Birthday Dinner for Mama: Kitchen Counter Pasta

June 24, 2016

It’s going to be a…full day today, so I think an easy, no-brainer dinner is definitely in order. This recipe is perfect for frantic summer days, and best of all, Mama loved it. Truth be told, I love it, too. When the days get steamy and the basil is bustin’ in your garden and tomatoes are worth eating again, it’s just the thing.

It’s so effortless that it’s almost cheating to even call this a recipe. It’s more like a method…a very forgiving, adaptable method, providing that you have awesome tomatoes, which we happen to have right now. So make this in the next couple of weeks and ignore it until summer rolls around again, okay?

Damn, I’m getting as bossy as Ina Garten. Forgive me, readers. I promise that I won’t tell you to use the *good* olive oil in this recipe. Actually…I’m a liar. Do. But feel free to use the shitty Parmesan. Oh, wait. Don’t do that either.

The spirit behind this recipe is kind of funny. Every summer, I read articles written by people who live in the Hamptons or on the Cape and almost always, the jist of the article is: “Gee, I ‘summer’ in this amazing place and friends are always just dropping in, and I have to throw a dinner together at a moment’s notice.”

You have those days, right?  When you’re just hanging around the house and a mini-cooper full of friends calls and says, “Hey! I’m in the neighborhood. Do you mind if I stop by?”

You do?  Seriously? Who are you people?

Um, that has never happened to me. Never. Maybe because I have no friends. I have an aversion to, you know, people. Actually, I do have a  few friends and they have blessedly never pulled surprise visits, probably because they know that I am an anal-retentive freak. If I’m not expecting you and my doorbell rings? I assume that you are the creepy meat man and hide in the closet for at least 15 minutes.

I digress. In truth, this recipe needs a couple of hours to reach peak greatness, but it’s a lazy few hours. So if you do have friends, and they pop by, pour some tea or a glass of wine and catch up while this sauce “cooks” in the beauty of the afternoon sun. Then toss in some pasta and enjoy the wealth of friendship.

A nice thing about this recipe is that it’s perfect for people who enjoy the taste of garlic, but are averse to bits of it in their food. The tomatoes bathe in crushed cloves of garlic and then the garlic gets tossed, providing the best of both wolds. Another great thing about this recipe? You can throw just about anything into it and it will adapt beautifully. I’ve flung in cooked asparagus, roasted zucchini, crisped bacon, a lovely tin of Italian tuna…you get the idea. Like the best of friends, this recipe is quite forgiving. If I am feeling decadent (or sorry for myself, which I may be feeling tomorrow), I will throw in a few tablespoons of Haystack Mountain goat cheese, which melts into the pasta and, while it isn’t for purists, adds a luxurious touch that will bring smiles and comfort.

I’m eating my weight in it this time.

Thank you, Readers, for all of your wonderful thoughts and kind words.

And Happy Birthday, Mama. Eat up.



Kitchen Counter Pasta

serves 2 generously (can easily be doubled…for people who have friends)

12 oz. cherry tomatoes, heirloom cherry tomatoes, or 3 large, fat, good tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 healthy glugs olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)

1/3-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

generous grinds of fresh black pepper

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed (but not chopped–you pick them out later)

4 ounces dried spaghetti or linguine, cooked*, about 1/2 cup pasta water reserved

1/2 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped**

1/2 cup fresh basil, torn

1/3 cup Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese, grated

salt, pepper and extra cheese to taste

optional: capers, sliced kalamata olives, leftover rotisserie chicken, crushed red pepper, or–heck with it–damn near any leftover you’d like to use up.

Cut tomatoes and place into a large glass bowl. Add the olive oil, smashed garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon salt and generous grinds of pepper. Toss together and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place on a semi-sunny, warm kitchen counter for several hours or until flavors are well blended and juices are running.

Remove garlic cloves with a fork or slotted spoon. To the tomato mixture (do not drain liquid! That’s the good stuff!), toss in basil, parsley and 1/3 cup parmesan. Add drained hot pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water.

Toss. If pasta seems dry, add reserved pasta water by tablespoon-fuls until moistened. Taste for salt and pepper; add additional cheese or toss-ins, if desired.

Bonus: this tastes terrific both hot and at room temperature, so if it’s hella hot outside, pour another beverage, visit a while longer, and serve when you are ready.

* I know!! 2 ounces of pasta per person seems parsimonious, but honestly, that’s the recommended serving. American restaurants have fooled us into thinking that anything less than 4 ounces of pasta is chintzy, but there are so many tomatoes in the dish that the serving actually feels quite hearty. Still, if you wanna go all abondanza and increase the amount of pasta, go ahead. I won’t judge (well, unless you use the shitty olive oil). Just adjust the other ingredients accordingly.

** You can use lesser amounts of the basil and parsley. I like mine really herby, but it might put some people off. You can start with 1/4 cup of each and then put extra on the table if you like.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Biz June 24, 2016 at 8:10 am

I almost spit out my coffee when you said “okay, use the shitty Parmesan!”

Sending GIANT hugs your way today. Reach out to me if you need to – I am only a few key strokes away even if I am not close to you in person. Hugs!


Sandi June 24, 2016 at 12:29 pm

Hi Dana, Biz said it was your mom’s birthday today. I hope you can celebrate with happy memories of times together. Hugs, Sandi


Annie June 24, 2016 at 5:50 pm

I have both basil and parsley growing heartily in the garden right now. The girls would flip for the cherry tomatoes. This is going on the weekly menu!
Love you!


Anonymous June 26, 2016 at 8:01 am

I have been a “silent” reader of your blog through your email updates for years. I saved your chocolate fudge brownie recipe and made it last night. It was so good. I adapted it to South African products and metric measurements and it turned out brilliant and so easy. I will be trying this recipe sometime soon too.
Thinking of you during this difficult time


Dana Talusani May 10, 2018 at 7:51 am

Hi, silent reader. Thank you for not being silent anymore! I am happy to see you here.


Barbara June 28, 2016 at 12:59 pm

I love that Ina Garten recipe too! I’d make it all the time if I weren’t on a perpetual diet!
:( It gets harder as you get older. And pasta dishes are my favorite. Damn.
I have another great pasta salad I used to make. Don’t know why I’ve never posted it. Going to email it to you, copied out of the cookbook I did for my family years ago.
(Along with a cottage cheese salad recipe I found in an old cookbook…which is also a favorite, especially served with roasted chicken breast. But you gotta love cottage cheese. I overdo the toasted pecan part! Pour ’em on) They happen to be on the same page.
Glad to read you’re doing well….memories of your mom will be dear to you forever. And you’ll talk to her forever too…I do.


Dawn in MI July 5, 2016 at 11:38 am

Looks yummy. And comforting. Which is what everyone needs at one time or another. Whether or not they have a bunch of friends who are rude enough to just stop by and expect a meal. :) Hugs.


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