Grilled fresh tuna fillet served on a bed of pasta and salsa
Fresh tuna is a whole different ball game from canned tuna. In fact, if you had never tried either and were to try fresh tuna grilled to medium perfection and canned tuna one after the other, it is extremely unlikely that you would think you were eating the same base product. The availability (and the price!) of fresh tuna will vary hugely depending upon where you are in the world for probably fairly obvious reasons but if you have never tried it and get the opportunity, please do give it a go. Note that while tuna can be cooked a little bit more than you will see it cooked in this recipe, it is vital that it do remain that little bit underdone in the center if it is not to dry out and become pretty unpalatable.
Fresh tuna loin fillet
Ingredients (Serves One)
- 1 small to medium ripe tomato
- 2 inch piece of English cucumber
- 1 medium garlic clove
- 2 teaspoons (approximately) extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
- 1 coffee mug of dried conchigli pasta shells*
- 6 ounce tuna loin fillet (should be just over an inch thick)
- Sunflower or rapeseed oil
- Torn baby basil leaves to garnish
*You can of course use whichever quantity of pasta you wish but I have found that filling my (clean!) coffee mug with the shells gives me the exact quantity to generally suit my appetite. Experimentation in this way to find a measuring tool that suits you does pay dividends.
Seeding tomato and cucumber
The simple salsa could of course be prepared while your pasta is cooking, especially where time is short, but I prefer to prepare it in the first instance to give the flavors time to better infuse. It could even be prepared the night before and refrigerated.
Cut the tomato in half and the cucumber in half lengthways. Use a teaspoon to scrape out the seeds/pulp and discard. Slice and chop to a moderately fine dice and add to a glass or stone bowl. Peel the garlic clove and grate it in to the bowl with a small hand grater. Pour in the extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until required.
Combining salsa ingredients
Should I Add Olive Oil to the Water When Cooking Pasta?
The short answer to this question is no - it's completely unnecessary - and represents only a complete waste of good (and often expensive olive oil). The argument, however, rages on so it's more than worth taking a brief look at the practicalities and scientific facts of the apparent conundrum.
Like so many other people, I used to add olive oil to the water when I was cooking pasta as I had seen it recommended on TV. I never initially stopped to consider the physics of the procedure until one day I noticed the olive oil simply floating on top of the pasta cooking water, redundant in the cooking process. I then remembered the simple fact that oil is less dense than water so will always quickly rise to the top, even when the combination is thoroughly stirred. Ergo, another means had to be found to stop the pasta sticking as it cooks.
How Can I Stop Pasta Sticking Together While it Cooks?
A little bit of research allowed me to discover that it is the starch escaping from the pasta in to the water as it cooks which causes the pasta to stick together. The simple way of avoiding this happening is to add plenty of water to the pot - much more than you may think would be required - to dilute the starch to an extent where it can't cause the pasta to stick together. Try it - it works!
Cooking conchiglie pasta
As well as making sure there is plenty of water in the pasta cooking pot, the water should also be fairly heavily salted. One guideline often touted is that the water should be as salty as the Mediterannean Sea which surrounds most of Italy. The pot of salted water should be put on to a high heat until it reaches a rolling boil. At this stage, the pasta should be added and the water maintained at a moderate simmer for eight to ten minutes.
Cooking the Tuna Loin Fillet
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While you could of course cook the tuna loin fillet in an ordinary frying pan or skillet, a heavy duty, ribbed bottom grill pan like this one not only cooks the fillet more quickly, it makes for far greater presentation on the plate, just as though it had been grilled or barbecued outdoors. These grill pans are incredibly robust, suited to cooking a wide variety of meats and vegetables and where cared for properly, easily capable of lasting a lifetime. It should always be remembered, however, that they are used at an incredibly high temperature and take a considerable amount of time to cool down afterwards.
Starting to grill oiled tuna fillet
When the pasta is simmering, the grill pan should be put on to a very high heat to heat up. This will take several minutes as it should be quite literally smoking hot. The tuna fillet should be oiled all over with such as sunflower or rapeseed oil (never olive oil as it has too low a smoking point). A small pastry brush is ideal for this job and be sure not to forget the sides. Season the tuna on both sides with a little salt and pepper.
When the pan is fully heated, carefully lay in the tuna fillet and cook for an initial three minutes.
Frying the tuna fillet on second side
Turn the tuna fillet with metal cooking tongs and cook for three minutes on the second side. Using the cooking tongs (you may wish to protect your hand with an oven glove), carefully hold the tuna on its edges to just seal around the circumference. Lift to a heated plate, cover with foil and allow to rest for a couple of minutes. Be sure to leave the grill pan alone for at least half an hour to cool down.
Salsa is added to drained pasta
Drain the pasta well at your sink through a colander and return it to the empty pot. Add the salsa and stir to combine with a wooden spoon.
Salsa and pasta bed for tuna
Spoon the pasta and salsa combination in to a deep serving plate and arrange in the form of a bed for the tuna.
Tuna fillet is laid on pasta and salsa bed
Lift the tuna fillet on to the pasta and salsa bed and garnish with the freshly chopped/sliced basil leaves.
Seared tuna fillet enjoyed at its very best