vegetables, feta, and pasta combine in a wonderful dance ::::
I love sugar. And it loves me right back. We have this love-love relationship where it just can’t get enough of me and vice-versa. I’ve been on a sugar kick lately, thus blogging about something savory is obligatory, even with sugar’s undying love. Plus, no one can survive a daily sugar rush and subsequent downer. Here is my panacea for a overly-sugared diet, ready for some complex carbohydrates instead of the simple ones. Not that the simple ones are absolute evil, maybe relative evil, but we cannot subsist on sugar alone. Unless you are a Marshmallow Peep. Or maybe Strawberry Shortcake and her clan.
This recipe found me at my husband’s former graduate advisor’s home and shook me out of one such sugar high, slapped me around, and said where have you been? I dispensed with the Pull ‘n Peel Twizzlers. I put away the Laffy Taffies. I gave away my leftover chocolate. Really? Yes, really. I felt vindicated to enter back into the world of nourishing foods. Well, for at least a day or two. Surrounded by talk of post-doctoral oral exams, other students and colleagues, a three-legged cat, and lots of good food, I came down to earth again for a bowl of pasta with feta, spinach, and pine nuts.
The great thing about this recipe is that there are so many different vegetables in the dish that can be easily swapped out for another of your favorite. The zucchini was originally eggplant, which I find to be less interesting and visually appealing, so the sparkly green zucchini won out. I’ve also used canned tomatoes instead of fresh without any noticeable change in taste. Throwing in an onion or shallot also doesn’t hurt. There is one thing that cannot be negotiated: pine nuts. Never forgetting the pine nuts is a must. Walnuts don’t cut it here. The creamy pine nut is made to be in this dish, almost giving a butteriness to the pasta, which, is like, perfect. If it’s anything like hot buttered pasta, with a few veggies thrown in, even the kids might be convinced to try this dish.
It was years ago when I first had this dish. Since then I have learned that culinary moderation is an excellent way to live. Pre-Peach and Grub and in the midst of medical residency training, Eat and I developed a love of fine food, unusual flavor combinations, and the appreciation of the amuse bouche. Who would have thought the Omygosh-I-think-I’m-going-to-die-without-my-two-pounds-of-Tootsie-rolls-for-the-day girl would actually understand the point of an amuse bouche, the big flavor in a small bite, and the careful artistry by which it is created? And that I wouldn’t eat just more than a few carefully placed items on my dinner plate (“Ahhh! Don’t mix them together!”), now embracing large bowls of mixed vegetables and beef, Vietnamese pho, and the always-requested tripe at dim sum? There are people shaking their heads out there, smiling knowingly, and letting a huge sigh of relief. Yes, I have matured.
When Peach and Grub are asleep, Eat is working late, and I’m all alone, I cook pastas like this, prepare a bread starter, or frantically chop vegetables for soup before one of the kids wakes up. And then I might just binge on Tootsie Rolls.
- ½ cup boiling water (if using non-oil packed sun-dried tomatoes; otherwise, skip the water if using the oil-packed tomatoes)
- 14 sun-dried tomato halves, julienned, oil packed or not (see note above)
- 4 teaspoons olive oil, for sauteing
- 3 small zucchini, diced in 1 centimeter dice
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed very dry
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried)
- 4 ounce package Feta cheese, crumbled (I usually use the plain flavor, but the basil and tomato flavor is also fantastic in this dish)
- ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted (Don't skip these!)
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 5-6 cups hot cooked (about 10 ounces dry) Gemelli (or other small pasta; I used whole-wheat shells in the photo)
- In a small bowl, pour boiling water over sun-dried tomatoes (if using non-oil packed tomatoes). Set aside until softened, about 20 minutes.
- In large saucepan, heat oil. Add zucchini and cook stirring constantly, until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, stirring, until lightly browned, 1 minute.
- Add spinach, chopped tomatoes, basil, pepper, and sun-dried tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, stirring as needed, until vegetables are thoroughly heated.
- Place pasta in bowl and toss with vegetable mixture, feta, and pine nuts. Serve warm or cold. Leftovers make a great cold pasta salad.