Rachael Ray Shares Her Favorite Pantry Dinner, and You'll Want to Make It on Repeat

Rachael Ray loves keeping it simple, and this dinner proves it.

a photo of Rachael Ray
Photo: Bonnie Biess/Getty Images

With her talk show coming to an end, Rachael Ray may be taking a hiatus from your television screen, but don't worry: she won't be leaving the food space anytime soon.

Her recent partnership with Genova Premium Tuna is a no-brainer, knowing the cook's background and her love for simple, easy ingredients. Her Genova Yellowfin Tuna and Roasted Baby Artichoke Pasta looks heavenly, and she told EatingWell all about it in this exclusive interview.

We caught up with Ray to talk about all things tuna—from her favorite pantry dinner to her go-to tuna salad—as well as pantry organizing tips and things to keep in mind before hosting outdoors.

EatingWell: What's your favorite pantry dinner to make with canned tuna?

Ray: My grandfather, who was from Sicily, he was my primary caretaker when I was a little girl. My mom worked in restaurants and didn't trust me with a bunch of strangers, so my grandpa was always with me in the kitchen. We always had Italian tuna in good olive oil, sardines and lots of anchovies. And this was a staple of my diet from the time I learned how to chew, so it's always been a part of my pantry as a grown adult. Over the years, between the Food Network and the daytime show, [canned fish] is an ingredient I keep trying to use because it's largely misunderstood by people. When I use a great quality seafood product, like Genova Premium Tuna, I make sure to cook it over moderate heat. The tender, wild-caught tuna is already cooked and easy to add to any recipe, so I want to make sure I can warm it up and not overcook it, so it retains its delicious flavor.

With Genova Yellowfin Tuna, the Lemon Spaghetti with Roasted Baby Artichokes is a family favorite. In the winter, you can make it with artichokes in water. It has protein, tons of flavor and herbs, and it's so easy. I teach people no-fail [recipes]. I think it's very important to have a pantry that is versatile for every season.

EatingWell: What's your favorite way to make tuna salad?

Ray: I never make a classic recipe. Here, in America, it's all mayonnaise-based, and I usually only dress tuna with lemon juice and olive oil so you can taste the product. And even tuna that is packed in olive oil, you need to add more. When you put the tuna on the dish, you need to dress the salad that's underneath it or the tomato that's underneath it, and add more olive oil to enhance that flavor.

If we're having cold tuna, we'll have that escarole, fennel, celery, really super-fresh salad base, and the tuna just lays over the top with an extra squish of lemon at the end. But I rarely make the same thing twice. I cook with fresh seasonal ingredients, so it depends on what's my mood that day and what's in the pantry. I love tuna in white bean salad … it really depends on whatever my mood is.

EatingWell: Do you have any tips for organizing canned goods and other staples in your pantry at home?

Ray: Everyone should build a pantry, not just in their pantry, but also in their fridge and on their counter. Never put a tomato in the refrigerator—it's like a "chamber of death"—keep it on the counter. Always trim your basil and keep it like fresh flowers on your counter underneath a big bonnet. Always keep carrots, celery, garlic on hand, and all of your staples. Your freezer should have ground meats, your favorite proteins that you like for fresh meats. Your fridge should always have a rotation for fresh herbs. Your pantry should be built around what you like to eat the most. For me, I have tons of olive oil, I have lots of tomatoes, I have every kind of bean product, so build it about what you love and what you will use.

EatingWell: As the weather warms up, many of us are looking to start hosting outside again, but it can be a bit daunting. Do you have any tips for those looking to host an enjoyable outdoor dinner for their family and friends?

Ray: If you're going to go al fresco, you need to check on the weather and have a Plan B. If it's an event you're planning far out, make sure you think about if the weather turns bad, if you can afford to tent this place or cover it in some way before the guests come. The reason we eat outside is to include the landscape in the experience of the meal, it's sort of like performance art. So you want to think about the season, the better shot you have of it being a nice day, the better shot you have of it being a nice meal. The tablescape should be of different heights, and it doesn't have to be a lot of things—this is coming from a girl who cooks for 25 people and cooks 20 dishes, so I don't take my own advice very well. On the table, you need at least three elevations: an antipasti—whether vegetarian or a pile of meats and cheeses—your entree and your dessert.

Mixing herbs in when you're eating outdoors is nice, too. The more of nature you can bring in, and the more of your backyard or the more flavor you can bring to someone's nose, not to someone's mouth. The scene is set with fragrance first, so you build that up, too. It's about marrying those two worlds, knowing that you're outside and having it enhance what you're eating.

Up next: Rachael Ray Celebrated the 15th Anniversary of Her Favorite Pot of All Time—Here's Where to Get Your Own

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