We don’t make a lot of New Year’s resolutions besides the one that everyone makes (lose weight!), but this year we did make a resolution—eat one vegetarian dinner a week. Having grown up in the Midwest, meat was what we ate for dinner. We did eat fish, but only the frozen variety on Fridays or the occasional trout or lake fish we caught during the summer. We were the classic 50's meat and potatoes for dinner families.
But after reading a few very discomforting books on food production (Omnivore’s Dilemma being the standout), and aware of the health risks of eating too much meat, I’ve become much more concerned about the amount of meat we consume (particularly red meat, but also industrially-produced chicken). The capper was the rise in prices—steaks have always been more costly than poultry but even chicken isn’t cheap anymore. Time for a change!
Vegetarian menus are bit challenging for us because I don’t like beans and neither one of us care for tofu. So our vegetarian meals lean towards Mediterranean cuisine such as this rustic spaghetti recipe adapted from the Olive Harvest Cookbook (another great cookbook we picked up in some winery in Sonoma or Napa). The sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and Kalamata olives add depth of flavor to this spaghetti but there is a wonderful twist—dried currents. They may sound like a weird ingredient to add to spaghetti sauce, but the tiny burst of sweetness is a wonderful endnote to each mouthful. Serve it with steamed artichokes and salad and you have an easy to make yet sophisticated meal.
Spaghetti with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Olives and Capers
1 small red onion, julienned
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tbls. olive oil
½ lb. Italian spaghetti
½ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and julienned (reserve1 ½ tbls.of the sun-dried tomato oil)
¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives, julienned
2 tbls. capers, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes, and drained
¼ cup dried currants, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and drained
½ cup, plus 2 tbls. fresh basil, cut into chiffonade (very thin strips)
½ tsp. each salt and coarsely ground pepper
2 oz. parmesan cheese, shaved
(Note: Reserve 2 tbls. sliced basil and 1/2 of the currants to sprinkle on top just before serving).
Heat 2 tbls. olive oil over low heat in medium pan and sautè onion and garlic for 15 minutes. The onion and garlic should not sizzle.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until el dente, 8 to 12 minutes depending on directions. While the pasta is cooking, finish preparing the sauce.
In a large, warm bowl, combine the onions, garlic, tomatoes, olives, capers, currants, basil, reserved sun-dried tomato oil, and salt and pepper.
When pasta is ready, drain it well, add to the sauce and toss. When serving top each portion with a few slices of shaved parmesan and sprinkle with strips of basil and remaining currants.
Maybe next year we'll graduate to two veggie meals a week!
Viva La Vegetable!
Tips and Tidbits
The original recipe calls for nearly ½ cup of olive (¼ cup to cook the onions and garlic in, and ¼ cup of sun-dried tomato oil for tossing the sauce and pasta together). As with many recipes, I almost always reduce the oil or butter by half, if not more. When you toss the spaghetti with the sauce, you may wish to add more oil to suit your taste.
The currants tend to sink to the bottom, which is why I reserved half of them to sprinkle on at the last minute. Microwave them for 5 seconds if they've cooled to room temperature.
This recipe reheats well. We split it, eating the other half for an easy weeknight meal.