Every summer I visit our Takoma Park farmer's market and load up on large heirloom tomatoes and the babies, which burst with sweetness and flavor. This dish, which features the babies, celebrates the height of summer when heirloom tomatoes are at their peak.
The bright acid from the tomato connects the fragrant basil, barely cooked red onion, earthy toasted pine nuts, and salty olives and feta to create an explosion of flavor. A splash of lemon juice and a glug of high quality Italian olive oil bring the intense flavors into balance and the snail-shaped pasta shells (chiocciole) trap the goodness so every bite counts.
You can enjoy this fast, delicious dish at home or pack it up and take it to the park like Paul and I did a few nights ago. We followed our feast with a lively game of petanque, the French version of Italian Bocce, and paired the pasta -- and the fun-filled game -- with an excellent bottle of Brouilly, a light-bodied red wine from the Beaujolais wine region of France with hints of cherry and strawberry.
Pasta Snails (Chiocciole) with Baby Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil, and Pinenuts
Serves 2 - 3 as a main course or 6 as a starter
2 cups chiocciole
8-10 baby heirloom tomatoes, sliced in half
1/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
15 basil leaves, sliced lengthwise
1/2 red onion, diced
1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup feta, crumbled
Juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon butter
4 - 5 tablespoons high quality olive oil
1/2 tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper
Sprinkle the sugar, salt, and pepper over the sliced baby heirloom tomatoes and set aside.
Cook the pasta as instructed on the package.
Meanwhile, add butter to a non-stick pan and heat until the butter is sizzling. Add the diced red onion and sautee for 30 seconds (you still want the onion to have crunch). Remove the onion from the pan and set it aside in a large bowl.
Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl. Add the tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, olives, and basil and toss. Top with the lemon juice, feta, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.