Summer's a good time to become acquainted with fresh tuna

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The freshest tastes of summer include wonderful vegetables we find in farmer's markets, roadside stands, and our own gardens. And they go especially well with light, fresh fish.

Fresh tuna is one fish more people are choosing these days (in part, perhaps, because of its popularity as a raw fish served in Japanese restaurants as sushi and sashimi). It has been appearing in supermarkets and fish markets recently, and summer is a good time for home cooks to become acquainted with this excellent fish.

Canned tuna has long been familiar, often much too familiar, to most Americans, in sandwiches and salads. And every family has had its favorite tuna casserole to help stretch the household food budget.

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But fresh tuna is a different thing. Greek, Italian, and Portuguese cooks have long been aware of it. The Japanese appreciate it raw, pickled, and in other ways.

It's a versatile fish that can be cooked in almost any way that swordfish is cooked.

There are many kinds of tuna. When fresh, the bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is dark red and meaty and is available on the East Coast now through September.

It can be grilled over charcoal, stewed, braised, pan-fried, or saut'eed. It is often marinated in lemon juice and oil before broiling or grilling.

Until recently, most white tuna, or Pacific albacore, was canned, but because of the closing of many West Coast canneries, fresh and frozen albacore is becoming more available.

The lightest and mildest of the tunas, it is firm-textured and is packaged in loin cuts or steaks. Albacore should not be overcooked and should be removed from heat while there is still a pink core in the center of the fish, since it continues to cook after being removed from the heat.

The guideline is to cook 8 minutes per inch of fish measured at the thickest point.

More albacore is eaten than any other kind of tuna. The Japanese love it raw and describe its taste as something halfway between cold raw beef and shellfish.

There is also a yellowfin tuna and one called horse mackerel (letterato in Italy), with flesh that is sometimes compared to veal and is preferred in the Mediterranean. The skipjack, also called ocean bonito, is often confused with California bonito. It is the smallest of the main tuna, with darker flesh than the yellowfin and tender meat. It is prized in Hawaii, where it is called aku. Alice Waters' Tuna With Olives, Lemon, Capers, & Tagliatelle 1/2 pound tuna filet 1 small lemon 2 cloves garlic 2 dozen Ni,coise olives Several sprigs fresh parsley 1 tablespoon capers 1/2 cup virgin olive oil Salt and pepper Taglietelle for two

Slice fresh tuna into small pieces about 1/4-inch thick. Slice ends from lemon and cut down the sides, removing peel and all white pith. Slice into rounds, then cut rounds into quarters.

Peel and chop garlic cloves. Pit olives and chop coarsely. Finely chop parsley leaves.

Rinse capers thoroughly under running water to remove the taste of brine.

Saut'e tuna in hot olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and add garlic, lemon, olives, and capers. Reduce heat. Fish will cook quickly, about 2 minutes in all; watch carefully that it doesn't overcook or it will be dry.

While tuna is cooking, cook the pasta, then add with parsley to tuna and toss all together well. Taste for salt and serve garnished with black pepper.

Variation: Substitute salmon for tuna or try it with smoked chicken. Do not cook the smoked chicken; add it with the pasta to the warm olive oil and garlic, lemon, olives, and capers.

Phyllis Hanes is the Monitor's food editor.

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