Quinoa Pasta with Black Beldis & a Lemon Vinaigrette
2 Thu, 2011 § 2 Comments
One of the beautiful aspects of cooking with fresh ingredients is the variety you get, even within one type of food. Each lemon I squeeze or zest has slightly different nuances from the last.
Because food differs subtly, cooking by taste is about more than personal preference. It is also about capturing the moment of (& with) the food & making minute adjustments to bring everything together on the plate.
Tuesday evening, we made a simple pasta dish & arguably one of the best we have tasted. You can’t go wrong with Black Beldi olives (my recent obsession), artichoke hearts & pine nuts, but this wasn’t just good; it was wow. Though each ingredient was simple, I mindfully tasted each, striving to create balance between the acid, fat, salt & sweetness of the dish. I looked for subtle changes that would round out the flavors.
What I kept in mind:
Pasta should be al dente, not mush, so it holds up to other textures. I had never cooked quinoa pasta before, so I had to watch it carefully. Pasta continues to cook for a short time after removing it from the stove, so remove & drain it just before you think it is done.
Beldi olives are worth seeking out. They would be a major fat/heavy component of the dish – especially since I was chopping them — so I didn’t want a heavy sauce. A vinaigrette with a full-flavored extra virgin olive oil-base would keep it light. Beldis are briny, full of flavor & can be salty; after tasting one, I realized I could still add more sea salt to the dish at the end without over salting.
Baby spinach would not only add more nutrients, but color & an earthy tone as well — more so since I was going to toss it with warm pasta, which would cause it to wilt slightly — so I did only a couple small handfuls.
Since artichoke hearts have a taste that borders bitterness, I used basil in the vinaigrette to cut through this & round out the flavors. Basil makes me think fresh. A tiny pinch of mint would also add freshness.
Toasted, almost smokey, pine nuts add layers in both texture & flavor.
Acid adds brightness to a dish, which is nice for pasta which can easily become heavy. My lemon wasn’t especially tart & didn’t quite stand up to the olive oil with the typical 1:1 vinaigrette ratio. I opted to use more lemon juice & garnish each plate with the zest for more punch.
Our artisan feta is a local, distinct goat cheese with a little heat from dried peppers as well as garlic, which would compliment the basil, artichokes, etc. It is a dry cheese, which would be preferred over an oily one for this dish.
Below are my approximations. I didn’t really measure anything, & I encourage you to do the same. After all, each time you make a dish, it should come together a little differently than the time before, as seasons, harvests, weather, etc vary. No mindless tasting (ie snacking) while you cook; instead, really taste each component & consider how it will all come together.
Quinoa Pasta with Black Beldis, Artichoke & Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette
serves 4 – 6
- 16 oz small-shaped pasta, cooked al dente, drained & cooled slightly
- 1 – 2 handfuls baby spinach, torn
- ~1/3 cup Black Beldi olives, chopped
- 1 can artichoke heart quarters, drained
- ~3 T pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet (watch closely: they go from raw to burnt like that :snap:)
- fine sea salt to taste
- ~1/4 cup dry goat feta, crumbled
- zest from one lemon (garnish)
Toss spinach with warm pasta. Add chopped olives, artichoke & pine nuts & toss gently with a sprinkling of sea salt. Pour the vinaigrette over the pasta & gently combine. Sprinkle with feta & toss again. Garnish individual servings with lemon zest.
- 2 T fresh lemon juice
- 1 T extra virgin olive oil
- substantial pinch dried basil
- pinch dried mint
Whisk ingredients together.
Do you taste & adjust as you cook or follow recipes strictly?