When Life Gets Busy, Gather This Pasta Dish With Staples From Your Pantry | arts and culture

Being a teacher in May and June is like being on a hamster wheel. From the minute we get back from April Break, it’s a sprint until the end, with AP exams, prom, senior seniors, field trips, graduation, finals and so many other end of school events. I should know by now how hectic it gets, but it still takes me a bit by surprise, and sometimes it gets difficult to organize meals like I normally like to.

This ramen stir-fry recipe is so flexible that you don't need to have the exact ingredients to make it.

This dish was a favorite of my parents because it could easily be combined with ingredients from the pantry. With their busy lives and tiny apartment kitchens in NYC, this recipe allowed them to whip up a great home-cooked meal without much thought. Although I normally enjoy meal planning and cooking, I appreciate opening the cupboard and always having the ingredients close at hand. A can of tuna, a can of white beans (cannellini), lemon and pasta is all you need.

For the tuna, it’s great if you can use an imported Italian tuna packed in olive oil. (I’ve seen them both in cans and in small jars.) But otherwise, drain any can of tuna and use a few tablespoons of olive oil.

For lemon, I like to use zest and juice. And if you’re missing the lemon, a dash of red wine vinegar will brighten up the flavors. I like to add capers because I always keep a big jar of them in the fridge, but they aren’t necessary.

I tend to forget how much I love this recipe, and my husband never believes canned tuna over pasta is going to be good, then remarks with great surprise how tasty it is!


For 2 generously, can be doubled


1 lemon

1 can tuna, drained if not in olive oil (5-7 ounces, Italian wrapped in olive oil preferred, but not necessary)

Olive oil, if needed

1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (14-15 ounces)

1-2 tbsp capers (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces pasta (any shape or strand)

Grated parmesan (optional – Italians never put cheese on anything with fish!)


Bring a pot of water to boil.

Using a vegetable peeler, remove 4 to 5 strips of lemon zest about 2 inches in length each. Chop the zest into small pieces. (I don’t like to use a zester or grater for this because the little pieces of zest could burn easily.)

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. If using regular tuna in water, heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil until shimmering and fragrant. If you have Italian tuna wrapped in olive oil, once the pan is hot, pour the entire can into the pan, including the oil. Sauté for a minute or two, stirring occasionally. Add the lemon zest pieces, cannellini beans, capers, if using, and a few peppercorns. Once everything is hot, squeeze 1-2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice into the pan.

Meanwhile, add salt to boiling water, then add pasta and cook according to package directions. If the tuna and beans start to stick or brown in the pan, lower the heat until the pasta is cooked.

When the pasta is cooked, reserve a small amount of cooking water in case you need it. Reduce the heat to medium under the sauté pan with the tuna and beans, and move the pan of pasta right next to the sauté pan. Remove the pasta directly from the water in the sauté pan, using tongs for a pasta wire, or a spider or colander for a shape. It is important that a little water sticks to the pasta as this helps to keep the sauce moist. Gently mix the pasta, tuna and beans in the skillet. If it seems too dry, you can sprinkle a little of the reserved pasta water or add a drizzle of olive oil, toss again and serve (with Parmesan, if desired).