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Green olive pasta

Marching firmly out of step in an Atkins-crazed era, I remain much more concerned about calories from fat (9 calories per gram!) than carbohydrates (a skimpy 4 calories per gram).

So when the notion of a simple bowl of pasta topped with an intriguing mix of chopped olives, herbs and olive oil crossed my mind the other day, my instinctive reaction was not the usual "All that pasta!" but a calorie-counter's trepidatious "All that fat!"

But on second thought, the voice of moderation soothed me, as it generally does. Make this dish as a healthy, meatless main course, control portion size, and stop worrying: Even a generous ration of olives is more healthy, pound for pound, than a Big Mac or a sizzling T-bone.

This dish would work with simple pimiento-stuffed olives from the jar, but with the easy availability of "olive bars" at specialty markets in most urban areas nowadays, I strongly urge splurging for something a little more special. After all, you're not using olives as a mere cocktail snack or martini decoration here, but enjoying them as the starring player in your dinner. If you and your family or friends don't deserve the best, who does?

Here's a quick procedure that I created on the fly. There's plenty of room for individual variation; I'll add a few suggestions at the end of the recipe.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

4 ounces (120g) spaghetti, linguine or other long pasta
4 ounces pitted green olives
Minced or dried oregano, thyme and/or other herbs to taste
Dried red-pepper flakes
1 large garlic clove
3 tablespoons (50ml) good olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice


1. Bring a large pot of salted water ("salty as the sea") to a full boil, and put the pasta on to cook as the package directs.

2. Chop the olives coarsely. Add the herbs and a shake of red-pepper flakes, just enough to confer piquancy without making the dish fiery enough to war with wine.

3. Mince the garlic, then gently heat it in the olive oil in a skillet or sautee pan until it's translucent and aromatic but not brown. Remove the pan from heat and set aside until the pasta is ready.

4. When the pasta is al dente, drain it, and put the oil and garlic back over medium-high heat. When it begins to bubble, quickly whisk in the lemon juice and stir quickly until the oil and lemon form a slightly thickened emulsion. Put in the pasta and the olives with herbs, and stir until the pasta is well coated. Serve in warm pasta bowls.

Olives: I used a combination of green olives from the olive bar at a local specialty market (Whole Foods), including about equal amounts of olives with Greek herbs (mostly oregano, as best I could tell) and French olives with fennel. Substitute freely to your taste; for an interesting flavor variation, try it with all or part ripe black olives.

Herbs: Because my choice of olives included a healthy ration of herbs, I did not add the oregano and thyme mentioned in the ingredients list; but these or other favorite herbs should be added, to your taste, if the olives don't bring them to the party.

Salt: You'll notice that I didn't add any, figuring that the olives (and the salt in the pasta water) would provide plenty. Use your own judgement, but I'd suggest waiting and adding a shake at the table if you think it's needed.

Texture: My vision of this dish led me to chop the olives coarsely, into rough bits about half the size of your smallest fingernail), with the specific intention of keeping some texture in the sauce. Another time, as a variation, I'll try processing it into more of a rough puree, like tapenade, which might have the advantage of clinging more tightly to the pasta.

Pasta: I used long pasta because, well, it seemed instinctively right to me. But my wife wants me to try short pasta next time, specifically conchiglie (baby shells), which should pick up tasty bites of the olive blend like cute little purses. I'm willing to give it a try.

MATCHING WINE: Plenty of options here. A fruity, tart, non-tannic Italian red would be fine, and so would an herbaceous white like a Sauvignon Blanc or maybe, to maintain the Mediterranean theme, a Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Or think pink with a crisp and herbal Provence-style rosé, a natural match with olives. We went that route with an offbeat but spectacularly good Eastern U.S. alternative, Chrysalis Vineyards2002 Mariposa Dry Rosé, an intriguing blend of Chardonnay and the American red Norton grame from one of Virginia's best producers.

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of this recipe, suitable for printing, online at

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Green olive pasta."

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Thursday, Aug. 12, 2004
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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