Meatless Monday: Pan Roasted Tomatoes, Spinach and Pasta

I was recently reminded of the importance of a quick meal.  I am not referring to that drive to the drive though window; but rather a fresh, light, satisfying meal that is also quick to make.  My mom came over this past week to help me wash walls and clean up my house after finishing drywall.  I truly appreciated her help.  For the past 6 months my home has looked a little like an episode I saw on the hit show Hoarder’s.  Of the three episodes I could stand watching one such hoarder had a tool and handyman type of obsession. The home he shared with his wife was filled to the brim with excess tools, projects half started and a plethora of magazines and books of the handyman variety.  It hit too close to home, I could no longer watch.  The whole mess was starting to get to me.  I believe my mom picked up on this and since we had finally completed the dirty, nasty, work phase of our bathroom remodel, she volunteered to help me clean up.  I was relieved and took her up on the offer.
We decided to also make dinner for everyone that night.  Before we set our minds and elbows on cleaning we started making dinner, but we wanted something easy that could cook while we worked.  My mom has the book Slow Cooker Revolution and recommended that we make a recipe out of it for dinner that night.  It turned out to be a successful try of a new recipe but it wasn’t the easiest slow cooker recipe I had made.  The book is from American’s Test Kitchen, who researches almost infinite techniques, procedures, ingredients, and brands to find out what works best and yields the best result.  Then they present the information they discovered along with the recipe.  I am not knocking the book, in fact I loved it and the recipe we choose to make.  I also can’t wait to try the Tomato Mac and Cheese for dinner some night.  However when I think of the slow cooker I think quick, convenient, easy, one pot and its done, the recipe we choose (Beef Burgundy) was a little bit more complicated but totally worth it.
After washing walls and the ceiling we were tired and ready for a break.  We rested our weary arms and shoulders while nestled on couches looking through cookbooks and watching an episode of Lidia’s Italy.  Lidia Bastianich is one of my mom’s favorite celebrity chefs and I can see why.  She is full of life.  A vibrant women, a lover of food, who truly has respect for people.  She praised an older Italian lady after she had observed her making orecchiette by hand, “A lifetime of experience,” and concluded the segment with giving the woman a sincere and heartwarming hug.  The episode we watched was entitled Two Tasty Pastas Puglia Style, and as I was hungry from all our hard work, the beautiful pastas made me salivate.  As I watched I was also impressed by the easy everyday ingredients (pasta, tomatoes, arugula, olive oil and garlic) and the simple techniques that she employed.  I figured I could recreate this in my own kitchen with ease, even after (or before) a long and busy day.  I also loved Lidia’s generous hand with which she poured the olive oil.  Since olive oil is the only fat added to this dish, it seemed to me she treated it more as an ingredient.  Make sure to use an excellent quality olive oil to add wonderful flavor to the dish.

Pan Roasted Tomatoes, Spinach and Pasta
Recipe inspired by Lidia Bastianich
Recipe by:
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes cut in half
  • 4 cups fresh spinach
  • 12 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  1. Bring salted water to boil for pasta.
  2. Peel garlic and smash 6 cloves violently so that it breaks apart. If it is still clinging together pull it apart with your fingers.
  3. Over low heat place ¼ cup olive oil in 12 inch skillet. Add garlic and allow it to sizzle for a while to flavor oil.
  4. Add tomatoes to garlic in pan and stir. Increase heat to medium-high and allow tomatoes to roast in pan stirring occasionally.
  5. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  6. Drain pasta after required cooking time, quickly, allowing some of water to remain on pasta. Return to stock pot. (Do not rinse pasta as this will remove starch that is important for the sauce.)
  7. Once tomatoes are cooked down and slightly caramelized pour tomatoes over pasta, stirring to coat.
  8. Add fresh spinach to pasta and stir to distribute spinach. Spinach will wilt slightly.
  9. In the same 12 inch skillet used for tomatoes, add remaining ¼ cup olive oil over low medium heat. Smash remaining 6 cloves garlic and add to pan along with red pepper flakes. Cook for a few minutes until garlic is softened and beginning to caramelize.
  10. Serve pasta with a drizzle of garlic pepper oil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Cooks tip:  Eric and I had this for lunch the next day at our respective places of work.  We both ate it cold and it was equally delicious.  This could be made ahead of time ( like before a marathon cleaning day) and either reheated, eaten at room temp, or even cold the next day.

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