Keeping the Feast: a pasta presto to remember
The Holy Season of Lent is a time when folks may be looking for tasty, easy-to-prepare meatless meals. Over the years, The Monitor’s freelance writer Lois Rogers has created a library of meals in her Keeping The Feast column.
Gemelli, a simple shape of two strands of pasta twisted together, is one of my favorites, and it’s a kick to read the description of the box of our family’s preferred band: “These small pasta twists are remarkably versatile, as their shape holds the flavor of the sauce beautifully while retaining a firm, ‘al dente’ texture.”
In poetic fashion, the text elaborates on how the “twists and spirals” allow gemelli to “embrace both refined and simple sauces, making it a perfect choice for salads, light tomato or dairy sauces.”
While that’s all true, in plain truth, I love it because as food will, the very sight of gemelli in whatever sauce or presentation rekindles treasured memories of the diocesan pilgrimage to Rome at the beginning of the new millennium.
Shared with an amiable group of pilgrims, we were billeted in an outlying section of Rome in the “Pope’s own” Gemelli University Hospital, where Pope St. John Paul II received medical treatment. While the accommodations looked like something out of a medical catalog, the opportunity to go outside the hospital and take walking tours of Catholic history were wonderful.
Our admirable band of faithful travelers stepped foot in all four major basilicas, attended Mass in St. Peter’s and shared a massive audience with Pope John Paul II. We crossed the bridge to Castel Sant’Angelo – the papal redoubt in times of trouble – and, with thousands of pilgrims from around the world, prayed at churches throughout Rome, Florence and Assisi.
Of course, along with praying in the holy places, we also ate the best strawberries in history, as I recall, and some of the freshest vegetables; simple dishes like Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe – a swirl in Pecorino Romano cheese with abundant pepper; artichokes alla giudia (the Jewish way) flattened and deep fried, and in our rooms at Gemelli when day was done, very often real Roman pizza.
The second entry in this year’s Lenten series reflects those memories embellished with ingredients of Greek origin that family and friends like to add to the dish. Simple, inexpensive and easy to make, around our family, it’s known as Gemelli Pasta Presto.
Gemelli Pasta Presto
l lb. gemelli pasta
1 1/2 lbs. ripe cherry tomatoes, washed
2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup quartered Kalamata olives (optional)
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. minced, fresh garlic
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
2 Tbs. chopped Italian parsley
1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
1 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook pasta according to package directions in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta water and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat, add tomatoes and cook until they are blistered in spots, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the garlic, red pepper, parsley, rosemary and chickpeas in that order until well blended.
Add the gemelli and mix in enough of the reserved liquid to moisten. Season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with feta cheese.
Serve with toasted pita bread.
Serves six. [[In-content Ad]]