Wednesday, March 12, 2014


This pasta dish is not only delicious but also super easy and quick! Add this to your recipe book to use for your vegetarian guests, your "Meatless Monday" meals, or even add meat to it if you're looking for more non-vegetarian protein.
Grape Tomato, Olive, and Spinach Pasta

  • 8 ounces uncooked penne (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup organic vegetable broth
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 black olives, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cups baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup torn basil leaves
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)

  1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add pasta; cook 8 minutes or until al dente. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add red pepper and garlic; saute 30 seconds.
  3. Add tomatoes, broth, salt, black pepper, and olives; cook 6 minutes or until tomatoes begin to break down, stirring occasionally. 
  4. Add pasta and 1/2 cup reserved cooking liquid to pan; simmer 2 minutes.
  5. Stir in spinach and basil; cook 2 minutes or until greens wilt.
  6. Serve immediately, topped with Parmesan cheese.
Meat Option: To add meat, like ground Italian sausage, cook the meat separately. Drain it. Then add to step 4 in the directions.
Vegetarian: Make sure your vegetable broth is vegetarian friendly.
Vegan: Make sure your pasta and vegetable broth are vegan friendly. Omit parmesan cheese at the end, or use an alternative.

{Original recipe from Cooking Light Magazine's March 2014 issue. Recipe has been adjusted.}

Details for New Cooks

For your convenience, the end of each recipe will end with an ordering box from Amazon. Here you will see any of the ingredients, or cooking items, needed within the recipe available to order online through Amazon. I always choose options that are not only a good quality but a good price. Any items you see within these boxes are all items I would purchase myself and may already have purchased.

PENNE - Store-bought penne usually comes in 16 oz. boxes; purchase one box, use half, and save the rest
for another time. I always buy whole wheat and organic. If you're feeling adventurous you could experiment by making your own. You don't have to use penne; you can use any type of pasta that you like. {Vegan: Look for vegan-friendly pasta or choose to make your own with vegetables.}

OLIVE OIL and CRUSHED RED PEPPER - As always, you'll want extra-virgin when choosing olive oil. If you live in an area that has a Trader Joe's, they have a great value on their EVOO. Crushed red pepper can easily be found in the spice aisle of your local supermarket.

Sliced garlic.
GARLIC CLOVE - In some of my previous recipes, I have suggested using chopped and/or minced garlic in a jar as an alternative for efficiency and convenience, especially for someone still new to cooking. For this recipe, I highly suggest using a fresh garlic clove. For information on garlic, including a "how to" video, visit the Produce Preparation page here and scroll down to where it says "GARLIC".

GRAPE TOMATOES - Found in the produce section of your local supermarket, one small package of grape tomatoes usually comes out to about 2 cups. If you like, you can also cup them in half prior to cooking. As always, make sure to rinse them beforehand.

VEG BROTH - When purchasing any type of broth, buying organic is always the best as well as buying one
with the least amount of sodium. Some people like to make their own broth! Broth is in the soups section of the supermarket. Vegetarians/Vegans: Make sure to confirm the ingredients list of your vegetable broth prior to purchasing to make sure it is actually vegetarian/vegan-friendly.

SALT and PEPPER - Pretty self-explanatory at this point. Regular, iodized table salt is something to stay away from. Choose Kosher, Sea Salt, or another healthier option like Himalayan Pink Salt. Health food stores will have better salt options.

OLIVES - To your preference, you can use black olives or Kalamata; either way, make sure they are pitted and coarsely chopped. If you're looking to cut even more time off your preparation then purchase a small can of coarsely chopped black olives and use about half the can.

BABY SPINACH - Whether purchased fresh or in a container/bag, make sure it is rinsed and remove any stems that are big and thick, if any. When measuring out the 4 cups, be generous; spinach shrinks A LOT when cooking.

BASIL LEAVES - Basil leaves are a little harder to find in regular supermarkets - Safeway here near Portland (Oregon) always seems to be out. The larger health food stores always have bags of fresh basil on hand. Make sure it's washed and just use your hands to tear them into small pieces.

PARMESAN CHEESE - Cheese can be omitted for a vegan-friendly option. Another alternative is vegan cheese.


1. "Al dente" means to cook just long enough so that the pasta is still firm, yet not too soft. All pasta should be cooked al dente. This recipe is especially important to only cook for the 8 minutes due to the pasta being added back into the pan later to continue cooking with the rest of the ingredients. As soon as the 8 minutes is over, remove from stove immediately to prevent cooking longer than necessary. Place the colander over an
empty bowl and drain pasta. You want to save at least a 1/2-cup of the liquid from the cooked pasta; the rest you can get rid of. Do not rinse your pasta either! You will see a lot of recipes that tell you to rinse the pasta in cold water to stop the cooking process; this is not necessary. Pasta cools off VERY quickly after draining it from the hot water. Also, rinsing the pasta actually rinses away the pasta's natural flavors that comes out while cooking. With dishes like this one that doesn't have any type of sauce, you especially want those pasta flavors!

2. The thinner the garlic is sliced, the quicker it will cook. Have all your ingredients for step 3 prepared and ready so that when your 30-seconds of sauteing is completed on this step, you will be ready to throw in the ingredients for the next step.

3. If you chose to keep your tomatoes whole (rather than cutting them in half), at the end of your 6 minutes use the tip of a sharp knife to poke a hole in each one. This will allow the juices from the tomatoes to release and the whole tomatoes to break down. 

4. This is where you add your pasta back in as well as add the leftover pasta water that was reserved when you drained it. Though using a regular skillet still worked for me, it did end up getting difficult to stir toward the end because the ingredients started to outgrow the sides of the pan. It worked, though I had to be very careful when stirring. I suggest using a skillet that has taller sides, 2-3 inches tall.

5. It's always good to have a couple of kitchen timers on hand for recipes just like this. Purchase ones that are easy to use and get to know them before you actually need to use them. I'm lucky enough to have my microwave right above my stove, so I have a timer I can use on my microwave as well as a timer on my stove. I use both timers often. If you have an iPhone (like I do) you can also just hold down the 'Home' button and tell Siri to set a timer for however long you want. When you put the spinach and basil in it will seem like the pan is very full, but this won't last for long. Spinach wilts very quickly when cooked. Just set your timer for 2-minutes and watch it shrink!

6. Serve immediately. Because there is no thick sauce served with this dish, it will actually cool off fairly quickly. If preferred, top with grated Parmesan immediately to allow for it to melt.

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