Simple and fast, this cool saffron pasta salad with tuna and herbs is tossed with cubes of mozzarella, carrots, olives, and capers. Very Sicilian. Trust us.
Anyone who thinks Sicilian men don’t cook should meet Giuseppe Scarlata, a native of Trapani who likes to create dishes alla fantasia. This recipe for Insalata di Pasta allo Zafferano con Tonno ed Erbe Aromatiche Fresche—that’s Saffron Pasta Salad with Tuna and Fresh Herbs—is one of them.–Toni Lydecker
Saffron Pasta Salad with Tuna
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- 1 pound paccheri (see LC Note above) or other short pasta, such as penne or rigatoni
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- One 6-to-7-ounce can good-quality tuna in olive oil or tuna poached in olive oil, drained
- 3/4 to 1 cup finely chopped mixed fresh herbs such as basil, flat-leaf parsley, and mint
- 6 to 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cut into small cubes
- 1 medium carrot peeled and cut crosswise into short lengths, then lengthwise into small matchsticks
- 1/4 cup black and/or green Mediterranean olives pitted, slivered
- 1 heaping tablespoon salt-cured capers soaked in water for a few minutes and drained
- Place a large pot of cold water over high heat and bring to a boil; add salt. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
- Reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, drain the pasta and transfer to a serving bowl. Whisk the saffron into the reserved cooking liquid and stir it into the pasta. Drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over the pasta, stirring well, and season with salt. Let the pasta cool, stirring from time to time; the pasta will absorb most of the liquid and take on a saffron tone.
- Flake the tuna into a small bowl. With a fork, mix in the chopped herbs. Add the tuna to the pasta, along with the mozzarella, carrot, olives, and capers. Stir with a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly. Season to taste with more olive oil and salt. Let the pasta salad stand at room temperature for up to an hour, or refrigerate.
What To Substitute For Paccheri?Paccheri, called for in this recipe and shown in the photo above, are extremely large, short pasta tubes, often ridged. In Italian, pacca means “slap,” as in a slap on the back, which you may have to give yourself upon serving up a plate of this striking salad. Or perhaps as in the sound these giant pasta shapes make when you stir them around in the pot. However you want to interpret the name, paccheri are certain to be a conversation starter at your table. That said, if you don’t find paccheri, don’t let that stop you. Simply substitute penne, rigatoni, or any short pasta.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Lately, we’ve been interested in eating more seafood. And my family loves pasta. Since the weather is getting warmer, this saffron pasta salad with tuna seemed about right for dinner.
The recipe: I used rigatoni, which has the same basic shape but is smaller than the pictured pasta. I also used basil for the herbs and a sustainable American brand of tuna (albacore).
What I liked: The flavors are fantastic. I loved the chunks of mozzarella and the directions were very easy to follow.
What I didn’t like: The process of cooking wasn’t hard but waiting and stirring every so often until the pasta was cool enough was a bit of a pain.
Note: I followed the directions by dissolving the saffron in the water before poring over the pasta. However, I was very worried about getting all of the saffron out of the container. So, I scraped the container pretty well to make sure.
Originally published October 07, 2009