Tinned fish, or conserva as it’s known in Spain and Portugal, is an incredible pantry staple. Maybe it’s the promise in those little cans: “pop me open and be immediately gratified.” Because inside the best tins, you’ll find some of the freshest, most delicious seafood available. And while conserva is great on its own, we love to use it for a quick weeknight pasta that is low on time and high on flexibility.
We enjoy fresh seafood all the time with pasta, but there’s also value in the impromptu pantry pasta. This easy weeknight dinner comes together in one pan, in less than 30 minutes. The addition of conserva takes an already great pasta and makes it that much more delicious.
Really good conserva is caught, cooked, and packaged almost immediately in traditional sauces, oils, vinegars, herbs, and vegetables that enhance its flavor without overpowering it. Mussels in a tangy escabeche sauce? Arguably on par or better than steamed PEI mussels that have been sitting in a freezer for several weeks. Flaky tuna in gleaming golden olive oil? A decadent step up from the water-packed cans we’re all familiar with.
The base of this “recipe” (if you can call something so flexible a recipe) is a mackerel pantry pasta from Bon Appetit. Their recipe suggests high-quality mackerel or tuna packed in oil, but the options are as endless as the sea itself. Plump cockles, cost-effective sardines, chubby chunks of lobster, neatly packed mussels, inky octopus, alabaster razor clams…each tin has the ability to take a pantry pasta from ordinary to extraordinary in seconds. Pair your pasta with a fresh, coastal wine like a Galician Albariño, Sicilian Carricante, or a Provencal Rosé. For more information on conserva and what wines to pair it with, check out our guide.
2 4-oz. cans boneless mackerel in olive oil or other high-quality tinned fish (such as sardines or tuna in olive oil), drained
1 garlic clove, finely grated
1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp. coarsely chopped drained capers (optional)
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
½ tsp. Diamond Crystal or ¼ tsp. Morton kosher salt, plus more
Freshly ground black pepper
12 oz. spaghetti or other long pasta
3 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan (optional)
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Chopped parsley and lemon wedges (optional; for serving)
Place your conserva, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, capers (if using), 3 Tbsp. oil, and ½ tsp. salt in a large heatproof bowl. Season generously with pepper and toss to combine.
Set bowl over a large pot of generously salted water (bottom of bowl should not be touching water) and bring water to a boil. Carefully remove bowl from pot and set aside. (Gently warming the ingredients here allows them to mingle nicely with the hot pasta later.)
Cook pasta in the same pot of boiling water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Using tongs, transfer pasta, along with any water clinging to strands, to bowl with mackerel mixture. Add Parmesan (if using), red pepper flakes, and ¼ cup pasta cooking liquid to bowl and toss pasta with tongs, adding more pasta cooking liquid by the tablespoonful if needed, until cheese is melted and pasta is coated evenly in sauce, about 1 minute.
Divide pasta among bowls. Top with parsley, drizzle some oil over, and season with more pepper. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over if desired.
- This recipe is highly customizable. Just be careful to add your fish at the end so that it doesn’t get tough and chewy! (Heat will do that.)
- Maybe toss the cooked pasta with 2 Tbs of butter, a generous glug of white wine, the liquid from the seafood mixture, and ¼ cup pasta water over a low to medium heat until a silky sauce forms…then remove from heat and add the remaining drained conserva.
- Since this is a pantry pasta, it relies on common pantry items with the exception of fresh parsley and lemon. However you can add pretty much anything you like. Have some fresh arugula in the fridge? Throw it in. Frozen peas? Why not. But still, there’s beauty in the simplicity of lemony seafood and perfectly al dente pasta.
- If you’re using squid in its ink, omit the black pepper and parmesan. But definitely still use red pepper flakes.
- Try swapping butter for oil.