Let the sun shine in!

In Recipies on January 29, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Every time I’ve lived in the colder climes at this time of year, I become restless for the advent of spring and summer. February is the month when I mentally lay out my garden and my patio plot of herbs. In a few weeks, I’ll start the seeds so I can begin hardening the tiny plants during the still-cool days of late March.

Just those thoughts set off cravings for the lighter meals of summer.

In May and June our table will begin to see summer pasta dishes, like peppery mohammarah bil shariyeh and velvety ratatouille served over rigatoni. Those dishes are months away, but preserved vegetables and olives can brighten up the dreariest late winter days.

For most pasta dishes, I’ve come to prefer whole wheat pasta over traditional semolina types. The whole wheat versions have, in my opinion, a better ‘bite’. But, semolina pastas can also please me if they are cooked al dente. That said, I find few things less appealing than overcooked (slimy) whole wheat pasta. So, be careful to follow cooking times carefully and always remove whole wheat pasta from the cooking water as soon as it is done.

The following is a fast-as-a-greyhound entrée you can prepare almost as fast as the pasta cooks. The sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers, and herbs bring forth a brightly colorful dish in the colors of the Italian flag. While I use Aleppo pepper, any dried pepper flakes may be substituted. I simply prefer the ‘slow-burn’ heat that is characteristic of Aleppo pepper. A bit of chopped fennel (or cracked seeds) adds to the Tuscan flair of flavors. And the dish also recalls traditional Tuscan traditions of soffrito-style preparation (chopped vegetables, olives, and tomatoes very gently fried in generous quantities of olive oil) and it is served al a povera (peasant style) with hearty loaves of rustic Italian bread.

For my carnivore friends, yes, you can add meat. The dish lends itself well to (pre-cooked) small, traditional meatballs or pre-cooked Italian sausage scattered within. Purists wanting to stay with the Tuscan theme could consider adding bits of pre-cooked proscuitto or even left-over game meats.

The amount below easily serves four and it can be assembled in less than fifteen minutes.


12 – 16oz whole wheat penne rigate pasta

3 TBS olive oil

½ – ¾ tsp Aleppo pepper

½ tsp dried basil

¼ tsp cracked fennel seeds

½ tsp dried oregano

3 cloves garlic thinly sliced

1 TBS rinsed capers

¾ C oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

½ C green olives sliced

½ C kalamata olives sliced

5 green onions, minced

½ C grated pecorino Romano cheese

salt and freshly ground black pepper

OPTION: Add pre-cooked meatballs or crumbled Italian sausage

Heat a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente. When done, reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta well.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir the herbs, fennel seeds, garlic, Aleppo pepper, tomatoes, olives, and capers into the oil. Cook only until heated through. Stir in the reserved pasta water, allow it to almost boil off, and then remove from the heat. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Toss the skillet mix with the grated cheese and scatter the green onions over the top of the dish just before serving. Serve with loaves of Italian bread and a crisp white wine.


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