Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pasta in a Pinch

A week ago, a girlfriend invited several of us over for a casual get together at her house. Being that we are all busy with projects and work, we decided on the menu ad hoc while at the local grocery store. If you have been following this blog, then you will know how I feel about Norwegian grocery stores. The best way to put it would be to say that the experience is “hit or miss” depending on many factors. It depends on what you need, what your expectations are, and where you go. Going into the party, I had a rough idea of what I wanted to make. I had in mind a spinach and feta filled pastry utilizing frozen puff pastry, followed by a Spanish tortilla of eggs and potatoes and finished by a simple dish of sautéed pineapple served warm over vanilla ice cream. This menu was easy to make and I assumed that the ingredients were simple and generic enough to find at most stores. I was wrong. HOWEVER, the mark of a good cook is one that is creative and quick thinking on their feet, right? At least that’s what shows like Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen taught me.
The store we stopped at did not have the puffed pastry or spinach and combined with some dietary restrictions we changed the menu on the spot. Grabbing a couple of cans of diced tomatoes, dried spaghetti, basil, roasted artichoke hearts and pine nuts we decided on a quick pasta dish that we could all make together. A berry sorbet would round out our dinner, providing a light finishing touch.

Dinner with girlfriends was as it usually is – chatty, giggly, and tasty. We all caught up with what was going on at work and at home and then dove into a conversation (with a mini workshop) on belly dancing. It was great fun and a good chance to bring two of my favorite things together – food and girlfriends.

Dinner Amongst Girlfriends Pasta
Serves 4
2 14 oz. cans (400 gr.) of diced tomatoes
1 lb dried spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
½ onion, finely diced
½ c. chopped fresh basil
2 tbs olive oil
1 cup roasted artichoke hearts, quartered *You can also sub out marinated artichoke hearts*
1/8th (up to 1/4th) tsp red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
4 tbs toasted pine nuts for garnish

Bring salted water up to a boil in a large stock pot. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet. To the oil, add the red pepper flakes, diced onion, the garlic and sauté until the onions are soft and lightly browned. Season the onions and garlic lightly with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes to the onions and let bring it to a boil. Once boiling, bring the temperature down until the sauce is simmering lightly. Let the sauce simmer for 35 minutes.

At the 30 minute mark, drop the pasta into the boiling water and cook for about 7-8 minutes, or until al dente. You don’t want the pasta to be too done as it will finish cooking in the sauce.

At 35 minutes, add the artichoke hearts to the simmering sauce and let it warm through. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and toss in the chopped basil. When the pasta is done, lift the pasta directly out of the cooking water and into the sauce and toss thoroughly to coat the pasta with the sauce. Turn off the heat and divide the pasta into 4 portions. Garnish the pasta with additional chopped basil and the toasted pine nuts.

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