(Bloomberg) — Editor’s Note: As more people are working from home, Bloomberg Pursuits is running a weekly Lunch Break column that highlights a notable recipe from a favorite cookbook and the hack that makes it genius.
It’s hard to imagine a recipe that will threaten the popularity of TikTok’s baked feta pasta in 2021.
That dish, which relies on pasta, cherry tomatoes, garlic, and a hunk of feta cheese, was popular enough that after Finnish blogger Jenni Hayrinen posted the recipe in 2019, feta cheese sold out at markets in her country. When the recipe hit TikTok in early 2021 via blogger MacKenzie Smith (@grilledcheesesocial), feta temporarily became harder to source in the U.S., too.
One thing it’s done, besides squeeze certain cheese markets, is remind people just what a supremely convenient and appealing ingredient pasta is.
In Greenfeast: Spring, Summer (Ten Speed Press; $26), the venerable U.K. food writer, cook, and television personality Nigel Slater offers a dish that could be considered a seasonal alternative to the TikTok sensation, starring almost all the same base ingredients—pasta, cherry tomatoes, garlic—reconfigured.
Spring, Summer is Slater’s follow-up to Greenfeast: Autumn, Winter, which was published in the U.S. in 2020. His recipe writing style is renowned for its poetic simplicity. Dish names are only a few words long: Greens, Coconut Curry; Baked Ricotta Asparagus; the intriguing combo of Mustard, Guacamole, Mozzarella, Bagel. The chapter list in his book reads like a Dr. Seuss stanza: In a Bowl, In the Hand, In the Morning, In the Oven, and so on. “Greenfeast,” writes Slater, “is a collection of what I eat when I finish work every day: the casual yet spirited meals with which I sustain myself and whoever else is around.”
The recipe for Pasta, Tomatoes belongs to the ‘In the Pan’ chapter, where Slater pays tribute to two of his most essential pans: One is a thin, nonstick skillet for dishes like pancakes; the other is his heavy, hardworking cast-iron pan that he thinks will outlive him.
Slater describes his recipe as “Hot, cold, crisp tender. A dish of contrasts. A fideua salad,” which is a reference to the paella-style noodle dish that’s popular in Valencia, Spain, and usually features seafood. He believes the biggest decision to be made concerns the pasta. “Ideas about the correct pasta for fiduea will be argued about even in Spain but the only essential point is to use a small, thin pasta that will crisp nicely on the bottom of the pan,” he writes.
There are several suitable types of pasta, he says, including fideos, vermicelli, angel hair, or thin noodles broken into short lengths. His trick is to “catch the pasta just at the point where it is starting to crisp on the bottom of the pan and can be loosened with the end of a wooden spatula.” It is, he writes, “certainly the best pasta salad I have ever had.”
I chose ditalini, the cute mini tubes, because I thought it would supply more surface area for crisping in the hot pan. It was a good choice—it had excellent al dente texture after cooking. The result is superbly silky pasta, infused with the flavors of the garlic and stock it bubbled away in. The contrast with the sweet, juicy cherry tomatoes is wonderful—and a refreshing reminder of the weather as it warms up.
To be honest, the dish doesn’t need anything else. But Slater says his recipes are “more for inspiration than rules to be adhered to slavishly, word for word.” In other words, feel free to add feta or an even more inspired ingredient and see if it will go viral.
The following recipe is adapted from Greenfeast: Spring, Summer by Nigel Slater.
3 cloves garlic
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 qt. good-quality vegetable stock, hot
9 oz. small pasta shapes
3 small, ripe tomatoes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
Handful of parsley
4 green onions
You‘ll need a heavy-bottomed frying pan or a paella pan.
Peel and thinly slice the garlic. Warm the olive oil in a large saute pan, then add the garlic and cook till just starting to crisp. Tip the pasta into the garlic and saute for 1 minute, then pour in the hot stock and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat to a simmer; cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes, until the pasta is almost tender. Remove the lid and continue to boil for about 12 more minutes, until almost all the liquid has evaporated; if necessary, raise the heat. The pasta should be starting to toast lightly on the bottom of the pan. If it isn’t, pour in a drop or two more oil.
Cut the bigger tomatoes into quarters and the cherry tomatoes in half, then roughly chop the parsley and green onions; season with salt. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the toasted pasta from the bottom of the pan, ensuring all the golden crusty bits come with it. Tip in all the tomatoes, parsley, and onions and toss together gently so the cold tomatoes, hot pasta, and small amount of stock are thoroughly mixed. Check the seasoning and serve.