Ascoli is a city in the Marche region known for its big green olives. They add a distinctive local flavor to this sauce of tomatoes and canned tuna, a pasta dressing found in many regions of Italy. If you can’t find Ascolane olives, other green Italian olives will do. Do not be afraid to alter some of the other ingredients to make your own version of this tasty sauce. For example, anchovies add complexity, but you could omit them if you choose. And though chopped parsley is fine, a little mint and or a little oregano could go far. Also, do not feel compelled to use the exact pasta shape: I call for ziti here, but fusilli, shells, or mafalde could all add a new dimension to this dish.
- Kosher salt for the pasta water
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- ½ cup green brine-cured Italian olives, such as Ascolane, Castelvetrano, or Cerignola, pitted and chopped 3 anchovy fillets, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
- 3 anchovy fillets, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
- ½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
- 3 cups (one 28-ounce can) canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
- A 6-ounce can tuna in olive oil, preferably imported from Italy
- 1 pound ziti
- ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Recommended equipment: A large pot for cooking the pasta; a heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 12-inch diameter or larger.
Bring a big pot of salted water to the boil. Pour the olive oil into the big skillet, and set it over medium heat. Scatter in the garlic, and cook, stirring, for a minute or so, until sizzling, then add the olives, anchovies, and peperoncino. Cook and stir for a couple of minutes, as the anchovies melt in the oil. Pour in the tomatoes, rinse the can with 1 cup water, and pour that in. Bring the sauce to a bubbling simmer, and let it perk, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Drain the tuna, and break it up into bite-sized chunks. When the sauce has been bubbling a while, stir in the tuna without breaking up the pieces. Simmer the sauce another 5 minutes, or until it is nicely thickened and full of flavor.
Start cooking the ziti (or other pasta) about the same time you add the tuna to the skillet. When the pasta is al dente, lift it from the pot with a spider, let drain briefly, and drop it into the barely simmering sauce. Toss together until the pasta is evenly coated with sauce, sprinkle the chopped parsley (or other herb) all over, and briefly toss again. Serve immediately in warm bowls.