A Sunny Shade of Pasta

A dazzling pasta that's as simple as it gets.

Whenever someone asks me what my favorite cookbooks are, they’re invariably taken aback when I answer.

Among my most adored cookbooks are the ones by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Yes, the chic four-star, classically trained Alsatian chef with a fondness for cooking in Prada loafers, who boasts a mega empire of restaurants around the world, including the swank Jean Georges in New York.

Yes, him.

I know you’re thinking precious dishes that take four pages to explain, days to complete, special equipment, and untold trips to many markets for esoteric ingredients.

But his recipes aren’t that at all.

Indeed, I’ve probably cooked more than a dozen recipes from his “Jean-Georges Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef” (Broadway) and his “Simple to Spectacular” (Broadway) books, and been won over by all of them. Surprisingly, from a chef of this caliber, the recipes are not overly complex. In fact, many of them are downright simple and thoroughly straightforward. Often, there also are inspiring flavor taste combinations, too, from this man who was nicknamed “the palate” at a young age for his uncanny ability to discern flavors.

His “Pasta with Saffron Oil” is emblematic of all of that. The recipe from “Simple to Spectacular” is indeed simple and spectacular.

It’s literally just pasta tossed with olive oil that’s been infused with saffron. But how beautifully they go together. The saffron turns the noodles a sunny shade of warm, orange-tinged gold, and lends a distinctive earthy, exotic flair.

I first served this pasta as a side dish, adding slices of piquillo peppers to give it a little more heft.

Pricey, imported tuna in olive oil.

The next time I made it, I not only added the piquillo peppers, but also some Spanish Italian tuna packed in oil to make the dish substantial enough for a main course.

I had picked up a jar of Consorcio Bonito del Norte, considered the “Caviar of Tuna,” at Corti Brothers Market in Sacramento while visiting my in-laws. According to Corti Brothers, this brand was founded in 1950 and is considered the premier tuna in a tin.

It’s definitely pricey. I was afraid to even touch the $101 large jar sitting on the shelf, so I opted for the more affordable $14 jar (8.11 ounces).

The "caviar of tunas.''

The tuna is very meaty and very, well, tuna-y tasting. There’s a deep flavor here that you don’t readily find in your average supermarket brand. I’m not sure I’d pay $14 for it regularly. But it was a treat to try at least once.

A quarter teaspoon of saffron threads is combined with a tiny amount of hot water to soften them. Olive oil is added next, and heated just until it bubbles.

Cook your linguini or spaghetti, drain, then stir in the saffron oil. Add piquillo peppers and tuna, if you like. Garnish with chopped parsley.

That’s it.

That’s a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe with my two humble additions.

One luscious forkful will have you singing the praises of Vongerichten’s cookbooks, too.

Pasta with Saffron Oil

(serves 3 to 4)

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound linguini or other pasta

10.4-ounce jar of piquillo peppers

1 (approximately 8.11 ounce) jar of tuna packed in oil

Minced parsley for garnish

Combine saffron with 1 tablespoon hot water in a small saucepan and let sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.

Add olive oil to the saffron-water mixture and warm over very low heat; when the mixture begins to bubble, turn off heat. (At this point, you can let the mixture sit for 2 to 3 hours, or even overnight, rewarm before serving. The oil does seem to get a more vibrant hue the longer you allow it to infuse, too.)

Cook pasta until tender but not mushy. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss drained pasta with the saffron olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in piquillo peppers and tuna. If pasta seems too dry, add a little of the reserved pasta water, and stir. Garnish pasta with parsley, and serve.

Adapted from a recipe from “Simple to Spectacular”

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  • This dish sounds lovely and I love the combination of flavors including the siting of my beloved piquillo peppers.

    I got a chuckle out of thee fact that you mentioned JGV likes to cook in Prada loafers. We were at a Czech restaurant in Sonoma called Vladimir’s where the chef cooked in riding boots. When though that was part of the lore of the restaurant until he wandered into the dining room.

  • OMG, I adore Jean Georges! His are literally the only recipes I actually followed! Last spring & summer I went through a huge Jean Georges stage and cooked most of the recipes in the Cooking at Home with the Four Star Chef and his Asian Flavors. After that we were fortunate to have dinner at his signature restaurant too!

  • What a sunny dish! I love that delightful combination!



  • Yum! This looks simple enough to make for an easy dinner, but so beautiful! Thanks for highlighting this cookbook and recipe.

  • Natasha: Wow!! I am so envious you ate at Jean Georges. I got a chance to interview him a few years ago when he was doing a cooking class in the Bay Area. It’s amazing how simple his food can be in terms of preparation, and yet how bold and creative the flavors are. How do you like his “Asian Flavors” book? I don’t have that one yet, and am toying with getting it.

