by Janet Kalandranis, http://foodbeautiful.blogspot.com/
I have a friend who eats pasta the same night every week, “pasta Wednesday” as I’ve termed it. I once asked her if it’s simply pasta with jar sauce each week or if there was room for creativity. She assured me that she was currently accepting recommendations.
A bowl of pasta is much more than boiling some water to heat up a quick weeknight dinner. There’s something so comforting about the idea of coming home and easily creating a satisfying dinner to answer a day’s worth of problems. I think back to those late nights when my dad used to reheat some pasta leftovers in a skillet and somehow this created the tastiest dish that I’d remember for weeks.
Over the years my pasta palette has evolved. What started out as an easy childhood meal has grown to a canvas for light, fresh summer meals or bold, warming dinner parties. I love how you can never go wrong with a pasta dish and the feeling of home this kitchen staple delivers.
When figuring out how to shake up pasta Wednesday, the goal was to provide a more luxurious experience; one that tastes gourmet but doesn’t take much more effort than boiling the pasta and warming some jar sauce. Luckily, at this time of year (my favorite!), you can find the sweetest little bundles of flavor in any home grown tomato. It’s funny how during the winter months I forget what a real tomato should taste like and I question whether they really can be that delicious…the answer is yes!
A simple pasta tossed with garlic, tomatoes, and basil topped with feta can showcase summer tomatoes but can also bring winter tomatoes to life. This recipe screams pasta Wednesday – with minimal ingredients (that, like most CGNE members, you likely have on hand at all times) it doesn’t feel out of the workweek rush, but rather slows you down a bit. It’s this middle of the week meal that forces you to sit down, talk, and enjoy the company of others. And the thing that makes it work is the ingredients.
Starting with the tomatoes, if you can pick some from a garden (preferably your own – I don’t want to be responsible for you stealing the neighbors bounty) then that’s the way to go. However if it’s the dead of winter or there are no veggies to pick, simply buy 2 pints of cherry or grape tomatoes. Roasting or sautéing these little guys until they burst concentrates their flavor to remind you exactly why you fell in love with tomatoes.
Olive oil, although a kitchen condiment, deserves more thought than what’s on sale that week. By using extremely flavorful oil you’ll taste a difference in this pasta Wednesday dish. I tend to buy imported olive oil from the Mediterranean, but my advice is to sample and see what you like best. The idea is that this staple should never be bland and never just popped into the cart – this dish will prove that out.
Pasta Wednesday needs to go with the flow, it can’t be stressful and it can’t stop the rest of the week in its tracks. This recipe does just that – if you have other veggies grill them up and toss them in. If you’re looking for a heartier meal, add some grilled steak, ahi tuna, or some chicken from the night before. The idea is to learn the structure of this recipe and then get creative. Maybe add some roasted onions and blue cheese for a rich warm winter dish or swap in some fresh mozzarella or parsley at the first sight of spring. Whatever you choose just remember not to stress…’cause pasta Wednesday is meant to be easy, fun, and a little crazy!
Pasta with Garlic Tomatoes & Feta
- 1 pound linguine or any other long pasta
- 2-5 cloves garlic minced (depending on how much you love garlic)
- 2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes (preferably fresh)*
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 block feta (8 ounces, preferably in brine)
- 1/3 cup GOOD olive oil (imported from Italy or Greece, or a lighter option from California or Oregon)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Bring a large stock pot of salted water to a rolling boil. This doesn’t mean a pinch of salt but a big handful – you’re looking to mimic the ocean and really flavor the pasta. Let’s be honest plain pasta in plain water can be quite boring
- While you wait for the water to come to a boil, place the minced garlic and 1/3 cup of olive oil in a medium skillet (big enough to hold the pasta) over low heat to infuse the oil until you can smell the garlic slightly simmer. You want to be careful not to burn the garlic. As soon as you can smell “garlic” add the cherry or grape tomatoes, a pinch of salt and the same of pepper. At this point you can turn the heat up to medium and stir occasionally. You’re waiting for the tomatoes to burst open – you’ll even hear a noise if you’re paying attention.
- Add the pasta to the now boiling water and cook until al dente (follow package directions for time). Drain pasta, reserving some of the starchy cooking water.
- Turn off the heat on the skillet and add the pasta to the pan and toss – if the pasta is looking sticky feel free to add some starchy pasta water that you reserved. Pour into a large serving bowl, add crumbled feta and the chopped basil. Continue to toss and add any additional pasta water to loosen the dish.
- One quick taste to adjust the seasonings and serve immediately!
*Note: Alternately you can roast the tomatoes in the oven at 400◦F by placing them on a baking sheet with the minced garlic and mixing with 2 Tablespoons olive oil and coating with salt and pepper. Place the baking sheet in the oven for 15-20 minutes until you see the tomatoes deflate and their flavor will be concentrated.