The family tradition growing up was Sunday dinner of spaghetti and meatballs at my maternal grandmother's house, followed by rounds of Boggle until "60 Minutes" started ticking on the TV. Some weeks she would even treat us to fresh made ravioi or cavatelli, but whatever the pasta, it was always drenched in rich, thick marinara and a generous dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano.
This past weekend felt like a return to Pasta Sunday, though these days it's gluten-free Tinkyada brown rice penne, sans cheese. And, instead of tomato sauce, this time it was a base of olive oil and garlic for a light Mediterranean twist. I've forgotten how delicious this quick and easy meal can be since my inclination is to always drench everything in sauce. Perhaps that's my upbringing. But when I lighten up a bit, I'm always happy with the results.
The penne was tossed with kalamata olives, diced onions, sundried tomatoes, garlic, artichoke hearts (just a few, cut in half), baby spinach, fresh basil, and toasted pine nuts. While the pasta is cooking, toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry skillet on medium heat. Keep an eye on these because once they start to release their oil and aroma, they're done in seconds. Remove them immediately from the pan and set aside.
Next, saute about a half cup of diced onions in a hot skillet until they're translucent and beginning to brown on the edges. Then add a couple cloves of minced garlic and saute about a minute. Toss in the olives, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and about 8 oz. of baby spinach, then sprinkle with sea salt. If the pan is too hot and sizzly and things are starting to stick, don't worry - just add a bit of water or wine to deglaze. Cover the skillet and let this steam for a couple of minutes.
Once the spinach is wilted, taste for seasoning. It should be a little salty since it's all going to get tossed with the penne and the flavors will mellow out. Drain the cooked penne, then immediately toss it with the spinach mixture. Season with fresh black pepper and sea salt, then stir in the fresh basil and pine nuts. In less than a half an hour, dinner is ready, and you will be magically transported to a warm, sunny hillside overlooking miles of crisp blue ocean.