactly what I want to cook…

I have fond memories of this meal. I created it shortly before Ben and I moved in together. During those 18months living in our first apartment, we would make this dish at least every fortnight. It involves so many of our most beloved ingredients. These days Ben or I will get a craving around once a month, and out it comes again. The sweetness of the onions, combined with the kick of chilli and lemon, along with the meaty tuna chunks and freshness of the spinach. Yum!

Cooking and eating this dish always leaves us feeling contented and cozy. This is our comfort food. I can’t wait for it to work it’s magic on me tomorrow night…

tuna chilli lemon pasta

Tuna, Chilli and Lemon Pasta

Serves two.

220g dried Spaghetti*
185g tin Sirena** Tuna in Oil, drained of half of it’s oil
1 brown onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoons dried chilli flakes***
2 big handfuls spinach, rocket or other easily wilted dark leafy green
2 juicy unwaxed Lemons
1 handful fresh flatleaf Parsley leaves
Sea salt and freshly cracked Black Pepper

* I feel like long, thin strands work best in this dish. it’s to do with the twirling.
** As a rule, I try to use safcol, a more sustainably favourable brand than Sirena, but gosh darnit when I make this dish I treat myself to my favourite (flavour and texture wise) Sirena tuna in oil.
*** Or as much/little as you can tolerate.
**** Meyer lemons are incomparable, grab them if you can.


1. Bring a pot of water to the boil, then salt it generously. Cook your pasta according to packet instructions. Now, depending on how long your pasta takes (some brands take 8 minutes, others 10-15!), time your cooking accordingly. I like to start cooking my onions before the water reaches a boil and ideally have them cooked and resting before adding the pasta.
2. While waiting for the water to boil, heat a non-stick pan over low-medium heat with the olive oil. Add the onion and a generous sprinkle of sea salt and stir (adding the salt will help ensure the onions don’t burn). Cook slowly and gently (turn own the heat as required) until they begin to soften and caramelise (~12 minutes). It can takes a while, but the longer you cook, the better the taste. This is why I like to start this way before adding the pasta, so you don’t rush the onion cooking process. If the pan gets a bit dry, add some of the oil from the tin of tuna or a dash of water.
3. When the onions are cooked, add the pasta to the pot of salted boiling water and cook for the required time until al dente (I always cook mine for a minute or two less than instructed as I like more bite and we cook it further in the pan later on). Be sure to reserve a cup of starchy pasta cooking water before draining.
4. While the pasta is cooking, add the garlic and chilli flakes to the pan and cook for a minute or so until fragrant. Add the tuna (with half of the oil) and turn the heat up to medium, letting it to brown in the oniony, oily mixture for a minute or so. Add the greens and the juice of one lemon (add some lemon zest too, if you’re super into lemon! I am, so I do) and cover with a big lid for a minute or so until the leaves are wilted.
5. Add the cooked, drained pasta to the pan, along with the parsley and a little drizzle of the starchy cooking water (work in 1/4 cups when adding the pasta cooking water to the pan so you don’t add too much and make it soupy). Turn the heat up and use tongs to incorporate everything together, the pasta and the sauce, for about 30 seconds. Taste a pasta strand to ensure it’s not undercooked (but also don’t over cook it!) and add more lemon juice if you wish and season as desired. Serve up from the pan into bowls and enjoy! Add extra chilli flakes, lemon juice and a drizzle of etxra virgin olive oil if you wish.


Heidi xo

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  • Ben September 16, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Mmm… I love this dish!

  • Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella September 17, 2010 at 12:13 am

    This looks great! I really like comfort food in winter but in Summer I do love salads. I know, it's a bit strange liking lettuce isn't it 😛

  • Kath (Eating for Living) September 17, 2010 at 4:00 am

    Chuck Norris, LOL.

    My comfort food: a stir-fry from chicken and winter squash, with lots of fresh parsley on it. 🙂

  • littleaspects September 17, 2010 at 6:34 am

    Aw, it's no fun being away from loved ones on your birthday – I hope you have a nice, relaxing weekend before heading off to the country again.

