Sunday, November 8, 2009

fine italian food in ghana?

when i was living in ghana we would often take weekend trips to this amazing little beach about forty minutes outside of accra, called kokrobite. at this beach there was this amazing guest house run by a british woman and her ghanaian husband called big milly's backyard. it is the standard to which i have held all guest houses in foreign countries at which i have stayed. you had your choice of accommodations from free standing cottages, to rooms in a block, to spaces to lay your sleeping bag and a trunk to lock your stuff in. all bathrooms were shared, there was no running water, and unpredictable electricity. everything was situated around a open-air bar and the ocean was only yards away. everything you ate and drank was put on a tab, so you had to be careful not to have too good of a time or you may not have enough money come pay time. they cooked three meals a day there and you elected to partake in each of the meals. since there was very few other options in kokrobite at that time, most meals were eaten at big milly's, with a giant star beer to wash down the super fresh fish, and lots of young foreigners to trade travel stories with.

there was one other dinner option. an italian man named franco had decided to ride his motorcycle through west africa. when he landed at kokrobite he decided to stay and open and italian restaurant. he was just opening it the year i was living in ghana and each meal i ate there was progressively more refined. he set up a small kitchen hut and built tables under palm frond umbrellas. the first couple times i ate there he was both cook and waiter. but as both big milly's and his place became more popular he hired kids from the village to work with him.
my favorite dish was spaghetti al tonno. a simple dish of onions, garlic, tomatoes and tuna, it was just so delicious. franco used the locally canned starkist tuna in oil as a substitute for italian tuna in olive oil. the ghanaian version is heavy and fishy and gave the dish as strong and rich flavor.

i think about this pasta dish and those amazing weekends at kokrobite. through the internet i have been able to see how this small fishing village has grown and attracted more and more tourists. the good news is that there are just not that many tourists in ghana. i crave the taste of that dish and wish for it to take me back to those moments when i was 20 years old and living in such a foreign land as a foreigner.

about a month ago we went to dinner at paciarino and they had spaghetti al tonno on the menu. i ordered immediately thinking i was going to indulge in franco's pasta dish. in no was this rendition bad. the fresh homemade pasta had a great texture and bite and the sauce was tasty. but i could barley taste, see, or feel the tuna in the sauce. i just ended feeling like i had a great marinara sauce. and it left this place in my heart and stomach just aching for the real deal.

so recently, as i was perusing my father-in-law's cookbooks and i found a recipe for spaghetti al tonno in cucina ebraica, flavors of the italian jewish kitchen, i knew i had to make it. the final product this evening was exactly the soul satisfying dish i had been longing for. the hardest part of the whole thing is waiting for the water to boil. so try it out some night soon for an easy and delicious meal.

spaghetti al tonno

1 pound long pasta
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
12 salt-packed anchovies, filleted, rinsed and very finely chopped, or 24 olive oil-packed fillets (about one 3-ounce jar), drained and very finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
6 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 can (6 ounces) olive oil-packed tuna, preferably italian, drained and broken up
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
1 to 2 cups chopped canned plum tomatoes (according to the recipe this is optional but according to my memory totally necessary and i just used one 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes)
grated zest of 1 lemon (again optional in the recipe and i omitted it)
freshly ground black peeper to taste.

bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the pasta, stir well, and cook until al dente.
meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. add the onion and saute until tender and translucent, 5 to 6 minutes. add the anchovies, garlic, and parsley and cook for 1 minute. and the tuna and capers and the tomatoes and lemon zest, and cook until warm, about 2 minutes.
drain the pasta and add to the sauce in the pan. toss well to coat, then stir for a minute or two to flavor the pasta with the sauce. sprinkle with pepper and serve immediately.

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