Do I love pasta? Of course I do—I’m half Sicilian! But this recipe, with its decidedly Greek flavors, is one of my favorite ways to prepare it. It’s quite simple to make, with only nine ingredients. (Remember the block of frozen spinach I disparaged in one recent recipe? It makes an important appearance here. Sometimes frozen works just fine.)
Because this dish has so few ingredients, each is essential to its success; this is not the time to skimp. Pine nuts are expensive right now, but you’ll only need two tablespoons’ worth for this—buy a small package, keep them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator, and they’ll last you for months. The feta cheese should be the best you can find; Ellwood Thompson’s, in Richmond, has a Bulgarian feta made from sheep’s milk. It lends just the right bite. Don’t substitute canned tomatoes for fresh; if tomatoes aren’t in season—or you can’t find good quality plum tomatoes in the produce section—wait until summer to make this. Serve it warm, as soon as it’s ready, but know that it keeps beautifully for several days in the refrigerator, and also tastes delicious cold.
Greek Penne Pasta
12 ounces penne
5-1/2 teaspoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained
4 large plum tomatoes, chopped (about 8 ounces)
8 ounces feta cheese
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package. Drain and set aside. If necessary, cover to keep warm.
Heat a large non-stick skillet with 1/2 teaspoon olive oil, then add 3 teaspoons more to the skillet; heat the oil over medium heat. Add the pine nuts and garlic. Cook and stir about 5 minutes, or until the pine nuts are lightly golden. Then stir in the spinach (be sure it’s well-drained—I squeeze it in my hands to get rid of any excess moisture) and tomatoes. Cook about 3 minutes or until heated through, stirring occasionally. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, using a pastry blender, crumble the feta in a medium-size bowl and set aside.
To serve, place half of the hot pasta in a large bowl and drizzle with 1 teaspoon of the remaining olive oil. Gently toss until coated. Add the remaining pasta, drizzle with the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil and gently toss. Then add the spinach mixture and toss. Finally add the feta cheese, additional salt and pepper to taste, and toss until well combined.
Adapted from Healthy Homestyle Cooking by Evelyn Tribole (Rodale Press 1994)