I’ve never been big on pasta. In retrospect, I think younger me thought it was relatively boring, an empty starch. But as I’ve grown and evolved as a cook over the last several years, as I have traveled and dined at the table of many pasta-lovers, my mind has been opened. I have abandoned the notion of pasta as just ‘spaghetti with red sauce and Parmesan cheese’ (though that is very good too!).
Mom taught me a technique she uses often – stirring vegetables into the pasta water the last few minutes of cook time or stirring greens into the hot pasta immediately after draining. More vegetables, more flavor, less starch. So I’ve been making a lot of vegetable-laden pasta these days, amping up the flavors with bold cheeses, fragrant herbs, zippy zests, crunchy garlic breadcrumbs, and anything else I find hiding in the bottom of my fridge to add flavor and texture.
Lemon and Arugula Farfalle with Feta and Basil
1 pound bite-size pasta, such as farfalle or penne
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, plus juice, if desired
1 heaping cup crumbled feta
1/3 cup coarsely grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
4 ounces (about 4 cups) factory-washed arugula
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring 2 quarts water and a tablespoon of salt to a boil in Dutch oven or soup kettle. Add pasta and, using back-of-the-box times as a guide, cook partially covered and stirring frequently at first, to prevent sticking, until just tender.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small skillet, add garlic and chili flakes and cook on low heat until fragrant. Turn off the heat before the garlic starts to turn brown.
In a separate bowl, mix basil, lemon zest, feta and Parmesan.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain, and return to the pot, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Quickly stir in the arugula, followed by the olive oil mixture, and then the cheese mixture; toss to coat. Add salt to taste and a generous sprinkling of pepper, along with pasta cooking liquid if needed and a good squeeze of lemon juice to boost flavor. Serve, sprinkling with additional Parmesan.