Making a Good Thing Better

October 19, 2009


I am the oldest child in my family and I have a lot of the characteristics attributed to being first in the birth order.  One of those traits is being a rule follower, something that I was as a child and I continue to be as an adult.  I stand in line when I am supposed to, I stick to the speed limit, I am always on time.  Over most of my cooking life, I have stuck to the rules i.e. recipes.  I was afraid to branch out and would only make substitutions if desperate – I followed those recipes like a good rule-following oldest child.

I continue to bake in this way because, unless you really know what you are doing, it’s not a good idea to start messing with the science of baking.  But I have gotten less timid about tweaking savory recipes.  Sometimes they work better than others but I think I am a good enough cook, and have enough experience in the kitchen, to trust myself and my style.

I found the idea for this pasta recently on a lovely blog called Food & Style.  Viviane’s photo of a tangle of olive flecked pasta topped with goat cheese had me putting it on my “make immediately” list.  I am a sucker for olives, especially oil cured black wrinkly ones, and I also deeply appreciate a meal that can be made from things I always have on hand.  But as this dish began to come together, I started to improvise.  I threw in some cherry tomatoes I had in my fruit basket, I added more capers, I made it spicy by sprinkling in a healthy dose of red pepper flakes, I added the goat cheese (and a decent amount of pasta cooking water) directly to the cooked pasta so a kind of cream sauce emerged.   In other words, I took a good idea and ran with it.

On first bite Randy said, “Oh wow, this is yum.”  That is very high praise from my husband for whom food is still fuel, no matter how hard I try to sway him otherwise.  To my taste buds, this is a once a week dish.  Very savory from both the salty olives and capers, creamy and tangy at the same time from the goat cheese, the hit of acid and sweetness from the tomatoes making it more than just a one-note salty dish.  Using fresh pasta (which I often have in my freezer) just makes it sublime but you can, of course, use dried.

A note on how I prepared this and other pastas.  I never use a colander anymore to drain my noodles.  It’s just an extra dish to wash and I am on a lifelong quest to reduce the number of dishes in my sink at any given time.  I place the pasta pot and the skillet in which I have my sauce right next to each other.  When the pasta is done, I take either tongs (if I am using a long noodle like spaghetti), or a slotted spoon (for short noodles like penne) and transfer the pasta directly to the sauce.  That way, some of the starchy water comes along for the ride and if you need more of that goodness (as you will in this recipe), the whole pot is there for the taking instead of being poured down the drain.


Fettucine with Oil Cured Olives, Tomatoes, and Goat Cheese

With Thanks to Food & Style
Serves 3

If you are not using fresh pasta here, I would use 3/4 pound of dried for this amount of sauce.  If you are not a fan of spice, cut the red pepper flakes to 1/4 teaspoon, or don’t add them at all. Both the olives and capers are quite salty here, so definitely taste before you season.

1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
3/4 cup oil cured black olives, pitted and chopped
2 tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved if large
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn, plus more for garnish
1 lb. fresh fettucine
4 oz. soft goat cheese, such as Montrachet
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet (large enough to hold all the pasta once it is cooked), heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and stir until starting to brown, about 2 minutes.  Add the oregano and red pepper flakes, stir, then add the olives, capers and tomatoes.  Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until the tomatoes just start to fall apart.  Add the basil, stir, and turn the heat as low as it will go.

Once the pasta is al dente, using tongs, add it directly to the skillet with the sauce.  Break the goat cheese into small lumps and start to toss it into the pasta coating the noodles with sauce and cheese.  Keep adding pasta water in 1/4 cups-full until the pasta has a cream sauce-like consistency.  Taste for salt and add freshly ground black pepper.


  1. I drain my pasta the same way you do:) Why dirty another dish? Fabulous meal!

    Comment by Maria — October 19, 2009 @ 10:32 pm

  2. Dana, your recipe is fabulous!

    I love how versatile olives are and so glad you love cured olives as I do… Also, a big thank you for the mention. I am glad my recipe inspired you to create your own.

    Thank you so much!

    Comment by Viviane Bauquet Farre / food & style — October 19, 2009 @ 10:44 pm

  3. You should read @ruhlman’s book “ratio”—gives you freedom to play with the rules of baking by defining the limits. Totally liberating.

