[No, not "date" as in "dried fruit with pit and high sugar content." I mean "date" as in the classic Saturday night event, "evening out with someone you like and with whom you might like to be, um, romantic." ]
It’s been a whirlwind weekend, first, with a birthday dinner (THANKS for all those amazing well-wishes, everyone!) followed immediately by a wedding (the birthday dinner featured the HH and me; the wedding did not). More on both next time, once I’ve had a chance to catch my breath. Today, I’m just as excited to tell you about Date Pasta instead.
When we were undergrads in our 20s, one of the things that welded the friendship between my buddy Sterlin and me was our singleton status. No matter how many relationships and breakups the rest of our friends experienced, and no matter how many blind dates, dating services, personal ads, university parties or fix-ups we two endured, Sterlin and I somehow managed to remain perpertually alone (well, I guess technically we weren’t “alone,” since we spent most Saturday nights with each other–but you know what I mean).
Being permanently unattached until our mid-twenties (okay, fine, late twenties) didn’t mean we ever stopped trying, however. This pasta dish was Sterlin’s go-to recipe pretty much every time she wished to impress a potential boyfriend, or every time she scored a second date. It was quick, it was easy, it was foolproof, guys seemed to like it, and–most important–it was the only dish she knew how to make.
The guys in question, upon being served the pasta, would inevitably utter an appropriately impressed response, then spend an engaging evening drinking wine, gobbling up the pasta, and raving about how good it was, before leaving and never calling again. (What’s up with that, anyway? Was it something we said? Was it our nerdy demeanor? Were they just not that into us? Or were they perhaps paralyzed by our incomparable wit, intelligence and (reasonably) good looks? I guess we’ll never know. ) Despite its inability to produce a lasting relationship, Date Pasta was so good that Sterlin kept making it throughout our university career.
In fact, I was also so impressed with the dish (and ever hopeful about the fact that guys seemed to like it) that I asked for the recipe, and proceeded to cook it up dozens of times myself over the years. It wasn’t until the HH and I were happily ensconced in our current long-term relationship and sharing the same abode that I dared to cook it for him.
And then–magically–when the HH ate it, the curse was broken; he was able to love Date Pasta, and still love me, too.
I hadn’t eaten Date Pasta in years, though. First of all, the HH and I no longer go on “dates” (well, I suppose you could say our weekly sushi lunch together might qualify, but still). More importantly, however, the ingredient list of the original recipe contained spicy capicola salami, cut into cubes and flash-fried along with the other ingredients. These days, I feel about salami sort of the same way I feel about steak. When I altered my diet ten years ago, I placed the recipe in a file folder, and forgot about it.
This past week, the HH’s friend the Engineering Guru came over for dinner. Could it be that he resembled a guy I fancied in high school? Or maybe it was that he’s tall and strapping and I know he, like the HH, is an avid meat eater? Whatever the reason, Date Pasta came to mind. The HH even remembered it from our early days and enthusiastically coerced browbeat badgered encouraged me to whip it up again. So I did what I often do when cooking for the HH and me: I made a huge batch of the recipe in a meatless format I could enjoy, then let the guys add their own meat to their portions.
Why did I never think of this before? All these years, I’ve been avoiding Date Pasta, and missing out on this remarkably easy and delicious dinner! It’s so chock full of pungent, toothsome, salty and briny add-ins that it almost doesn’t need the pasta, and certainly doesn’t require the meat. Who knows? Maybe if I’d made it this way from the start, I’d have had more success in those early dateless years. (Then again, I would never have enjoyed all those Saturday nights with Sterlin). And so, Date Pasta, welcome back (can’t say that I miss the singleton status, though).
Oh, and now that I’ve finally made another pasta dish, I’m happy to submit this to Melissa at The Cooking Diva, who’s hosting Presto Pasta Nights, the weekly event originated by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast.
Date (or any other occasion) Pasta
While this is great as is, if you’re craving a meat stand-in, I think this pasta would be phenomenal with some cubed, smoked tofu as well.
1/2 large onion, sliced thin in half-moon strips
8 (yes, 8 ) cloves garlic, cut in quarters
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound (225 g.) button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
1 can artichoke hearts, lightly drained (keep about 2 Tbsp./30 ml. of the liquid), halved
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) capers, with some juice
1/3 cup (80 ml.) green and kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half
1 roasted red pepper, sliced thin
1/2-3/4 cup (120-180 ml.) grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup (120 ml.) tomato sauce or juice (optional)
linguine, enough for 4 people, cooked until just al dente
nutritional yeast, ground nuts (pine nuts are great for this), or chopped fresh parsley
While your pasta cooks, sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil until the chunks of garlic begin to brown. Add the mushrooms, artichoke hearts, capers, and olives; lower heat, cover and simmer 5-8 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the mushrooms begin to give off a bit of liquid. Add the pepper, tomatoes, and tomato sauce, if using, and cover and simmer for 5 more minutes, until flavors have melded.
Drain the pasta about 2 minutes before it has reached perfect doneness (if you like it al dente, stop a couple of minutes before it reaches this texture). Drain the pasta and, while it’s still dripping, immediately toss it into the pot with the sauce ingredients. Toss to coat the pasta (there should still be some liquid in the bottom of the pot; if there isn’t, add about 1/4 cup water). Cover the pot and simmer 2 more minutes, stirring once or twice, until the pasta is perfectly cooked and has soaked up some of the liquid (it will also absorb some color from the sauce). Toss again and serve with a generous grinding of pepper and a sprinkling of nutritional yeast, ground nuts, or chopped parsley. Serves 4.