01 October 2005

Brain food

When I was little, Mum fed me plates of fish claiming they would make my brain "big and strong." I'd always assumed that she made this up, but it turns out she was right.

It was clear that my latest foray into academia, coupled with a full-time job, would stretch my already overtaxed brain cells. So when my search for dietary assistance proved that yes, indeed, fish is brain food, my brain ached just a little less. Omega-three fatty acids' effects on the brain are well documented in a myriad of discussion papers, articles and books.

Yes, I know, most fish that are part of the entire Omega-three mystique are considered fatty -- salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines -- in comparison to something like halibut or cod. I'm not a dietician so I won't even attempt to do the subject of nutrients justice, but since the brain is approximately 60 per cent fat, it only stands to reason that certain fats and oils, taken in appropriate amounts, are beneficial to the upkeep and well-being of the little grey cells.

Much to My Darling Dearest's chagrin, I love fish and seafood. Much to my chagrin, he can't stand anything that grew up in the water or near the water, so I can only enjoy a fishy feast on my own or with one of my other fin-friendly friends.

When I'm on my own, I don't do anything particularly exotic or complicated: steaming a filet with some herbs in parchment, quick and easy fish and chips, even one of the many variants of a sandwich--a burger, pita or a wrap. But I think my preferred dish is a pasta puttanesca with tuna. There's just something about the simplicity of flavours and textures that makes me very happy.

I keep all the ingredients on hand, so it's quick to prepare, and like most pasta sauces, it can easily be used with rice instead of noodles. Don't let the anchovies scare you---they melt into the oil leaving a really deep and rich salty flavour. However if that's the only thing that's putting you off this dish, don't use them, but substitute a tablespoon's worth of dark soy sauce, and add it with the tomatoes and wine. The spicing is to taste, so if the chili pepper is too much for you, just leave it out...then again, if it's too little for you, just add more.

You can put any leftover sauce in an airtight container and refrigerated for a few days; I've also frozen the sauce without problems. I don't promise this tuna dish will make your brain work better, but it will put your hunger pangs to rest.

Puttanesca Sauce with Tuna
Serves two
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced into thinnish rings
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 anchovy fillets, chopped
ground black pepper, to taste

1 small red chili chopped (if you wish, you could deseed it, but then what's the point)
2 t pickled capers, rinsed and drained
8-10 pitted black olives, chopped
420 g (one 14 oz) tin diced tomatoes, (you can drain them if you want)
60 mL red wine (optional)
1 200g tin tuna, drained

Heat the oil in a large frypan over medium heat; add black pepper and the chilli pepper and stir for a minute or two. Stir until the anchovies have melted into the oil.

Then tip in the onion and cook until softened, stirring occasionally; add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Next, add the capers, olives, tomatoes and wine and bring to the boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the tuna and simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes, occasionally stirring. I tend to let it simmer longer because I prefer the flavour of concentrated tomatoes--and I don't like a particularly wet sauce. Give it a taste and decide if it needs additional salt or pepper. Serve over pasta or rice.

as always,


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