Za’atar is having a moment thanks to Ottolenghi’s cook books Jerusalem and Plenty. Za’atar is a spice or a condiment depending on who you ask made with dried oregano, thyme, savory, salt and sesame seeds….depending on who you ask. It’s often used in Middle Eastern cuisine as the finishing touch on just about everything. Think of Za’atar like you would fancy sea salt or paprika.
Earlier this month I found myself in Boston with the opportunity for a nice meal. When I asked friends where I should eat, the resounding answer was almost always: Oleana.
Located just north of Harvard Square in Cambridge, this little gem feels completely out of place in neighborhood that’s got lots of nice two-story family homes with gardens. It’s on a main drag, across from a gas station, but the interior is all red clay to evoke a cool desert evening in the Mahgreb.
I have lots of praise for the decor but wasn’t completely blown away by the food. Spinach falafel balls, a must-order according to our waiter, were soggy and tasted like expired frying oil. All the dishes felt like there was too much going on: too many slaws and too much char on delicate flavors. One stand out was perhaps the most simple dish I ordered: the fried olives with za’atar and tomato. Puffed-up and juicy Kalamata olives swam in a bath of pungent olive oil and za’atar while tomatoes added depth. Unfortunately, the whole wheat Focaccia bread served was dry and flavorless.
So, I thought why not take the olive sauce and add it to pasta?
And that’s just what I did. This dish is seriously easy and delicious. I used fresh tomatoes but I think canned or even sun-dried would work well!
Pasta with Fried Olives and Za’atar
2 servings of linguini or other stringy pasta
1 small tomato, chopped into a ¼ inch dice (about 1/2 cup)
½ cup olive oil
20 pitted Kalamata olives
3 tablespoons za’atar
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and pepper
1. Boil a large pot of water and cook the pasta for 8-10 minutes or as instructed on the box.
2. In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, cook the olive oil and za’atar together for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and olives (be careful, it will splatter), stir and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir constantly and lower the heat if it starts to smoke.
3. Drain the pasta and add to the pan, toss a few times and serve immediately. Garnish with parsley and add salt and pepper to taste.
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