Pasta to lift the spirits


When life careens out of control and it’s all I can do to get dinner on the table, I always count on pasta.

There’s nothing like a big plate of carbohydrates and fresh veggies to lift the spirits.  If its quick, easy and packed with bold flavors, I leave the table refreshed and ready to take on the world again.

This recipe for fusilli with arugula and pine nuts has been my salvation in recent weeks.  I’ve needed a lot of help in the dinner department since our house sold in just three days last month.  We were stunned and had only 30 days to pack up, move out and find a new place in Portland.

The movers come this week and the house is a disaster, with boxes stacked like mazes in every room.    It’s amazing how much stuff accumulates in the back of closets over the years–my husband swears it breeds in the dark corners.

The kitchen has been stripped and even the pasta pot is packed. While it was still functioning, though, I made this pasta several times.  The baby arugula brought the lively taste of spring to the soothing noodles.  Grape tomatoes added a bright note and pine nuts contributed crunch.  A little goat cheese brought it all together in a creamy sauce.

This is not a fussy recipe and the measurements are merely suggestions.   I usually just throw in what I have on hand.

The sturdy fusili is perfect for a harried cook since the spirals are a little more forgiving on timing than spaghetti.  You won’t ruin dinner if you cook them a moment too long. To boost the nutrition, I’ve switched to whole grain pasta, which seems to be getting better every year.   The Trader Joe’s whole wheat fusilli that I bought in a rush one day turned out to be quite good.

We haven’t found a new home yet and still don’t know where we will be living come next spring.  I expect to be AWOL now and again as we settle in and I hope you’ll bear with me.  Portland is such a great food city, I know it will provide abundant inspiration for many future posts.

For now, our temporary home will be an efficiency apartment in Southeast Portland, not far from the Montavilla Farmers Market. We’re all but guaranteed to find plenty of plenty of fresh arugula and local goat cheese there to make this pasta again.  There’s no doubt we’ll need it.


Serves 4
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 pint grape tomatoes
6 cloves garlic
4 cups baby arugula, packed
1 pound fusilli pasta
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
5-6 ounces soft goat cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan for grating

Put a large pot of generously salted water on to boil.

While the water is heating, lightly toast the pine nuts in a small, dry skillet until golden.  Watch them carefully–they’ll burn in the blink of an eye.   Cut the tomatoes into halves or quarters, depending on their size.  Slice garlic thinly. Coarsely chop the arugula.

When water comes to a full boil, drop in the fusilli and bring back to a boil, stirring occasionally so the pasta doesn’t stick together. Cook according to directions on the package, or until al dente.  In the last couple of minutes, add the arugula to the pot to cook with the pasta.  Meanwhile, warm olive oil over low heat in a large skillet–I often use a wok–and gently saute the garlic slices and pepper flakes until soft.

When pasta is al dente, scoop out a cup of the cooking water and reserve, then drain in a colander.  Add drained pasta and arugula to the skillet with the garlic- and pepper-infused olive oil.  Crumble in the goat cheese and stir until saucy.  You may need to add a little of the reserved cooking water to get the right consistency.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle with pine nuts and transfer to a serving dish.

Grate Parmesan over all and serve.

Aleta Watson





4 thoughts on “Pasta to lift the spirits”

  1. Hope your move and house hunting all goes well. We will miss you here on the road.

  2. Love the recipe, and can’t wait to see you in Portland this summer. May the move go smoothly…

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