Friday, October 19, 2012

Light and Fresh Farmers' Market Pasta Toss ~ Fresh Fettuccine, Lots of Veggies, Olives and Lemon

A trip to my local farmer's market always ends up with my inability to resist all the fresh produce. These gorgeous multicolored cherry tomatoes seem to call my name. I end up buying a few pints of them. Could you resist?

The small, piquant black and green olives sold by the Lebanese lady are also hard to pass by. She sells pita bread, baked fresh every morning. The pita is soft with a pleasant chewy texture. I always grab two bags. One to eat and one to freeze for later. I haven't tasted pita that good since I was a kid, spending summers with my grandmother, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Everyday, we'd walk to get it warm from the bakery. My grandmother always had pita on her dinner table, even with spaghetti and meatballs. Weird, I know. But she couldn't help herself. It's part of her culture. The Lebanese lady has come to expect me at her market stand every Thursday. She sees me coming and says, "You can never go wrong with fresh baked pita and olives."

The market has an Italian vendor who makes tender, light fresh pasta and all kinds of stuffed pastas. On this visit, I scored some fettuccine. There are crusty baguettes, Vermont maple syrup, local honey, artisan cheeses, grass-fed beef, organic eggs, flowers, spices and more. Fishermen sell live lobsters and their catch of the day. No wonder my head spins with recipe ideas. These talented and hardworking, farmers, fishermen and bakers make it possible to create magical meals. It's so easy to cook well when you start with good ingredients.

The colorful produce and locally made products constantly inspire me. Ideas for new dishes pop in my head so fast, I can barely contain them. It's nice when people ask me what to do with Swiss Chard, pea tendrils or beets. I'm always happy to give them my suggestions.

Walking home with my beautiful bounty of veggies and fettuccine, I came up with the idea to quickly whip up this pasta dinner to take to work with me. It was a bright and sunny day. Why not make a bright and sunny pasta? I had very little time, but I wanted to make something light yet satisfying. I work as an administrative assistant in a crisis evaluation center. When my energy runs low,  it's good to know I have a healthy dinner like this one waiting for me. It prevents me from hitting the vending machines for sugar-loaded snacks. Oreos are my weakness.

For this recipe, yellow squash and zucchini are sauteed until tender-crisp, keeping them colorful and vibrant. Then, the olives and cherry tomatoes are added and warmed them through. The vegetables to retain much of their vitamins and minerals. The sauce is fairly light and bright since fresh pasta is delicate.

Some lemon zest and a couple of squeezes of lemon juice added a tangy, citrus-kick. (There's usually a need for some sort of acidic element in most dishes, whether it be lemon juice, lime juice or a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. If you've ever seen the show Chopped on the Food Network, you know that the judges are always criticizing the contestants' food for lack of acid.) The lemon also elevated all the other flavors, much like salt does. An assortment of green and black olives gave another layer of briny, saltiness to this dish. This meal came together very fast. Lucky for me, I made it just in time to pop it in my lunch bag and take it to work with a piece of crusty bread and some Greek feta cheese.    

Farmers' Market Pasta Toss Recipe

{A few notes about this recipe. You can swap out the fresh pasta for regular dried. You can add cannellini beans or sauteed chicken or shrimp for added protein. You can use dried and/or fresh basil instead of the oregano and parsley. I use scallions here because they're easier to chop, they're less harsh and allow for the flavor of the veggies and lemon to shine. Serve it with a sprinkling of feta, Parmesan, shredded mozzarella or fresh mozzarella. It makes an entire large pot full and reheats well for workweek lunches or dinners. Experiment, have fun and eat the rainbow!}

You'll Need:

  • 24 oz fresh pasta, I used fettuccine, cooked according to the package directions.
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for drizzling. I used extra virgin unfiltered.
  • 2 pints of cherry tomatoes, sliced or quartered depending on their size
  • 4-5 scallions, diced
  • 2 small to medium zucchini, chopped into small pieces
  • 2 small to medium yellow squash, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 fresh red chili pepper seeded and diced or a pinch of red chili flakes. (optional)
  • 1 lemon, zest the lemon and reserve.    
  • 1/2 cup of olives, you can pit them if you feel like it.
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, when adding it to this dish, rub it between your fingers to release its flavor.
  • Sea salt or kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • A handful of flat leaf parsley chopped
  • Crumbled Greek feta, fresh mozzerella, shredded mozerella or Parmesan for serving
  • Crusty bread or garlic bread for serving

The Rundown:
Place a large pot of water on the stove and cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.

Meanwhile, saute the scallions and the chili (if using) in the olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper in a large nonstick skillet on medium/medium high heat until soft. Add the zucchini and yellow squash with a bit more salt and saute until tender-crisp. Covering the pan helps to cook them. The zucchini and yellow squash should be cooked, but not mushy. They should retain their bright colors. Be careful how much salt you add because the olives you will add are salty. Add the tomatoes, olives and oregano, lemon zest. Warm the tomatoes and the olives through. You don't have to cook the tomatoes too much. You want them to be whole and barely cooked. Adjust salt and pepper.
Toss the pasta with the veggies and add a drizzle or two of olive oil and some squeezes of fresh lemon.
Garnish with fresh parsley.

I used my favorite eco-friendly nonstick Scanpan for this recipe. You can heat the pan up without oil or with very little oil. It's the best nonstick pan I own!

You may also be interested in:

Portobello Mushroom Parmesan;

Roasted Chicken with Oregano and Lemon;

Zesty Zucchini Tossed with Pasta and Parmesan;


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