Spaghetti with Olive Sauce

I am not a chef or a recipe writer. I’m also not usually the kind of cook that prepares a meal without a recipe. Occasionally, though, circumstances force me to flex culinary muscles I didn’t know I had...

My mom has always loved food, and is a veritable magpie when it comes to acquiring recipes. I have distinct memories of her enthusiasm for learning and cooking such a wide variety of foods that it almost didn’t make sense. I remember when she perfected guacamole and pico de gallo, her first introduction to hummus and za’atar man’ouche, and her deep dive into braising meats. And this was all in the late eighties/early nineties, before any of it was trendy or well-known.

One recipe of hers has always been the standout for me. I would request it every birthday dinner. For me, it’s comfort cooking and nostalgia in a dish; spaghetti with olive sauce.

My mom certainly did not invent this dish, but she also can’t quite remember where she originally got the recipe from. And I have no idea, either, because I have yet to come across anything like it. If you have an inkling, I’d love to hear from you!

And while I’ve mostly been using this time at home to experiment and really up my baking game, I finally felt the need for some comfort cooking.

Now, I know comfort cooking doesn’t work quite the same when you’re making someone else’s food, but the recipe is very forgiving and pantry friendly, relatively cheap and might be something different for you to try.

I’m also going to be honest with you – this dish is not for everyone. You have to really like olives, and their buttery brininess. I can eat an entire pot of this stuff.

Ingredients:

  • 1 16oz box of dried spaghetti (basic or whole wheat, whichever you prefer)
  • 3 Tbsp of butter
  • 1 6oz can jumbo black olives (but any size will do)
  • 1 6oz can/jar of green olives (can be stuffed, but they don’t have to be)
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley (about 1 cup chopped)
  • 1/8 tsp of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Crumbled feta for serving

As I said, this recipe is very forgiving. Here’s how I usually proceed:

1

Put a pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti. Make sure to salt the pasta water, to your taste. I add enough salt so that it “tastes like the sea,” as Samin says.

2

Open and drain the canned olives. Then empty both cans of olives into a food processor. Pulse it about 4-5 times. I like it to be a rougher chop than if I were making a tapenade. You want it to be quite pebbly.

Alternatively, you can hand chop your olives as well! I did that many times, for many years, before I finally acquired a food processor.

3

Place a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Plop in the butter, so that it starts to melt.

You may also want to check on that pasta water – is it boiling yet? Once it reaches a boil, add your pasta. You’ll want to cook it to the level of doneness that you prefer.

And if you haven’t already, go ahead and mince those 4 cloves of garlic.

4

Once the butter has mostly melted, and it’s bubbly and frothy, add the red pepper seed to the pan. Let it infuse the fat with flavor for about 30 seconds or so.

Give that a stir, and then add the minced garlic. Again, let the flavors bloom and become fragrant. It should only take around 30 seconds to 1 minute.

5

Add the chopped olives to the pan, and give it all a gentle stir. The nice thing about this recipe is that it doesn’t really need to cook. You just want the flavors to combine nicely. So let it sit and sizzle for 1-2 minutes. It shouldn’t require much stirring.

Now is also a great time to chop your parsley! A welcome distraction while everything cooks together.

6

Give it a taste! I usually don’t need to add any salt, but I’ll often throw in some black pepper. Sometimes I’ll squeeze half a lemon into the pan, or maybe add a splash of vinegar if I feel like it needs more acidity. But that’s all up to you and what you like!

Once you’re satisfied with the flavors, you can take it off of the heat, and mix in the chopped parsley.

7

Serve and enjoy! You can really do this one of two ways:

  1. You can stir the cooked spaghetti into the sauté pan full of olive-y goodness.
  2. Or, you can spoon the olive sauce onto individual servings of pasta

I have done it both ways over the years. I’m not sure it really matters.

But I do like to sprinkle some feta crumbles on top before I dig in! This is my personal touch to the dish, and isn’t totally necessary.

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