Like I mentioned last week, I like to get together with my ladies whenever I can, despite my hectic schedule. And with spring sort of but not really arriving here in Chicago, I can’t help but crave springtime foods even if the weather is not cooperating entirely with my brain. Like everywhere else the rain here just keeps coming and coming … and coming. And although it’s showing no signs of stopping, that doesn’t mean I can’t dream about fat, sweet summer tomatoes or the smell of shish kabobs on my charcoal grill.
As my own little ode to spring I wanted to make a Greek pasta bowl that sung with all the flavors of the spring and summer. By roasting cherry tomatoes with fresh basil until they shrivel down and begin to burst, you can concentrate their flavor so much so that it’s almost like eating a ripe summer tomato plucked straight from the vine.
Fresh spinach is always a forbearer of spring to me because soon (if the rain ever goes away and the sun comes out) I’ll have any number of spinach and lettuce plants shooting up in my garden, waiting for me to trim away their young leaves for fresh-from-the-garden spring salads or for adding a layer of green to sandwiches.
Combine the roasted tomatoes and spinach with hunks of salty feta cheese and briny black olives and you have a melody of flavors that will make your palate sing. Throw in some cooked chicken and pasta for substance and starch and you have a pasta bowl that’s good for one or many, depending on if you really want to share it or hoard it all for yourself.
Greek Pasta Bowl with Roasted Tomatoes
This recipe serves 4. I find it’s best to use block feta cheese instead of pre-crumbled if you can. It’s got much better flavor and it stays fresher for longer. I’ve written these directions in the most efficient way possible: While the tomatoes roast, boil the water for the pasta, and while the pasta cooks, make the sauce. Serve with French bread crostini or garlic bread. Click here to download a printable copy of this recipe.
1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
Olive oil for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground pepper for seasoning
2-3 Tbs. minced fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, or oregano
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
½ pound penne pasta
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 pound cooked chicken breast, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 (6 oz.) bag fresh spinach
Red pepper flake, if desired
1 (2.5 oz.) can sliced black olives
1 (8 oz.) block Greek feta cheese, cut into cubes
Parmesan cheese for grating over the pasta bowls if desired
Roast tomatoes. Preheat oven to 400˚F. Arrange halved tomatoes on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, chopped garlic, and minced fresh herbs. Roast the tomatoes in the middle of the preheated oven until tomatoes shrivel and begin to burst, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and set aside.
Start boiling the pasta. While the tomatoes roast, bring a large pot of water to a boil. When the tomatoes are done and the water is boiling, salt the water well and add the penne. Boil the penne until al dente.
Make the sauce. While the pasta is boiling, heat 1 Tbs. of olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the spinach. When the spinach begins to wilt, add the tomatoes and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes to cook the spinach and warm the tomatoes. Sprinkle the veggies with red pepper flake if you want to add a spicy note to your pasta bowl. Add the chicken and olives to the skillet to begin warming them through.
By this time, your pasta should be finished cooking. Using a mesh strainer, transport the pasta from the water to the skillet with the spinach, chicken, and tomatoes. Do not throw out the pasta water. Add the feta cheese to the mixture and 1 cup of the reserved pasta water. With the heat turned to medium-low, toss the mixture together, coating the noodles and veggies with the cheese and pasta water. Continue mixing for about a minute, then add another cup of pasta water if the mixture seems dry and not sauce-y enough—basically the feta cheese and the pasta water are going to combine to thicken into a light cheese sauce—and continue tossing until the sauce comes together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (You won’t need as much salt as usual because the feta cheese is salty.) Ladle the pasta into bowls. Grate Parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano over the individual pasta bowls, if desired.