Flat leaf parsley volunteered along my grandparent’s backyard fence; it stood tall, competing with thistles and clover for the sun’s attention. One afternoon my grandmother pinched a leaf from its tender stem and coaxed me to try it.
I was 5 years old and thought it tasted awful.
I can’t remember eating fresh herbs again until the happy day in my freshman year of college when a friend made homemade pesto. She introduced me to a new world of flavor. I couldn’t believe the allure of fresh basil; I salivated at its sweet, licorice scent. Who knew that basil could mobilize and detonate olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, and Parmesan?
Now, without the herb garden just outside my kitchen door, I fear that our meals might lull into monotony. Even dishes with strong characters like briny olives, tangy tomatoes, and salty cheese often lack brightness and unity. That’s why on most nights, you’ll find me crouched beside the patio snipping away at flat leaf parsley (good after all, Granny), chives, oregano, rosemary, sage, lovage…
Maria Speck‘s mother is similarly inclined. Maria writes in her brilliant (and 2012 IACP award winning) book, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, “When it comes to the use of fresh herbs, my mom shows no restraint.” Next to these words is a photo of linguine tangled with olives and myriad tiny green flecks. The flecks are parsley, mint, and thyme, and the dish is delicious.
Photo credit: Sara Remington © 2011
Rustic Linguine with Summer Herbs and Olives
Reprinted with permission from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
I took Maria’s advice and shaved Pecorino Romano over the top.
Herb and olive mixture:
1 cup Kalamata or other good-quality black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons drained nonpareil capers
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh red Thai chile (optional)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
Fine sea salt
3/4 pound whole wheat linguine or spaghetti
1. First, prepare the herb and olive mixture. Place the olives, herbs, capers, garlic, chile, and olive oil in a medium bowl and toss to combine. Salt to taste (keeping in mind that olives and capers might be salty enough). Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours, stirring a couple of times, for the flavors to come together.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add salt as you see fit and then the pasta, stirring a few times. Return to a boil with the lid on; uncover and cook at a gentle boil until the pasta is al dente, according to the package directions.
3. To finish, drain the pasta and return it to the pot or to a large serving bowl, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Add the herb and olive mixture together with a scant 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking liquid. Toss vigorously to combine for about 1 minute, adding a tad more cooking liquid to loosen the pasta as needed. Serve at once.
To get a head start: The herb and olive mixture, as in step 1, can be prepared 1 day ahead. Chill, covered. Remove it from the fridge when you start to boil the pasta water to take the chill out. I normally don’t buy already pitted olives as the pit helps them retain flavor, but if you’re in a hurry, please do.
To lighten it up: You can reduce the amount of olive oil to 2 tablespoons and increase the pasta liquid a bit. But I am a believer in the transformative power of olive oil. So when I feel a need for restraint, I eat a little less pasta – and more salad – rather than cut back on the delicious and satisfying aroma of olive oil.