    That looks like delicious comfort food! Our comfort food is "tomatoey pasta" (funny how pasta is so common as comfort food!). Onions, garlic (4-5 cloves – we're garlic freaks as well!), white wine, fresh local roma tomatoes, all simmered down for an hour or so on the stove. Sometimes we through in some cannelini beans at the last minute, or some grilled zucchini or eggplant or a handful of spinach and maybe top with some crumbled fetta if we have it. Total comfort.

    Had to laugh at you with chilli – I'm on chilli probation too – I tend to overdo it. I'm only allowed to put half of a small chilli in (the ones we have are extremely potent!) unless I scrape out the seeds and membrane (where's the fun un that?!) 🙂

  • Heidi September 17, 2010 at 7:23 am

    Lorraine – not so strange loving lettuce!! Although I think we'll find it is rarely sighted as a comfort food 😉

    Kath – your comfort food sounds delicious, and healthy, yum!

    Yay, Littleaspects – Im so happy I have a chilli probation partner! where is the fun in that indeed 😉 your pasta sounds lush and nourishing mmm. and you're right, pasta is such good comfort food. my favourite carbohydrate 🙂


  • Emma September 17, 2010 at 7:55 am

    Heidi this looks delicious! My comfort food is also a big bowl of tuna pasta – hence why I have eaten it every single day this week since the folks went away! So simple and comforting! Once i've had a few days off over the weekend, (hopefully with some steaks!), i'll definitely try this recipe. Enjoy your weekend! xx

  • Chanel11 September 17, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    It's funny how you end up craving particular dishes, my most common one is a parmesan risotto, but before I was a veggo I did love myself a tuna pasta, the only fish I would eat.

    And I completely understand how you feel, each time I go on a holiday I end up getting cooking-withdrawal, even the simple thing like a bowl of porridge as you said.

  • Leah September 17, 2010 at 3:28 pm

    My comfort food, is either a big bowl of soup, or a Vegetable Peanut Satay stir-fry that I make, or my husband makes killer pancakes!

    I feel for you. I have moved around a few times in the last couple of years, for my husbands work. And every time, hubby and I have to stay somewhere 'strange' like a hotel for a week or so before the big move, I don't like it. It makes me edgy. I miss my kitchen or what will be my kitchen, and dream about what I going to cook as soon as I get home. I even write it all down, shopping list and all. I know, crazy right?

  • Heidi September 18, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Not so crazy, Leah 🙂

  • Anna Johnston September 18, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Hey Heidi. I know what its like to be separated from your kitchen. I love travel, adore it, can't wait till my next trip…. but it can mean limited food options especially if your off the beaten track a bit. My tip for the foodie stuck in un-foodie land is Week 1 – check out all food options for the friendliest. Week 2, start lamenting about home cooked food…, Week 3 nearly always involves an invitation to some great home cooked meal & the local chef letting you 'help' out cooking your meal. Works a treat everytime.

  • Heidi September 19, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Thanks for the brilliant tips, Anna! I may have to work my way into a local kitchen. Maybe invite myself for some tea and cake too 🙂
    Thinking about it, I wonder how I lasted 7months abroad last year!

  • Xiaolu @ 6 Bittersweets September 20, 2010 at 9:04 am

    I have in fact not tried that tuna in oil and realize I need to after seeing this recipe. This looks so delicious and would be a nice change from my usual tuna salad sandwich.

  • Anonymous April 4, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    HI I got a link to your blog from Vogue forums and I love the recipes, easy to follow and practical using the ingedients we often have in the pantry

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    I saw your recent post about this pasta dish so I came over here to make it and WOW. Definitely entering the regular rotation. So simply, economical and delicious! Thanks for such a wonderful recipe 🙂

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      Aw thanks, Gabby! That makes me so happy 🙂 Thanks for letting me know! I’m making it tonight 😉 x

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