I promised you summer and here it is again.
This time it’s dinner. (Don’t worry, a fruit and almond tart is coming your way soon).
This dinner was eaten as close to outside as you can when you live in the city, and your balcony is barely large enough to hold your (flourishing!) herb garden let alone a chair, and your view, if you can call it that, is a parking lot and the City Hall belfry whose bell chimes every hour from 9 am to 9 pm. So you open all the windows and doors and sit in the summer breeze stirred by the fan. Because no matter how nice it is outside, this just isn’t the type of dinner that can be tucked under a sheet of foil and into a picnic basket and carried to the park. This pasta must be eaten mere minutes out of the pot (or in my case, after a few quick frames and a prayer that at least one of them does the food justice).
The formula is simple. Cook and drain a handful of pasta. Quickly sauté some vegetables with oil in the same pot. Add back the pasta for a few minutes. Pour over hearty greens and let them wilt. Grate some cheese. Sprinkle with something crunchy.
Now I skipped one step, perhaps the most important step, because I wanted to give it a paragraph all to itself. Just before you lift the pasta pot off the stove and run over to the colander in the sink, scoop out some of the cooking water. Hold onto that starchy, salty water because you’re going to use it very soon. When the vegetables are cooked – softened but not so much that they no longer look like themselves – add in some of the set-aside water along with the drained pasta. As you mix everything together, the starch and oil will unite into a silky smooth sauce that just barely coats everything. The sauce all but disappears into the rest of the ingredients, but you know it’s there. Under its light gloss, the pasta shines, the vegetables sing.
And with that, I’m off for a walk. Happy weekend everyone!
Pasta with tomatoes and arugula
This is not really a recipe, but more of a technique, so feel free to substitute whatever ingredients you like. I used orecchiette, that little ear-shaped pasta, but anything will do, even plain old spaghetti. Instead of grape tomatoes, try zucchini or mushrooms or peppers (though the peppers will probably need to cook a little longer). Any hearty green should work as well – how about young chard or spinach or my favorite, pea shoots? Herbs – basil can’t be beat in the summer, but mint would also be great. I’ve made this with mozzarella instead of parmesan. And for crunch, try other nuts (they really are better if you toast them) or ground pita chips. But whatever you do, don’t forget to scoop out that pasta water.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high. Throw in a few pinches of salt and return water to a boil. Add 2 handfuls of dry pasta (about 1/2 cup) and cook for one minute less than the directions suggest.
While the pasta is cooking, throw a handful of blanched almonds into a 350ºF oven to toast for about 5 minutes or dry toast them in a small skillet over medium heat — watch them carefully because the window between toasted and burnt is a small one. Cut in half 2 handfuls of grape tomatoes (about 20-25). When the almonds are toasted, roughly chop them by hand or with a few pulses in a food processor.
When the pasta is ready, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the pasta water and put it aside for later. Drain the pasta (do not rinse).
Return the pot to the stove, lower the burner to medium and drizzle in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Add in the tomatoes, another small pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Sauté for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, just until the tomatoes start to release their juices and break down; don’t let them turn to mush — they should still look like tomatoes. Add back the pasta and about 1/4 cup of the pasta water and stir for a few more minutes. The starchy water plus the oil will make a nice silky sauce that lightly coats everything.
Arrange a handful of arugula on a plate or in a bowl. Pour the pasta and tomatoes over the arugula. Over the pasta, tear 3-4 basil leaves , grate 1-2 tablespoons of parmesan, and sprinkle a few pinches of toasted almonds.
Eat quickly. Have some gelato for dessert.