My fifth wedding anniversary is in a month so our honeymoon has been on my mind. After getting married on Kauai, we spent almost a month in Europe. We had so much fun! Geared up with a small suitcase and a backpack each, my husband and I spent a week with friends in Ireland then traveled the rest of the time from the Amalfi Coast and all the way to Sicily.
Traveling on trains, planes, boats and a scooter, we ate great food, saw beautiful small towns facing the bluest waters. We also spent some time on the Aeolian Islands above Sicily, saw an active volcano angrily spewing lava and had my first taste of the green, anise-flavored spirit, Absinthe.
We visited the island of Capri, which is a just a short boat ride from Positano. While the tiny island is packed with day trippers by day, in the evening it is quiet, peaceful, beautiful. For even more nighttime solitude we stayed in Anacapri, away from the party scene in the main town.
In just a couple of days we got a good feel for the island by taking the bus and walking all over! Much fun, indeed.
One of the best pasta dishes I’ve ever enjoyed was from a tiny restaurant hidden in one of the many narrows streets on the island. I don’t even remember its name anymore. What I’ll never forget is the very hospitable proprietor who treated me and my husband like special guests. See, our hotel recommended a tourist trap of a restaurant on our first evening–very disappointing–so we set out on our own the following night. Much better idea.
We’re not about fancy meals. What makes us happy is to taste what the locals eat. Simple food. When my husband lamented to the restaurant owner that he’d eaten too much rich food prior to arriving on Capri, the latter lit up like a little boy and said he knew just what to make for us. How special that he was willing the prepare our dish for us himself!
When he came out, he had the pasta dish still in the skillet he cooked it in. He plated it right at our table then he waited to see our reaction.
First of all, what he made wasn’t fancy by any means. It was a simple plate of pasta with some herbs and fresh cherry tomatoes. But what it lacked in Michelin-quality presentation it made up for in flavor. The tomatoes were sweet, the herbs fresh and the olive oil fruity. Simple to the core but packed with the goodness of Capri’s bounty.
The lovely restaurant owner generously shared the recipe with me after I shamelessly asked him for it: Just sauté in olive oil some garlic, fresh tomatoes, basil and oregano. That’s it. He stressed to me that I must use very fresh ingredients and I didn’t understand the truth to his important suggestion until after I tried to make this dish the first time.
Fresh tomatoes are key. Really. I’ll even say that it wouldn’t be worth making this without very good tomatoes. Believe me, I tried and failed miserably to recapture my first experience until I started growing my own tomatoes.
Luckily, my parents left me with a lot of tomatoes this past weekend. My father is now obsessed with growing them. He downsized this year and planted only about 30 plants. Yes, you read correctly. I’ve also been growing my own herbs and this dish was a no-brainer for tonight’s dinner.
It’s not an exact replica of the dish on Capri but it’s a variation I also enjoy. This dish is just a little bolder with the addition of anchovies, capers, olives and red chili flakes. It maintains the simple character of the original dish, though. Feel free to add only the components you like–I happen to think that each one adds something unique to this dish.
By the way, I’ll be submitting this dish to this week’s Presto Pasta Nights which was started by Ruth of Once Upon a Feast. This week’s round up will be hosted by Pam of Sidewalk Shoes. Check them out.
Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes, Herbs, Olives and Capers
- 1 1/2 – 2 cups fresh cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (you can use up to 1 pound tomatoes for 1 pound of pasta)
- 4 anchovy fillets
- 2 – 3 tablespoons chopped olives (I used olive tapenade for more flavor)
- 1 – 2 tablespoons capers
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 cup onion
- red chile flakes
- 1 tablespoon butter
- olive oil (you’ll use quite a bit of olive oil as this will be the base of your “sauce”)
- A handful of chopped herbs: Basil, oregano, Italian parsley
- Fresh lemon juice (optional)
- Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- 1 pound spaghetti, cooked with some pasta water reserved (you can also use stock instead of pasta water)
The ingredients list looks long but this is still very easy. Feel free to include all or omit some of the ingredients. The measurements are approximations as I just threw in what I wanted to add.
Begin by heating a few tablespoons of olive oil and the butter in sauté pan large enough to hold the pasta. On medium heat, add the anchovy fillets and chili flakes then the onions. Allow to cook until the anchovies dissolve.
Next, add the olives (or tapenade) and the capers. Mash the capers a bit with the back of a wooden spoon to extract more of their flavor. Add the garlic and cook for a bit without allowing the to brown. You can also add the chopped oregano and basil at this point.
Add the fresh tomatoes and allow to cook until they soften and the skin starts to separate from the skin. If the sauce looks a little dry, add 1/4 cup of pasta water. Feel free to add more olive oil to make the sauce richer–I did. If you think it needs salt, add a little. This dish is completely flexible.
When your pasta is cooked to al dente, add it to the sauce. Don’t drain it too much–you want the extra liquid to become part of the sauce. Sprinkle a little cheese and lemon juice, if desired. Plate and enjoy.