Tuna bolognese is one great twist on the classic meat ragu from the Red City. It is one of the most comforting of pasta sauces and my recipe of the bolognese can be found here. Substituting out the various products of ground veal, pork, chicken liver, and beef for tuna seems like a mortal sin. I feel you because that was my premonition. I was shocked to taste how incredibly deep and with a meaty flavor the tuna bolognese has. This is one interesting and tasty way to cook up a healthier and meat-free version of the bolognese.
Why tuna bolognese?
My curiosity in this combination was sparked by a co-worker. He mentioned traveling to a restaurant in the Boston area that served a tuna bolognese that was mind bottling. I immediately scoffed at the idea, it is sacrilegious. Yet a ticking time bomb was planted and the idea intrigued me.
My parents do not eat meat on Fridays. One weekend while home, I decided to give preparing tuna bolognese its try. I was initially fearful that, even with the high quality sushi-grade tuna, the ragu would finish as either too fishy or too dry. Luckily, it was neither fishy nor dry. A great success. A gorgeously rich ragu, with hints of the sea yet a definitive meatiness similar to that of ground pork and beef. This may keep your guests guessing what exactly they are eating, which is always part of the fun! Here is another great tuna bolognese cooking reference.
Tuna bolognese recipe
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 6+ cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 pounds of sushi-grade tuna steaks, cut into cubes
- 2-3 anchovy fillets
- 1-2 cups of red wine (Italian preferably and good enough to drink)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 can San Marzano whole-peeled tomatoes
- Heavy milk or cream
- 1 pound of tagliatelle or spaghetti
- Parsley for garish
- Tiny, tiny bit of grated nutmeg
- A touch of parmesan (but don’t tell a true motherland Italian, as cheese in seafood dishes is an egregious no-no)
Combine the cubes of beautiful, ruby pink tuna and anchovy filets in a mixer. Quickly blend the two ingredients so that it takes on a mushy, ground-like consistency. In the meantime, saute the onion, celery, and carrots in a large sauce pot with olive oil and butter. When the vegetables are translucent and soft, add the garlic. After a few minutes of letting the garlic sweat and release its oils, proceed to add the ground tuna and anchovy mixture. With a wooden spoon, break up the tuna as it browns in the pan.
We do not want to overcook the life out of the fish. Once it starts changing color from its pinkish red to a duller gray, it is time to add the liquids. Add the red wine with the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes. Allow the tuna to get drunk and happy with the red wine liquid. The tuna will soak up the flavors or the red wine and other aromatics, while the alcoholic bite cooks out. If you like your red sauces a bit more winey, then feel free to cook using more red wine than I.
After 5-15 minutes and when the red wine has reduced anywhere from 25-50%, add the canned tomatoes. Crush the tomatoes by hand so all the juices are released. Pour in the milk or cream, season with salt and pepper, and then allow the tuna pasta sauce to gently simmer for 1 to 1.5 hours.
Upon the right moment, cook your pasta al-dente and then combine the freshly cooked pasta, some pasta water, and the tuna bolognese together in a large sauce pan over a light flame. Give it a taste and season it up properly. Then throw in the parsley, a very small grate of nutmeg, and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese (but be careful not to offend anyone, like here). Eat it while it is off the presses.
It may not have the velvety and uncoutous finish of a proper bolognese with chicken livers and other goodies, but this tuna bolognese packs a wonderful punch with a similar degree of satisfying comfort. It is also healthier for you, but that can be our little secret.