Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pasta with Green Olives, Basil, Garlic, and a Surprise

I recently taught a class in Athens on Mediterranean French and Italian cooking. The class organizer at The Rolling Pin named it 'A Visit to Monaco'. We needed a pasta to accompany the chicken breast sautéed with mustard sauce (my blog 11/26/06) and the Ratatouil (my blog 8/1/07). What worked well was a fairly simple dish of short pasta (I used orichette) dressed with green olives, red grape tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, fresh herbs, and Romano cheese, and -- surprise! -- potato cooked in with the pasta. Easy to make, it held its own against the swirled flavors of Mediterranean vegetables and Dijon mustard-tinged cream.

This colorful pasta celebrates summer in appearance and flavor. It would serve as either a lunch dish on its own or as a pasta accompaniment for a meat or fish dish. While I used the small round orichette (ears), farfale (butterflies [or bow ties]), penne, or even a fettucini would do quite well. For the class, I served a red Spanish wine from Navarra. Many Mediterranean French wines, such as Côtes du Rhône, as well as many Spanish wines are made predominantly from the Garnacha (Grenache) grape. They are medium bodied, fragrant and spicy (like black pepper!), but not flowery, which to me makes them better for dinner, especially in warm weather. For the same quality, the Spanish wines are typically less expensive than the French ones.

The recipe serves six.

Pasta with Green Olives and Garlic Tim

1/2 pint (1 cup) grape or cherry tomatoes or 1 large tomato
1 medium-large or 2 medium potatoes
1/2 cup pitted green olives (if available) or pimento-stuffed olives
2 large cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons flat parsley
6 medium-sized basil leaves
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Salt
12 ounces (3/4 pound) short pasta, such as penne, bow ties, or orichette, or use fettucini
1/3 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese plus extra for serving

Prepare the vegetables and keep each type separate: Cut the tiny tomatoes, if used, in half, but do not de-seed them. Or if using a large tomato, cut it in quarters, push the seeds and juice out with your finger, and cut the tomato into 1/2-inch pieces. Peel the potato(es) and cut them in 1/2-inch cubes. Keep them in water until needed. Drain the olives and cut them in half, crosswise. Mince the garlic. Chop the parsley coarsely, discarding the stems. Shred the basil leaves crosswise 1/4-inch wide. Bring a very large pot of water to the boil. Add a teaspoon of salt and keep the water hot. 15-20 minutes before serving time, over medium heat, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Briefly fry the garlic until fragrant but not browning, and remove from the heat. Add the olives and tomatoes plus 2 tablespoons water. Stir and let cool. Stir in the fresh herbs, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Bring the hot water back to a fast boil over high heat. Add the potatoes, drained, and let cook one minute. Add the pasta and stir immediately with a long fork so the pasta does not stick. Stir frequently during cooking. After a few minutes (cooking time depends on the pasta used), remove a piece of pasta, cool it briefly and bite into it to test for tenderness. The pasta should be cooked just until it becomes tender and loses any crunch in the center. Drain it in a colander, shaking it well to remove the water. Pour it into a large pasta bowl along with the garlic and olive mixture and the grated cheese. Using two large spoons, toss to mix lightly. Taste, and if not salted enough sprinkle on some salt and toss again. Serve with a little more cheese sprinkled on top plus extra to accompany.

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