    Great to meet you today!


    Comment by Hungrygrrl — October 19, 2009 @ 11:16 pm

  4. I make a similar pasta w/ basil, roasted cherry tomatoes and kalamatas in the summer.
    I am now going to add goat cheese & capers! The more the merrier!
    I love the fresh pappardelle! (and the no draining pasta trick!)

    Comment by Stacey Snacks — October 20, 2009 @ 12:20 am

  5. I too am a serious rule follower!
    But I do branch out on my recipes. Ohhh.maybe I am turning into a rebel!!

    Comment by Leslie — October 20, 2009 @ 12:39 am

  6. I am also a first child and rule follower- I am also very hesitant to change a recipe (at least for the first time I try it out)! This pasta sounds exactly like the kind of thing I love- I discovered how easy it is to make a creamy pasta sauce from goat cheese about two years ago and now I do it whenever I want to throw something together quickly that still seems fancy.

    Comment by Emily Rose — October 20, 2009 @ 2:09 am

  7. Mmmmm…that looks so delicious. I am with you about the olives. Love them to death. And I am placing this on my make immediately list as well, mostly because it looks that good, and because I have a lot of goat cheese to make use of. Yum! Can’t wait.

    Comment by Eralda — October 20, 2009 @ 3:23 am

  8. I’m a first born too and I do follow certain rules, but I feel recipes are meant to be toyed with! I don’t think I’ve ever followed a recipe exactly as written, so I like your approach here :) I also have stopped using a colander to drain my pasta and I just drain with the lid which keeps in enough liquid to help with the sauce. Great “recipe”!

    Comment by kickpleat — October 20, 2009 @ 4:41 am

  9. I used to follow recipes as well until I had a few that did not work, or weren’t so good. As a personal chef I also stuck to the recipe to be able to give a consistent result to repeat dishes clients wanted me to make. But after a few years, I got bored with it as well as felt more confident in myself and what I’m doing. These days it’s a 50-50 deal for following a recipe vs. improvising with what I have in the house.

    Comment by Nurit - 1 family. friendly. food. — October 20, 2009 @ 5:39 am

  10. I am also an olive freak, and the black cured ones are at the top of my list too. I also love the BIG bright green ones – can’t remember the name of them.

    Incredible pasta dish, with all my favorite things. I would probably add pecorino instead of goat cheese because that’s what I usually do, but I love that the goat cheese makes it creamy. I gotta try it.

    Comment by Allison Arevalo — October 20, 2009 @ 6:18 am

  11. This looks wonderful. Basil, olives and capers are some of my favorite flavors, and I look forward to trying this!

    Thanks for sharing the tip on using tongs, too. Draining pasta is usually a dangerous task for me, unless I have my husband to help!

    Comment by D. @ Outside Oslo — October 20, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  12. This is right up my alley! Great idea to add the pasta water and make the goat cheese creamy.

    Comment by fresh365 — October 20, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

  13. The goat cheese as sauce sounds fantastic! I love your idea of moving pasta straight from the pot to the skillet, and now I want a bigger slotted spoon to make it even easier.

    Comment by lisaiscooking — October 20, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

  14. Love the simplicity of the pasta…the goat cheese in it must be so yummie! And good tip about how you drain the pasta :-)

    Comment by Juliana — October 20, 2009 @ 7:25 pm

  15. Like you, I’m the oldest, but totally not always a rule follower. Sometimes, most of the time, just not always. :) The pasta looks like perfect comfort food for the Fall weather – yum!

    Comment by Cate O'Malley — October 20, 2009 @ 8:36 pm

  16. I’m the youngest and I’m definitely a rule follower too, my older brother not as much I think. I’ve started to get more comfortable straying from recipes but it’s definitely scary at first and things don’t always turn out well.. You did an amazing job with this dish! It sounds so flavourful.

    Comment by Ashley — October 24, 2009 @ 8:29 pm

  17. Awesome recipe. I absolutely loved it.
    Here’s a recipe for Fettuccine Carbonara you may like to try.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Jess — June 23, 2012 @ 1:46 am

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