Monday, August 2, 2010

Rotini with Basil, Spinach and Sun Dried Tomatoes

It's a little bit hard to call this next one a recipe, even though it's one of our favorite dishes. I've never even attempted to write down what's in it, so this will be challenging. This dish is extremely simple to make, and I originally created it because many of the main ingredients are things that I have in the pantry or fridge pretty much every week. Whenever I need a quick dinner that I didn't plan for, I can make this dish. Or something sorta like it. The best thing is that as long as you have a couple of the key ingredients, you can add a few other things you have on hand and it will probably work. I actually went shopping with this in mind this week, so I'll write this post with the ideal set of ingredients in mind, but don't hesitate to make your own adaptations.

Start by boiling a bag of whole wheat rotini in a pot of salted boiling water. I'm sure that it would be fine to use regular white pasta instead, but I truly think whole wheat tastes better. I started eating whole wheat pasta a few years ago because everyone says that it's much healthier. I believe that of course and I'm sure it's true, but I honestly just think whole wheat tastes better. It's the difference between Wonder Bread and a good pumpernickel or the difference between white rice and brown rice. It's one of those magical times when the healthier thing actually tastes better than the less healthy item. Yay.

The next step is to assemble the rest of the dish. Gather up all of the ingredients:
3 Tbsp. olive oil or more to taste
1 large red onion, halved and sliced
5-6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
crushed red pepper to taste
Mixed seasoning to taste
10 or so sundried tomato halves, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2/3 bag baby spinach
1/2 cup or more fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the onions and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic and saute a few seconds more. Usually I'm obsessed with my garlic press, but this is one of those cases when I actually want the pieces of garlic to be pretty large. While the garlic is cooking add crushed red pepper. I like quite a bit, but it's up to you. I also like to add something called Bavarian Seasoning from Penzeys Spices. This particular mixture was a gift from my sister at some point. It says on the bottle that it should be used as a chicken or meat rub, so obviously I didn't really know what to do with it at first. Luckily, one time I was making this dish and had no fresh basil in the house (see above about making this dish regardless of how prepared you are) and I started shaking in all kinds of dried herbs. This one sounded pretty good (it includes crushed brown mustard, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and sage) so I threw it in the mix. It turned out to be a pretty amazing blend, so now I'm addicted and use it all the time. If you can get over the heresy that is using Bavarian seasoning in an Italian dish, I promise you won't be disappointed.

Next throw in the sun dried tomatoes and stir the whole mixture. There
should still be a little olive oil in the pan, so if it's dried out, add a little more. The goal is for the oil to be infused with all the ingredients so far. When the sun dried tomatoes are tender, add the cherry tomatoes and a minute or so later add the spinach and most of the basil. Stir until spinach is wilted, then add the cooked pasta and mix well. You want the pasta to be very al dente, because you will saute it for a minute or so now, incorporating all of the intense flavors. Serve garnished with the remaining fresh basil. I promise this dish is simple but delicious. It's the one J probably asks for more often than anything else. It includes a little more oil than I tend to prefer, but I end up making it a lot because he asks for it so much.

The best part about it? You can exchange pretty much all of the ingredients. Don't have rotini? Use any other kind of pasta. No red onions? Use white. Don't have sun dried tomatoes and fresh? Use either or. No fresh basil? Load up on dried herbs. Sometimes I add a bunch of other veggies other than spinach. Try broccolini, red bell peppers or mushrooms. A few times I've added vegan Italian sausages cut into chunks and it worked very well too. Try your own substitutions and let me know how it goes.


  1. I'm pretty sure that the key to this recipe's success is the 5-6 cloves of garlic. Yum, it look great! Who needs noodles & company?

  2. So, I've got wagon wheels pasta (my husband likes the shapes--little spaceships are his favorite, but they can be hard to come by), my garden is overflowing with basil, and the number of ripe cherry tomatoes is just hitting full swing. And I was wondering what to do with the red onions now that I used the other ingredients intended to go with them for other dishes... I don't have Bavarian seasoning, but I do have the Penzey's catalog and all the spices to put together to make it. And vegetables? I live in southern New Jersey where it's apparent why it's called "The Garden State."
    What a great recipe! What fun directions!

  3. Sounds like you (just like me) tend to have these things around a lot too. That's the best part about this recipe - you can really make it almost any day. Glad you like it!