Friday, October 30, 2009

"Tuesday Pasta" - "Pantry Pasta" Recipe

About 16 years ago, at a restaurant in Santa Monica (the name of which I have long since forgotten), my husband and I enjoyed a wonderful dish of pasta in a tomato based sauce with artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, and black olives.

We loved it so much that I couldn't wait to get home and try to recreate something similar. I'm pleased to say that my creation was a hit, and it became a "regular" in our household. So much so that we called it "Tuesday Pasta" because, you guessed it, I made it most Tuesday nights. For the life of me I don't remember why we always had it on Tuesdays - that, like the name of the restaurant where this dish was inspired, is but a distant memory. Much time has gone by since then, and habits have changed, as in fact have my marital circumstances, so I no longer make this pasta dish with quite the same regularity, and not necessarily on Tuesdays.

It is still, however, probably my all time favourite pasta dish, and if I could only ever share one recipe in my life this would probably be it. As I always have all of the necessary ingredients in my pantry all of the time, I now think of this as my "Pantry Pasta" recipe. This is the dish that I can whip up when I haven't had time to go shopping, and I want to get dinner on the table in about 15 minutes - really! All the preparation can be done while you are waiting for the pasta water to come to the boil, and then the sauce comes together in the time it takes for the pasta to cook.

I should also mention that what follows should be treated more as a guide than a recipe that needs to be strictly adhered to - simply use what you have on hand or if you want to add more of something you like and less of something you don't then simply adjust to suit your tastes. I use artichoke hearts - I like the roasted ones, but unroasted is fine; sundried tomatoes; black olives - green are just as good if they are your preference; capers - I like the salted ones best, but the ones in brine are fine if that's what you have, or leave them out altogether - I actually used green peppercorns once instead of the capers (not successful I might add, they just somehow didn't work in this dish at all); diced pancetta, or bacon, or chorizo sausage, or when I want a vegetarian option this works fantastically well with eggplant; a few anchovies (entirely optional) - these just melt into the sauce and add a bit of complexity to the flavour of the sauce without any discernable "fishy" taste; and fresh herbs - I think basil works best, but flat-leaf parsley and rocket are also good and I have on occasion even put in a handful of baby spinach just before serving. As you may now have suspected, I'm very much a "handful of this - a dollop of that" kind of cook, and that very much applies to this dish - I think I have made it hundreds of times and I'm sure it has never tasted exactly the same twice. So feel free to put your own twist on this, enjoy playing around with it, and if you come up with something sensational I would love to hear about it.

Pasta with Artichoke Hearts,
Sundried Tomatoes & Olives Recipe
"Pantry Pasta"
Click here for printable copy of this recipe

200g pancetta cubed, or bacon cut into small pieces
(substitute sliced chorizo sausage if desired)
(vegetarian substitute - 1 small eggplant cut into 1" cubes)
2x cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2T olive oil
2T tomato paste (I like the stuff that comes in tubes)
1/2tsp - 1tsp chilli flakes, optional
1x tin tomatoes or jar of tomato passata
8x artichoke hearts, roasted
(cut in half if smallish, or into quarters if large)
6x sundried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
2x handfuls of black olives
2T capers
4-6 anchovies, optional
generous handful of basil leaves, torn
salt & pepper
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
250g pasta shapes, whatever is your favourite

Place a large pot of water over high heat, and bring to the boil.

While water is boiling, chop the bacon (or chorizo, or eggplant), mince garlic, chop artichoke hearts and sundried tomatoes, tear basil leaves into small pieces, and grate parmesan cheese (pecorino also makes a good substitute if you prefer).

Once water has come to a rolling boil, add a good handful of salt and pasta. Boil until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet, and cook bacon until brown. When bacon is almost brown, add garlic to pan (don't put the garlic in earlier or it will burn and turn bitter).

Once the bacon and garlic are browned, add the tomato concentrate and 1/2 tsp of the chilli flakes (if using), and cook for a couple of minutes allowing the sugars in the tomato concentrate to caramelise - it will turn quite a dark brown. This is a really important step - it adds lots of flavour and rich colour to your sauce.

Add the anchovies and cook for another 30 seconds.

Next add the tinned tomatoes or passata to the pan. If using whole tinned tomatoes, break them up a bit with a wooden spoon. This will start to bubble immediately - keep stirring scraping up all the bits of browned tomato concentrate. Then turn heat down to a simmer. Add half of the torn-up basil leaves, artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, olives and capers.

Cook for another minute or two until everything is warmed through. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Then keep warm until pasta is finished cooking.

Drain pasta, reserving a little of the pasta water (use this reserved water to loosen the sauce if necessary).

Add the drained pasta to the sauce. Stir in half the parmesan cheese and another sprinkling of chilli flakes if you like it spicy. Lastly stir in the remaining basil leaves.

Serve in warm bowls with remaining parmesan sprinkled over the top.

This makes 3 generous servings, but could easily feed 4 with the addition of a fresh green salad, some good crusty bread to mop up the sauce, and I like to wash it down with a glass or two of Valpolicella.

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Did I Ever Tell You You're My Hero

Actually I'm not talking about this guy. Or even these guys, heroic though they may be ...

I'm talking about my yoga students.

At our yoga school, Yoga Tapas, we begin every one of our classes by spending some time sitting and doing some breathing in Virasana - the Hero Pose. This is a poignant reminder to me every time I come before my students of the courage it takes for so many of them to keep coming back to their mats.

I frequently tell my beginners classes that, contrary to what they may believe, they don't require much in the way of strength and/or flexibility in order to develop a yoga practice - those are things that will come with time. What they do need is faith, courage and determination.

Every student at some stage hits that class or point in their practice when they think "that's it - I quit!" This is usually the time when they need their yoga practice the most, but most listen to that self-destructive little inner voice and quit. The brave ones carry on - these are the students who keep coming back (no matter how hard it is); these are the students I teach; and I am so grateful for the opportunity to do so.

Why is it so hard? Well, there is no doubt, that yoga can be a physically demanding practice and many students have physical obstacles to overcome in the way of illnesses and injuries. We also have numerous students who suffer from emotional and psychological obstacles such as various phobias, anxiety, ADHD, severe depression and bipolar disorder, stress related allergies and more. Through our yoga practice we begin to reconnect the body, mind and spirit - a process of self-discovery, self-awareness and eventually self-acceptance which is not always an easy journey, especially for students who have much self-doubt to overcome along the way.

It is tempting when you come into a class full of students and sit down on your mat to listen to that little voice that is telling you that "everyone else in the room has totally got their act together and can breeze effortlessly through a class, while you on the other hand are a total loser and shouldn't be there - you better quit real quick before everyone else finds you out". That sneaky little voice does not want you to discover that everyone else is actually feeling exactly the same way you do to one degree or another, and it will do anything it can to get you to quit before you discover your true potential, because once that happens you won't listen anymore.

I applaud everyone of you who hears the voice and keeps coming back to your mat despite it. You are my heroes.

Footnote: One new student, who has suffered for many years with severe depression, has decided to try regular yoga practice for 3 months and measure the difference it makes in her life. She is writing a blog to document her progress. I know that there is nothing unique about how she feels - there are many of you who have faced the same thing. Perhaps you might leave a comment on her blog or send her an email to let her know she's not the only one - maybe it will even be a surprise to you to learn that you are not the only one.