Greek inspiration: burnt wheat pasta with pecans, sage, lemon and feta

Pasta pecans e feta
Pasta pecans e feta

I took a Greek hiatus during my Italian summer. The bustle of Athens first, followed by a few magical days on Sifnos-one of the Cyclades, to celebrate my sister-in-law Susan joyfully embracing the half century mark. The islands of Greece are all the magic that one imagines them to be, and then more. The sun drenched flavors I enjoyed have been a source of inspiration in these first weeks back from the Mediterranean summer. Last week, I put together a pantry staples pasta that I have made 3 times since to much acclaim from family and friends, big and small.

Atene 2014
Atene 2014

I used burnt wheat pasta, a long lost flavor from the peasant tables of Puglia, where poor farmers recovered what was left after the burn-and-turn of wheat fields, then ground it into flour. Burnt wheat pasta-pasta di grano arso-has recently made a timid comeback. It carries a scorched, almost dirt-like flavor that holds up well to the bright, brine and tang in this recipe.

 


Pasta di grano arso al profumo di salvia e limone con pecans e feta

Sage and lemon scented burnt wheat pasta with pecans and feta

for 6 people

2 garlic cloves

salt to taste

8 to 9 sage leaves

grated zest of 1 Meyer lemon

olive oil 1/2 cup pecans

1/2 cup sheep's feta

pepper to taste

1 bag burnt wheat pasta

 

While the water for the pasta is coming to a boil, smash and peel the garlic cloves. Add a generous pinch of salt and mince the garlic into a paste.

Stack the sage leaves, roll them tightly longitudinally and slice them in very thin ribbons.

Place the garlic, sage leaves and half the zest in a skillet with 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil over gentle heat.

Slowly soften the garlic, being mindful not to burn it by stirring often and keeping the nose open for harmonious, non-acrid smells.

In the meantime,  roughly chop the pecans and crumble the feta with your hands.

Add the nuts to the garlic and sautée for about 5 minutes without raising the heat. Season with pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta in the salted boiling water until quite al dente, 3 to 4 minutes less than the time suggested on the packaging.

Using a handheld strainer, remove the pasta from the water and transfer it to the skillet with the other ingredients. Raise the heat to lively and finish cooking the pasta by gradually adding small amounts of pasta cooking water.

When the desired tenderness is reached, remove from the heat and finish with the crumbled feta and a splash of olive oil. Toss well and garnish with the remaining zest.

Serve immediately.

NOTES

  • I used dry sage from Greece for this recipe, which you can substitute with fresh sage, however if someone you know is heading to Greece, have them bring you some sage back, it's amazing
  • Pecans can be switched for other softer fleshed nuts like pistachios
  • If you are curious to try the burnt wheat pasta, my favorite Italian food importer Casa de Case carries it
  • Also, see my friend Simona Carini's musings on grano arso on her great blog, Briciole