Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Popeye Goes to Italy


Today I will share with you a simple pasta dish that uses traditional Italian flavors, like tomatoes and spinach, but with a little twist that might be new to you. I imagine that Popeye would order this pasta dish if he went to Italy with Olive Oyl and Swee'Pea on a family vacation. I picture him strolling around a Roman piazza, puffing away on his corncob pipe and scoping out the nearest supply of spinach to bulk up his strength in case Bluto shows up.

Fortunately, we don't need to travel to Italy to get real Italian flavor in our American kitchens. I have never been to Italy but I really enjoy that country's tradition of combining dark, leafy greens with pasta. You've probably eaten sauteed spinach but have you ever tried cooking arugula? It's delicious and pairs extremely well with garlic. Cooking arugula intensifies its peppery bite, which is beautifully tempered by the sweetness of tomatoes. Although I can't promise that eating this dish will result in superhuman strength like Popeye, I can promise that it tastes great.


1 pound penne

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly slice
1 28 ounce can Italian style diced tomatoes
3 cups chopped spinach
1 cup chopped arugula
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino romano or your favorite Italian cheese

Cook the penne according to package directions.

The sauce takes about the same amount to prepare as the penne takes to cook so begin the sauce while you wait for the pasta water to boil.

Heat the olive oil to medium in a large saute pan with high sides.

Add the garlic and saute until the garlic begins to turns golden brown on the edges, about three minutes. Stir the garlic frequently to avoid burning. (Tip: If the garlic begins to burn, lower the heat and add a tablespoon of the tomato juice from the canned tomatoes to stop the burning. Slowly bring the pan back up to medium heat once the burning stops.)

Add the spinach, arugula and salt. Cook the greens until just wilted, about 2 minutes.

Add the entire can of tomatoes, including the juice.

Stir in the oregano.

Let the sauce simmer gently until the pasta is done cooking.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain thoroughly but do not rinse. Pour into a large serving bowl and ladle the sauce over the pasta.

Sprinkle the cheese on top or pass the cheese at the table.

Serves 4 very generously.

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