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
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.