When it comes to cooking, my focus is always on seasonal produce. But now and then, I like to make a dish that is truly seasonless. I always have a box of pasta, olive oil and fresh garlic in my pantry… And I certainly always have cured olives in my refrigerator.
Ever since my first trip to Provence, when I discovered olives de Nyons,* cured olives have become a staple in my kitchen. I simply couldn’t live without them.
Authentic olives de Nyons are so exceptional that they boast their own AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée). Harvested late in the season, their skins become a bit shriveled and their flesh packed with concentrated flavors. Then they are salted and dry-cured, a process that removes any bitterness and intensifies their inherent sweetness. They’re just sublime!
Unfortunately, in the United States, these olives are hard to come by — and a bit pricey. So I often substitute them with Moroccan cured olives, which are available in most markets. While obviously not as flavorful, they do make an acceptable stand-in.
I remember creating this recipe while visiting Provence a few years back. The delectable olives de Nyons were not the only ingredient I couldn’t get enough of. Those artisanal goat cheeses and fragrant Herbes de Provence made me dream of a dish where all three fabulous flavors would meet… Et voilà!
Last but not least, Maccheroni alla Chitarra means “guitar string” pasta… Since my husband Marc is a musician, I love to serve it to him. They are a kind of squarish spaghetti and a specialty of Italy’s Abruzzo region. This musical string-shaped pasta and its scrumptious sauce ought to make you sing your heart out!
* Olives de Nyons can be purchased in specialty/gourmet food stores, Whole Foods Market and online at FrenchFeast.com
Food & wine pairing: Côte du Rhône with Maccheroni alla Chitarra
A Côte du Rhône is the obvious choice for this Provençal-inspired pasta. But a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley or a Rioja Crianza from Spain would be quite good here too.
Maccheroni alla Chitarra with Herbes de Provence, cured olives and fresh goat cheese
active time: 25 min
For the pasta
- 1 tablespoon sea salt (to boil the pasta)
- 1 lb (455 g) Maccheroni alla Chitarra, Spaghetti or Linguini Fini
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons dried Herbes de Provence
- 6 large garlic cloves – skinned and finely chopped
- 4 oz (115 g) (1 cup) pitted cured black olives (or olives de Nyons) – coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers – drained and finely chopped
- 1/3 cup reserved pasta cooking water
- 24 large basil leaves – torn in 1″ pieces
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the garnishes
- 6 oz (170 g) fresh goat cheese – crumbled
- extra virgin olive oil
- basil leaves
- Step 1: Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. When the water is boiling, add the salt and the pasta. Boil pasta until tender but still al dente. Drain and shake off the excess water.
- Step 2: While the pasta is boiling, heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, Herbes de Provence and garlic and sauté for 1 minute until the garlic sizzles but does not brown. Add the olives and capers and sauté for an additional 1 minute until warmed through. Remove from heat and set aside until the pasta is cooked.
- Step 3: While the pasta is draining, return the skillet to the stove and heat over medium-high heat. As soon as the sauce sizzles, add the pasta, reserved pasta cooking water, fresh basil, salt and pepper. Toss quickly until the basil is wilted, about 30 seconds, and remove from heat. Divide the pasta into bowls. Top with the crumbled goat cheese. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, garnish with a basil leaf and serve immediately.