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Tuna, Shells, and Peas

Tuna, Shells, and Peas

In the summer, the last thing anybody wants is a hot meal that takes a long time in a hot kitchen to prepare. One the favourite estival eats at Fourmilab for decades has been this dish called “Tuna, Shells, and Peas“ (although onions are just as significant and important an ingredient), which you can make in around 15 minutes and, once made, will keep for days in the refrigerator. It then will take less than a minute to dump a serving into a bowl, season to taste, and enjoy. Further, the ingredients are not perishable and will keep for months, ready to use whenever you want to indulge in this tasty comfort food.

Tuna, Shells, and Peas: ingredients

Assemble the ingredients. The quantities given make around five generously-sized servings.

I normally use small shell macaroni, but feel free to substitute any kind of pasta you prefer. When using other pasta, keep the weight constant, as the density of pasta varies with the shape and volume will differ.

Fill a pot with around three times the volume of the pasta you're cooking, or three litres for the quantity given above, add around one teaspoon of salt to flavour the pasta, and bring the water to a boil. Add the pasta to the boiling water carefully, stir to keep the bits from sticking together, start the timer for the cooking time recommended on the pasta package (9 minutes for the shell pasta shown), stir occasionally, and when the water resumes boiling reduce the heat until it's just boiling (adding heat beyond that point only wastes heat and steams up your kitchen—it doesn't make the pasta cook any quicker).

Cooking pasta and ingredients Ingredients ready to mix

While the pasta is cooking, peel and chop the onions into small pieces and open and drain the canned tuna fish. You can remove the frozen peas from the freezer right before cooking the pasta: they will be thawed “just like magic” when you mix them with the freshly-cooked pasta.

When the timer goes off, turn off the stove, remove the pasta from the heat, and drain in a colander. Do not rinse the pasta, but jostle it in the colander to encourage any water trapped in it to drain. Dump the pasta into a salad bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients.

Cooking pasta and ingredients Ingredients ready to mix

Add the frozen peas, tuna, and chopped onions to the cooked pasta. The peas may be frozen into large chunks: push them down into the pasta so they'll warm up and thaw. After a few minutes to let the warm pasta thaw the peas, mix everything together, encouraging still-frozen chunks of peas to separate with pokes from a spatula. Do not add mayonnaise, salt or pepper at this point. Prepared this way, the dish will keep in the refrigerator for days, ready to serve in an instant.

Tuna shells and peas: ready to serve

Ladle servings out into bowls and invite each diner to add mayonnaise, salt, and ground pepper to their own taste preference, mix everything together, and dig in.

If you have leftovers, pack into refrigerator boxes (I prefer serving-sized boxes that can be used individually when desired) and keep in the frigo. You can serve by simply dumping the box (or as much of it as you fancy) into a bowl, adding mayonnaise, salt, and pepper at the table.

Bon appetit!

Alternatives and Experiments

I like this stuff so much just as I've described it here that I rarely vary the recipe except if I'm out of one of the ingredients. If you're inclined to experiment, here are a few things to try. First of all, you can use any other kind of pasta you wish, substituting the same weight. It's best to choose pasta with bite-size pieces rather than the long, stringy sorts.

For a different fishy flavour, substitute canned salmon for the tuna. Note that for tinned salmon “boneless” on the label generally means “a limited number of small bones that probably won't vex most people”. If they bother you, flake out the meat and remove the obvious bones before adding the meat to the mix.

Replacing the yellow onions with mild red onions or diced green onions (scallions) will give a different flavour and texture. I'm not a fan of the stuff myself, but adding a bit of chopped celery will add crunch to the dish.

by John Walker
April, 2022