Rigatoni alla levantina

This is a pretty good spring and summer recipe but I like it all year round. It is not strictly Italian but it works very well when you are in the southern Med.

Olive oil, garlic cloves, fresh black pepper, dry red chilly, fresh oregano leaves (za’atar), fresh tomatoes, olives, a tea spoon of good wine vinegar, salt, parsley, halloumi cheese, Grana Padano cheese.

The olives should be of the Kalamata type. However, the important thing is that they should not be too bitter as is often the case in the Levant. If they are strongly bitter, use a mix of Kalamata and some other olive. In Jordan you can find the type known as “sun dried” that is generally less sharp in taste.

Place a pot of water on the heat. Add some salt.

As you wait for the water to come to a boil…

Cube the fresh tomatoes. I keep the seeds and all, because if the tomato is good, that’s where all the flavor is. However, posher folks peel them and throw away the seeds.  Pit and grossly chop the olives.

Place the cubed tomatoes and olives in a bowl with the olive oil, fresh black pepper, one gently crushed clove of garlic, grossly ground dry red chillies, the oregano leaves and the teaspoon of vinegar (for four people less if you are cooking for fewer people). Do not add salt at this point.

Cube the halloumi cheese in chunks that are roughly as big as the tip of your pinky finger. Sautee the halloumi in a hot non stick pan. No need to use olive oil but make sure the pan is hot enough so that the halloumi browns quickly without melting out of shape. When the halloumi is golden brown and crispy, fold it into the tomatoe mix. At this stage you can taste the mixture for salt and flavor and adjust accordinlgly.

Crumble the Grana Padano in largish rocks and grossly chop some oregano leaves.

As the water comes to a boil, throw in the rigatoni and cook them. Drain the pasta and whilst it is still warm, place it in the mix and toss.

Once you’re done tossing the warm pasta, if you want you can remove the garlic clove you had placed in the mixture.

Serve with Grana and chopped oregano on the side for people to help themselves.

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