Part of cooking well, like dressing well, is knowing when to edit. There is a point where the dish is close to being just right and you can either just trust that it is good, or you can keep adding to it and potentially ruin it. I think this is a particular danger with vegetarian food. Without the protein anchor, sometimes it might feel like you need to keep adding layers of flavor to make up for what is “missing”. Too many layers of flavor is my main critique of Seattle’s vegetarian restaurants and why I almost never frequent them.
A dish doesn’t have to have a whiz! bang! pop! to be lovely. I first got this idea from Tracy and her Angel Hair Pasta with Arugula and Lemon. Every so often a dish sticks in my overstuffed brain and lately it has been this one. As we were driving back from our decadent weekend in Walla Walla, I started dreaming of superfine pasta stuffed to the gills with arugula. I had recently bought some angel hair in a lovely package and we were lucky enough to visit a goat cheese farm while in Walla Walla and had purchased some delightful mild feta. I decided that, rather than make Tracy’s dish to the letter, I would just riff on it.
As it turns out, my dish is not much like hers. That is what you get when you don’t actually consult a recipe you are trying to riff on! But we loved this light and sunny pasta and it came together in no time. I put some small cherry tomatoes in the oven to roast, got my pasta going, then satuéed shallots and red pepper flakes in a bit of olive oil. I grated in the zest of a Meyer lemon and then waited for the pasta to cook. Once it was just shy of al dente, I scooped it into the pan with the shallots and added lemon juice, lots of arugula, small cubes of feta, and the roasted tomatoes. I used the pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce. As I was tossing it all together, my mind was saying, “Olives! Pine Nuts! Parmesan!”, but I was able to edit and keep it simple.
One Year Ago: Brown Sugar Pound Cake (I’ve probably made this cake more than any other)
Two Years Ago: Zucchini and Olive Salad
Three Years Ago: Ricotta Calzones with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
Pasta with Lemon, Arugula, and Roasted Tomatoes
Dana Treat Original (but thanks Tracy for the inspiration)
My noodles were actually more like a cross between angel hair and spaghetti, so I’m suggesting you use spaghettini in the recipe below (it’s a thinner spaghetti).
20 small cherry tomatoes
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large shallot, finely diced
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
Zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon
4 ounces feta cheese, cut into small cubes
4 ounces arugula, plus more for garnish
8 ounces spaghettini
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Place the tomatoes on a small baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until they soften, brown in spots, and start to collapse a bit, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
Meanwhile, place a large skillet over medium heat. Drizzle in just enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, then add the shallots, red pepper flakes, and a large pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring frequently, until the shallots soften and start to brown in spots, about 5 minutes. Grate in the lemon zest and turn off the heat.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil, then add the pasta. Cook according the package directions until just al dente. Taste it to make sure. Using tongs, transfer the pasta to the skillet with the shallots. Turn the heat to low and stir to coat the pasta with the shallots and pepper flakes. Ladle in some pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce. Add half of the arugula and keep tossing the pasta so that the arugula wilts. Add the other half of the arugula along with the lemon juice, feta cheese, and the tomatoes. Add more cooking water if the pasta seems too dry. (You can also use olive oil if you prefer.) Toss carefully. Serve each portion topped with more of the arugula.