Nothing’s better than a steaming bowl of pasta, right? Not when it’s 86° outside. That, my friends, was my predicament last week when we were enjoying some unseasonably warm weather here in the Northeast and I got an e-mail from Mrs. TVFF suggesting we have pasta for dinner. Not one to ever turn down the opportunity for a carb-heavy meal, I resolved to avoid the ususal pasta dishes — which certainly didn’t sound appetizing as I perspired my way around the city — and go for something that wasn’t quite pasta salad either. We’d meet in the middle with a hot pasta dressed with a room-temperature sauce.
First, the props: I’m pretty sure this originated as some sort of bruschetta topping or chunky dip from Jamie Oliver. His input forms the basis of this “sauce,” which is the olives, the cherry/grape tomato and the olive oil. The rest of the recipe is a bit more free-form.
Warm Pasta with Crushed Grape Tomatoes and Olives
– One pound of short pasta – penne, rigatoni and farfalle are perfect for this.
– One cup, olives without pits
– One pint, grape or cherry tomatoes
– Six tbsp. oil
– Whatever the hell your heart desires (see below)
Get the water going for the pasta and cook according to the package directions. I know that I usually tell you to hold it a little more al dente and finish it in the sauce pan, but there isn’t one, so take it all the way to “done.” While the pasta’s cooking, put the tomatoes in a large bowl and begin to crush them (with your hand or with some other crushing device, such as a potato masher). The objective is to get the juice out into the bowl and to break each tomato up into two or three pieces. Once you’ve done that, add about five or six tbsp. of good olive oil.
On to the olives. If you bought them with pits, remove the pits and tear each olive into a few pieces. If you bought whole pitted olives, just tear them up. If you bought slivered olives, just toss them in. Feel free to include a bit of the brine as well, regardless of whether you got the olives from a salad bar setup or from a jar.
Here’s where your imagination and your desire to clear out your fridge come in. What else can you add? Well, fresh herbs, particularly Italian parsley or basil. Got some capers? Yeah. Whack some garlic and add it to “perfume” the sauce. I like to pick up some fresh mozzarella, which I tear up. Other good ideas would be artichoke hearts (slice them a bit), roasted red peppers, quartered cippolini onions or any other Italian-style veggies you may have on hand. If you have any great ideas, add them in the comments. Essentially, you want to get everything to be bite-size, but it should also be rustic-looking, so no fancy knife-work!
Now that everything has been combined (you can even do it a bit ahead of time), finish it with some black or red pepper and bring on the pasta. Add the noodles to the sauce along with a tiny bit of the pasta water. Balance out the flavor of the dish with some sea salt (if needed) and maybe some red wine vinegar if the tomatoes aren’t particularly acidic, as well as a little more of the oil.
The heat of the noodles will awaken the flavors of the ingredients, giving it the kind of robust, straightforward fresh taste that Jamie Oliver favors in many of his dishes and it stays a little warm, so it’s feels like a dinner dish but it also fits well with a nice summery evening.