    OysterCulture: Wearing riding boots while cooking, huh? That WOULD be pretty comfy, I’m sure. And stylish!

  • This dish sounds and looks great! And it’s so much fun to splurge on some “extravagant” ingredients once in a while… 🙂

  • “Spanish Italian Tuna”?

    But speaking of expensive tuna, some time ago, I saw Alton Brown singing the praises of “Ventresca” tuna. I have some (it was something like 8 or 10 bucks a can!), just haven’t used it yet. Now, I am inspired.

    While poking around the web, trying to find that name, I stumbled on a site which reports on taste test of pricey tunas. Interesting:


  • I’m melting like the cheeseee with this pasta with Tuna and saffron!
    Like the recipe, simply spectacular 🙂



  • Yep, I do tuna (but prefer water-packed), and love to see olive oil in these recipes. Good job.
    The Writing Gourmet

  • Wow, this is so pretty and certainly sounds easy. I love the yellow shade saffron gives to any dish.

  • This sounds just about perfect! I have a pasta that I make that is very similar, but with salmon instead of tuna. Of course, I am such a fan of that expensive tuna packed in oil in jars. Something about it is just so incredible.

    I’ve never actually tried cooking from Jean Georges books yet, but I once came very close to actually trying some of his food. For a couple years, I was good friends with this guy I met in DC who was also a blogger. After I moved up to NY he came to visit his sister and brother in law who live in the city. He invited me over to their apartment for dinner one night, but I was sleepy so I skipped it at the last minute (sending apologies,of course).

    A few weeks later I found out that his brother in law is none other than Jean Georges! I have been kicking myself for skipping that dinner ever since!

  • Moe: Thanks for the link to the informative review of canned tunas. I’ve tried a few of those brands, but not all of them yet.

    Alejandra: Oh my gawd!! Oh my gawd!! I feel for you on that one. Maybe they’ll extend a rain-check on that invitation? Wow, I sure hope so! And if you do get invited back, please take me with you! Hah!

  • $100 for a jar of tuna??? It better be really good!

  • I love the strong flavors and bright colors in this pasta. It looks like a great recipe to make even in the middle of a busy week!

  • this definitely looks simple but spectacular. i love saffron so this will such a great recipe to try and i’m def bookmarking this page so i can remember tht cookbook of his to have a look at on amazon 🙂 a potential birthday request for myself i reckon? 😀 xx

  • I grew up eating tuna packed in water since I was a kid. Just a few months ago I tried tuna packed in oil – and loved it! Sometimes when I don’t have time to cook I just eat it simply over steamed rice. I’ll have to try the gourmet version you picked up.

  • This sounds excellent! The tuna and piquillos are perfect with the saffron oil. Can’t wait to try this with some good, oil-packed tuna.

  • I love any recipe that is simple and who doesn’t love spectacular! Will have to add that to my wishlist… I will also look for that tuna, sounds delicious, but at that price I won’t share with my kitties.

  • Diva: Birthday presents given to yourself are among the best kind of all.
    Don’t forget that if you order the cookbook through Amazon by clicking on my hyperlink on the book title in this post, you help support this semi-employed Food Gal, too. Thanks in advance. 😉

  • I was just wondering what I’d do with the jar of piquillo peppers that has been sitting on the shelf. I’ve seen several versions of them stuffed with seafood but this pasta sounds even better!

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  • Seems like 1/3 cup saffron oil and undrained oil packed tuna would make the dish greasy. Do you infuse the olive oil from the tuna with saffron or do you drain and discard the oil from the tuna? My pets love it when I drain and discard the oil, but with expensive tuna, I hate to waste the flavor in the oil.

  • Victoria: I drained my tuna before adding it into the pasta, but kept about 2 tablespoons of the oil from the tuna to mix, as well, to give it that extra tuna flavor. But feel free to add as much or as little of the tuna oil as you like.

  • This is my first foray into Food Gal. I keep reading a lot about saffron. It’s pretty expensive. And all it really does is to add color, not taste. My sister was in Maine in August, and bought me 1 g for $7.95. It was a gift for taking care of her little Chihuahua. Well, he IS cute and cuddly, so it was fondly received. In the ’70’s I was in San Diego and the shop owner kept his saffron in the cash register! I’ve found since that Turmeric does the trick at a lesser price. I can get 56 g for 2.29 at the grocery store. I use it in boiled rice; about a little finger’s knuckle full for 1 cup raw rice. I save my saffron for Tandoori Chicken. Just thought you should know.

  • Just fell on your site while searching for “saffron oil” and was shocked to see the price you paid for that bonito. In Spain that jar costs about 10 EUR, and it is not bad but not really among the best ones you can buy, neither…

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