Thursday, January 20, 2011

First, boil water: whole wheat pasta with tomatoes, green olives and ricotta salata

There was a time when I would say that first thing you should do when you walk in the door in the evening is boil water. Boiling water is one of the most time-consuming things you do when you cook, and if you don't have sufficient foresight, you find yourself wasting a significant amount of your life waiting for water to come to the boil  If you decide not to use it, you can always turn it off.

But times change.  We used to eat pasta several nights a week, and there was always a chance that we would need a pot of boiling water.  But, since the low-carb trend has hit, pasta has become a rare treat.  (It is still nice to have the water, but I generally just make a tea kettle rather than a whole pot.)  When Amy goes out, she eats treyf and I make myself pasta at home.

This recipe is based on a dish served at Pisticci, our local Italian restaurant. It is a lovely place with very good food. I can't believe how lucky we are to have it less than a five-minute walk from our apartment.  Generally, I would just as soon eat their version than mine. Even if my version is not quite as good, it still is not bad.  It is also cheaper, you don't have to wait (they can get very crowded, especially on weekends)  and I wasn't in the mood to go alone and sit at the bar.  They probably use their own roasted tomatoes, while I use canned Muir Glen. Although you can use good white macaroni pasta, they serve it with whole wheat penne and I used Bionaturae's chiccioline.  Bionaturae was recently recommended by the New York Times as one of the better whole wheat pastas on the market. The important thing is to use a tubular or concave pasta that can trap the sauce and olives. Spaghetti-type pastas would be a bad idea.

My recipe serves two generously, and since Amy usually won't eat so many carbs, I will have the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.  You can double or halve it.  It could not be easier and faster to make, and takes less than a half hour from when you walk in the door until you sit down to dinner, provided that you boil the water first thing:

Whole wheat pasta with tomatoes, green olives and ricotta salata

  • water
  • salt
  • 3-4 ounces ricotta salata 
  • 1/2 pound whole wheat pasta 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 or more cloves garlic, peeled and slice thin (think the prison kitchen scene in Goodfellas)
  • pinch or more of hot red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 14 ounce can Muir Glen diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1/4 pound pitted green olives (I used Gaeta, which the market had already pitted, and they worked well)

  1. As soon as you walk in the door, bring 2-3 quarts water to boil in a pot for the pasta. 
  2. Line a small pan with foil, oil lightly, and roast the ricotta in a 400 degree oven or toaster oven for about 15 minutes until lightly browned.  This step is optional, but it gives the cheese a nice toasty caramelized flavor.  Grate coarsely and set aside.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a skillet.
  4. Add sliced garlic and cook until aromatic, about 2 minutes, on medium high, but do not brown.  Add hot pepper flakes if using and stir.
  5. Add the tomatoes and cook on high for about 10 or 15 minutes, until the oil separates and it thickens into a sauce.
  6. When the water is boiling vigorously,  salt generously, and add the pasta. Cook until very al dente, generally a few minutes less than they say on the package.
  7. Add the olives to the sauce and heat through.  Taste sauce for salt (it may need a bit) and add if necessary. 
  8. Drain the pasta, and toss with the sauce and cheese and serve at once.  This is nice with some freshly grated Pecorino Romano.
Variation:  Use feta instead of the ricotta salata, but don't toast it first.  It will give you a creamier and tangier dish. 

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