Cinnamon has really been on my mind lately. I know, I know, it's such a common little spice, and most of us know precisely what to do with it. Toss it with sugar on buttered toast or shake it onto a bowl of oatmeal. But listen, it is not what you think. First, I like its ubiquitous quality and I like the idea that we all think we know how to use it. But I've been adding cinnamon to so many unusual dishes lately and with much success. Let's think outside the jar for a minute and talk about new uses for that perfect, accessible spice you've been taking for granted.
Few folks would think of adding cinnamon to their tuna and tomato salad but not me. Cinnamon pairs well with tomatoes and you can feel free to throw a half-stick of it into a tomato sauce when you're feeling clever and strange. (And don't forget to add a whole, peeled carrot to the sauce for added sweetness.) Cinnamon doesn't strike the sauce as you might think but is subtle and smoky. Think of that traditional combination of nutmeg and red meat and tomatoes in a ragu sauce. It's not too far fetched to consider using cinnamon in the same way. Throw a cinnamon stick into your next pot of beef stew and see if you can pick up that wonderful flavor. What else? Cinnamon loves lemon and you could make a smooth lemony, cinnamon sauce and toss with fresh pasta noodles. Think of the Moroccan tagine and find the scent of cinnamon, along with many other aromatic spices, accompanying things like chicken and chickpeas.
Best of all is that cinnamon is considered one of the most healing of spices. It can relieve diarrhea and nausea, counteract congestion and aid circulation. It warms the body and enhances digestion, especially the metabolism of fats, among other uses.
You can see now why I've had cinnamon on the mind. You read a lot about unusual, exotic spices like saffron and cardamom, but we all know cinnamon and have a bit of it on the shelf. It's important now more than ever to take a look at some of the most common foods that sit patiently in your fridge door or in the pantry and consider them in new ways. Start with that jar of cinnamon by adding it to a tomato-based sauce or to a chicken and lemon dish. Here's a recipe get started:
Pasta w/ Tuna and Tomatoes
1 small fennel bulb
1 small red onion
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh thyme leaves (or dried)
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Kosher or sea salt and black pepper
1 pound favorite pasta
1 X 28 oz can chopped tomatoes
2 cans oil-packed tuna
1 lemon (optional)
Refer to notes and variations
Look closely for a sustainable canned tuna at your grocer; it has a massive impact on your health and that of our oceans. Although it’s not in the recipe, I often will add a can of white beans to this dish, to give it even more texture and substance; play around and make it your own.
Put a large pot of water on the boil, and cover. First, chop off the long stalks from 1 small fennel bulb, and set aside. Wash the bulb itself under cool water, then halve it lengthwise on a cutting board. Slice it as thinly as you can, into half-moons, or chop it as you would an onion. Chop 1 small red onion, then put your widest and sturdiest skillet over medium heat on the stovetop. Once it’s hot, add 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and then your fennel and onion. Add 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or ½ teaspoon dried), and a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional), and a good pinch of kosher or sea salt; stir and partially cover.
Is your pasta water ready? If so, add 1 pound favorite pasta, and cook according to the package instructions. Meanwhile, once your onion mixture is tender, add 1 X 28 oz can chopped tomatoes and 2 cans of oil-packed tuna (drained); break up and stir. Add another good pinch of kosher or sea salt and a twist of black pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes, uncovered.
Combine your pasta and sauce together, either in the large skillet (if it will comfortably fit) or back into the empty soup pot. Add the zest and juice of 1 lemon (optional), a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and another pinch of kosher or sea salt and black pepper. Stir gently again, and check for seasoning. (If you did have fennel stalks set aside with fresh fronds on their ends, you can fold in some fronds to your dish too.)
NOTES & VARIATIONS
- In the summer use fresh basil in this dish, rather than or alongside the thyme.
- If you cannot source oil-packed tuna try using the best quality, firmest canned tuna you can find. It will work of course, but won’t give the sauce the richness it has otherwise.
- This can be a tangy sauce/dish, with the amount of tomato and lemon; add as much or little lemon as you and your eaters may appreciate.
- Rather than combining the sauce and pasta, you can serve them separately, especially if you’ve picky eaters at the table!
- Add some shredded Parmesan cheese to each bowl of pasta before serving.