While one could easily assume that lasagna was the pasta that inspired my foray into the culinary world – after all, Garfield and I seem to have a lot in common when it comes to that – it was actually a slightly different pasta that intrigued me. A pasta that is easier, healthier, and to this day remains my favorite.
It was a day like any other back in 1997. I was finished college and looking to start my journey into the world of journalism and radio broadcasting. As luck would have it, I was living with my father at the time and while I had always known my dad to be creative in the kitchen, I was surprised to learn of a few dishes that had never made the heavy rotation list in the years before.
Sure, eggplant Parmesan, pasta al forno, mussels marinara, pasta and red sauce, and of course, lasagna made the cut. But out of nowhere, my dad decided to get all Food Network on me – years before Food Network was available to cable users in Montreal.
He did what any master of the kitchen would do; he used ingredients he had and kept things simple, basic, and healthy. But would it be good? Would it be a true pasta dish, or would it take its place alongside Pasta Primavera, which is possibly the worst thing to ever happen to noodles. (I’m sure somewhere on this planet, someone makes a good pasta primavera, I just haven’t met that person yet.)
The simple ingredients were garlic, sun-dried tomatoes (which until that point, I wasn’t a huge fan of), kalamata olives, Parmesan, and broccoli florettes. The pasta itself was Farfalle or bowtie pasta. Add the finishing touches of a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, cracked pepper, or a light dusting of chili flakes and you have the easiest and best tasting pasta you can make in the time it takes water to boil.
I was 21 at the time and just starting to branch out from my college years and my “if it comes in a chip bag, then it’s a food group” phase; discovering different types of pasta dishes was a good thing. The day I tried this pasta dish stands out as a definitive moment.
The best thing about this pasta is it can be a light lunch or a casual dinner. It can be a starter or the main course. It answers the question of “what can I make that is quick and easy and isn’t pasta with tomato sauce?” And yes, if you feel a more creative urge, you can add to it by tossing in diced chicken breast.
A few tricks I can pass along would include using the sun-dried tomatoes found in oil – but make sure to get as much oil off as possible. Dried out tomatoes will work, but they’re not as soft and don’t work as well in the pasta dish. The oil itself, as my father said, isn’t even good enough to put in your car.
Another tip? Cut the olives yourself. Purchasing pre-cut olives means someone, or something, touched the food. The less ‘touches’ the better. When the day comes that I let a machine do the cutting instead for me, that’s probably the day I should give up cooking.
I’ve since made this dish countless times. It’s earned various nicknames but the one that stands out and has become its official name in my kitchen is “Pasta ’97.” Like the pasta itself, it was simple and seemed to be well-suited.
I’ll never be able to turn back the clock or go back in time, but remembering that pasta dish and how it inspired me to try new things is what lead to me make a career change years later. And when I make it either for myself or for someone, even to this day, memories of 1997 come flooding back.
- 2 cups Bowtie pasta,
- 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, chopped,
- 1/2 cup broccoli florettes, washed,
- 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced,
- 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced or chopped,
- 1 tsp chili flakes (optional),
- 2 tbsp shaved Parmesan cheese,
- Salt and Pepper, to taste,
- 2 tbsp Olive Oil (for cooking),
- 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (for seasoning and serving)
- Cook pasta in large pot of boiling, salted water,
- In a skillet on medium heat, add oil,
- Add garlic, followed by sun-dried tomatoes and olives and saute on medium heat so as not to burn garlic,
- Once pasta is cooked, add broccoli and cook so that it turns bright green,
- Add pasta from pot to pan by using a slotted spoon (you want a small amount of the pasta water),
- Toss all ingredients together; add a sprinkle of cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil,
- Serve pasta immediately and enjoy!