Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nigella's Pasta with Spinach and Feta

Confession #1: I have a culinary crush.  Her name is Nigella Lawson. I discovered her cooking shows on the Style network almost a decade ago and I was hooked.  What I love about her is how she unapologetically enjoys food--all aspects of food: the cooking AND the eating.  In fact, she was one of the people who helped me get over my fear of failing in the kitchen...[Insert scratching record noise here.] 

Confession #2:  That's right.  I said it.  I haven't always liked cooking.  In fact, for a long, long time I preferred watching cooking shows instead of actually cooking.  The reason for the disconnect was that I was able to enjoy the cooking process when watching someone else cook, but once I got into the kitchen, I felt paralyzed by the fear that I would mess things up. 

Nigella to the rescue! Through her cooking shows and cookbooks, I discovered the secret:  JUST RELAX.  If I relax in the kitchen and focus on enjoying the food, rather than impending doom and failure, I can be a happy and contented cook.  I learned to focus on what I love about cooking: the textures, the sounds, and the aromas.  Now I allow myself to enjoy every step of the process.  Nigella helped me to figure that out. 

Ten years later, I own every single one of her cookbooks, and read them like bedtime stories.  There's something about the way she writes about food that brings it alive on the page.  I also watch every new cooking show she comes out with. Thanks, Nigella, for helping me to RELAX AND ENJOY THE FOOD!

In honor of her, I'm posting a recipe from her latest book, Kitchen: Recipes From the Heart of the Home, all 487 pages of it.  I got it a couple weeks ago and have already read it cover to cover. One chapter, entitled "Off The Cuff," is dedicated to recipes that can be made with kitchen staples (or Nigella's kitchen staples.)  Since she's British, some of her staples aren't as easily available in the U.S, but I was excited when I saw a recipe for Curly Pasta with Feta, Spinach, and Pine Nuts.  Except for the pine nuts, this recipe was full of things I regularly keep on hand.  I did fiddle with the recipe a bit, but not too much.  This is still a very Nigella recipe.

About the feta: Feta cheese is a greek cheese that is wonderfully sharp and salty.  A little bit goes a long way, and it keeps forever in your refrigerator.  Seriously.  I've never seen feta go bad yet.  I'm sure it does at some point, but in my fridge it keeps fresh for months.  I buy a LARGE tub of it at Costco because it's MUCH more economical to buy it in bulk.  I highly recommend it.  The beauty of feta is that it adds the perfect punch of taste for just a point or two.  I love it.  I add a bit to a salad, in a frittata, on top of pasta.  Anywhere and everywhere.

Enough chat.  On with the recipe! 

Nigella's Pasta with Spinach and Feta
Servings: 6 generous servings
Serving size: 2 generous cups
Points per serving: 8

  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2 teaspoons garlic flavored olive oil (or 2 teaspoons regular olive oil, plus 2 garlic cloves, pressed)
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 pound penne or fusili pasta (I used Ronzoni Smart Taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 pound frozen chopped spinach (do yourself a favor and buy the spinach in a bag-not the box-and give the bag of frozen spinach a few good karate chops to break up the big pieces)
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3-4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Start the water boiling for your pasta.  Once it's come to a boil, add LOTS of salt to the water.  According to Nigella, Italian cooks say pasta water should be a salty as the Mediteranean.  Don't be shy with the salt.
  2. Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over medium-low heat, or in the microwave in 30 second bursts.  Be careful.  The nuts burn very easily.  Put toasted nuts aside in a bowl to cool. 
  3. Heat the olive oil in a pan large enough to hold the pasta and sauce. 
  4. Saute the onions over medium low heat, about 10 minutes, letting them get soft without taking on any color.  (If they start to get color, sprinkle a little salt over them.  It will bring out some of the water in the onions and slow down the coloring process. That's another Nigella tip.)
  5. If you used garlic flavored oil, skip ahead to step #6.  If you are using real garlic instead, add the garlic when the onions are soft.  Once the smell of garlic wafts up at you, move immediately to the next step. 
  6. Add the broken up frozen spinach to the pan with the softened onions.  Keep stirring the spinach and onions, breaking up larger chunks and letting the frozen spinach melt.  If you're impatient like me, you might want to turn the heat up a bit to speed up the melting process.
  7. Once the pasta is finished cooking, pull out a mug-full of the pasta cooking water before you drain the pasta. 
  8. Add the allspice to the pasta water, and add the allspice-flavored water to the spinach. 
  9. Add the feta and pine nuts to the spinach, allowing the feta to melt a bit.  The sauce will be a little bit creamy and a little bit chunky with feta.  Add the parmesan to the sauce.
  10. Add the drained pasta to the sauce and toss everything well to combine.  
  11. Spoon into bowls and add extra parmesan if desired.  
  12. Enjoy. 

1 comment:

  1. I, too, am a fan of all things feta... can't wait to try this recipe out! Thanks for sharing!