A Pasta Recipe Inspired by a Grove of Olive Trees
The five generations of women in Courtney Miller Santo’s debut novel The Roots of the Olive Tree have all grown up in the same secluded olive grove in the Sacramento Valley of Northern California, surrounded by trees nurtured from rootstock that had been cultivated by their ancestors for centuries. The Roots of the Olive Tree, while not a cookbook, still has much to offer avid home cooks. Santo includes details throughout her novel about how to grow and care for olive trees, how the crops are harvested, and how oil is produced, bottled and distributed.
Part of The Roots of the Olive Tree is also the proposition that olive oil is what keeps the women so youthful—the family matriarch is over 100 years old and in fine form. It’s an intriguing twist in the story, and certainly takes the notion of “health food” to a whole new level.
Santo also wrote a short story, Under the Olive Tree, featuring the same women. In it she writes about a family tradition of hand-pressing olives in order to get olio nuovo, to be used immediately on spaghetti, for the ultimate in locavore comfort food. Courtney has gracious shared with us the recipe using olio nuovo, along with information on how and when to get it. Herewith, the recipe, in Courtney’s words.
Spaghetti with Roasted Garlic and Olio Nuovo
Olio nuovo is the first pressing of olive oil. It’s only available in the fall–usually around the end of November–and is mostly sold as a specialty product from the growers themselves. It has a short shelf life because it still has bits of the fruit floating around in it–traditional oil allows those bits to settle out of the oil, which gives it a longer shelf life. You can use any extra-virgin olive oil in place of olio nuovo in this recipe, but it won’t taste quite the same. Today California produces high-quality olive oil that can be taste-tested like wine, and because it’s a showcase for the olive oil, this recipe will taste different depending on which olive oil you buy. If you’re lucky enough to get to use olio nuovo, you’ll enjoy a bright green color and a peppery, lemony, slightly bitter olive taste. Many people extol its health virtues, but I think it’s just extra yummy and special because it isn’t available all of the time.
This dish is delicious served with fresh bread smeared with the leftover roasted garlic and a simple grilled or roasted meat. For variations, try adding asparagus or other veggies to the dish.
- 1 garlic head
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 16 ounces spaghetti
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Lemon, optional
- 1/2 cup olio nuovo
- A book or magazine
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Remove any loose skin from the garlic head. Just rub your hands against the bulb and throw away whatever papery skin comes off. Cut off about a half an inch from the top of the garlic head to expose the cloves inside. You don’t have to be exact. This will make removing the roasted garlic easier later on. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of the olive oil across the exposed garlic. Use your fingers or one of those pastry brushes (if you don’t like getting your fingers oily) to make sure the oil is distributed across each of the cloves. Wrap the head in foil and place it on the top rack of your oven. Let it roast for about 30 minutes, then let it rest for at least 10 minutes before you open the foil. You can do this ahead of time. Room temperature garlic is as good as hot garlic.
3. Bring a large pot of water to boil. I always drizzle more olive oil on top of the water. One time when I was little I saw my grandmother do this. She said it made the noodles not stick together. My mother’s noodles were always sticking together. Later my mother-in-law told me the noodles only stick together if your pot is too small. So, use a big pot and if you want add a teaspoon each of of olive oil and salt.
4. Read a book for about 15 minutes.
5. Once your water is boiling, you add the spaghetti. Maybe you read your book while you’re waiting for it to boil. I always do because my stove is really old and it takes a long time for the water to boil–especially in the extra big pot. Cook the spaghetti for about 8 minutes if you like it chewy or 10 minutes if you like it mushy.
6. Drain the spaghetti in a colander over the sink. Usually I forget to reserve that 1/4 cup of pasta water for the sauce, so I end up setting the colander back on top of the pot I cooked it in and by the time I’m ready to mix it up, enough water has dropped back down into the pan for me to use.
7. Your garlic should be cool enough to handle now. Unwrap it and smell the delicious garlic goodness. Squeeze out (or remove with a fork) about six cloves–less if you’re not a garlic person and more if you are. You can use any leftover cloves to smear, like butter, on toasted or untoasted bread. Smash the six cloves in the bottom of the pan you just boiled the spaghetti in–or something fancier if you have guests coming over. If you reserved your pasta water, add it now.
8. Add the Parmesan cheese and red pepper flakes. Some people also like to add a squeeze of lemon juice.
9. Add the spaghetti and stir it around a bit. I use my hands here, but you could use tongs.
10. Add the olio nuovo, stir some more, and then serve. You can add salt and pepper yourself or let people do it for themselves.
Might we suggest that the book you use for this recipe be Courtney’s own, The Roots of the Olive Tree? It’s available in ebook for $3.99 until August 20, 2012 (then the price goes back up to $12.99), or you can preorder the hardcover, which goes on sale August 21, 2012. Sample an excerpt first, if you wish!
Also, Under the Olive Tree is a charming, evocative way to get a taste for Santo’s storytelling. This short story is available as ebook only, but it’s free. Learn more about how you can download it to your ereader today. If you don’t have an ereader, you can read it on your computer using Barnes & Noble’s Nook desktop reader application.
Get to know Courtney Miller Santo. She posts regularly to Facebook and Twitter, and maintains a blog. You can also watch this author video, in which Courtney talks about her inspiration behind The Roots of the Olive Tree.
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