15 Minute Mediterranean Pasta
A comedian I recently saw in concert posed the question, “At what age did you realize that Red Lobster was not really a nice meal out?” Being from Maine, my husband didn’t really get it when I started to snort-laugh. There were no Red Lobsters within 100 miles of his house. But being from the Midwest, I could attest to the truth of which this comedian spoke. Growing up in the 80s and early 90s before the current insane food renaissance explosion, literally in the town where chain restaurants test their new menu items, Red Lobster was THE place to go for a suburban Saturday night out. Or maybe the Olive Garden or the Ground Round. I’m sure at that time there were hip people going to hipper places but unless we had a coupon in my family, we weren’t among them. Also, in Reagan era central Ohio, if you wanted seafood, Red Lobster was your only choice. I can say with conviction the Columbus of today is not the Columbus of the 1980s. While this tragically means no more Children’s Palace, the Continent or Northland Mall, it does mean a sophisticated, independent food scene abounds and my nephews don’t have to settle for a dried out, microbe infested Ponderosa buffet (although we can all agree the MYO sundae station was EPIC!). Also, I’ll take a cheddar cheese biscuit from Red Lobster any day, anytime. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.
But I digress, in answering the comedian’s query, I came up with 16. I was about 16 years old when I realized there were much superior options to eat in Cbus. I somehow found a core of foodie friends at school who introduced me to vastly superior local options, nary a coupon in sight. Being somewhat weird 90's high school kids, we splurged not on Doc Martens, GAP sweatshirts or Snapples but on trendy meals out. We also found out that for the most part, chicer restaurants do not expect teenagers to make 8 pm Saturday reservations and therefore, rarely questioned us if we tried to order a drink. Unfortunately our alcohol consumption didn’t equate with our foodie knowledge and I expect we gave ourselves away by ordering Long Island Ice Teas and Bud Lights. Hey, my Kroger stock shelfing money can’t pay for calamari AND pinot grigio. But it was through these experiences that I began to try unfamiliar foods and explore the variety of food available in Columbus. A pasta dish on one of these menus became one of the first items I tried to recreate at home when I began cooking. One of my most simple, flavorful and quick pasta dishes from the brain of my 16 year old self, breaking out of the constraints of crab legs and shrimp scampi, is now yours to for dinner. Enjoy!
My first confession is that you while you can use one pan for this pasta, I would use two. It’s just easier. But everything for this dish can be done by the time the pasta is finished boiling AND you don’t even have to get out a cutting board or a knife. If you have 15 minutes to boil some pasta, you have time for this proper carb loaded meal.
Ingredients for 2 large servings:
- ¼ cup sun dried tomatoes in oil (I always use Trader Joe's since the oil is flavored) plus oil
- ⅛ cup extra virgin olive oil (my favorite)
- 8 ounces pasta (I prefer small shapes, such as penne or farfalle, something with ridges to soak up the sauce)
- 4 big handfuls washed baby spinach, divided (just grab a lot, it cooks down)
- 4 ounces crumbled feta
- ⅛ cup toasted pine nuts
*if you can’t find sun dried tomatoes with seasoned oil, add ½ tsp. Italian seasoning, 1 crushed garlic clove and a few red pepper flakes to your tomato oil
- In dry pan over low heat, toast the pine nuts. Watch carefully so they do not burn. Remove pine nuts to side.
- Begin water boiling for pasta. Once boiling, salt water and add pasta.
- In large pan, add sun dried tomatoes, EVOO and 2 Tbs. of oil from the sun dried tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and gently warm through.
- When pasta is almost al dente, add 2 handfuls of spinach to oil and tomato mixture. Stir until wilted.
- Divide two remaining handfuls of spinach to two pasta bowls. (I do this because I like some of the spinach to be wilted and some to have a little chew to them - it makes for a better texture).
- Remove ¼ cup pasta water from pasta and then drain pasta. Add pasta to pan with oil/tomato/spinach and toss together. Add in a little pasta water to help combine.
- Pour pasta over spinach in bowls, mix together and top with crumbled feta and pine nuts.
Additional mix ins - add 1/4 cup of any or all of the following:
- Chopped green or black olives (watch the saltiness!)
- Chopped salami or italian sausage
- Roasted red peppers or peppadews
- Chopped artichokes