The summer before I entered first grade, my parents surprised me with some exciting news. “Sam and Emma,” they said to my brother and me in the car one day, “We know who your teachers are going to be next year!” “Who?!” we asked. “Us!” they answered. No, they weren’t kidding. I guess I probably could have mentioned before that both of my parents are teachers, so this wasn’t as big of a surprise for me as it may have been for someone who didn’t have that helpful little piece of knowledge…
Anyway, my parents had been hired as the first-grade teachers for a new Charter school about 20 minutes from our town. When you added up the facts that I was going to get to spend all day with my mom and dad (remember, this is when I was 7 and not 17!), my best friend from kindergarten was also switching to this school, and I would get to help my parents set up my own classroom, I was one happy kid!
However, teaching full-time in a first-year school while parenting two 7-year-olds is no job for the faint of heart. Since our school was in a different town, my brother and I rode to and from school with my parents, who got there at 7 in the morning and rarely left before 5 at night. I know my parents feel guilty for all the time my brother and I had to spend entertaining ourselves, but it wasn’t so bad. After all, we were surrounded by books, art supplies, lofts, and a playground!
Because we often didn’t pull into our own driveway until 5:30 or 6:00, dinners often consisted of whatever could be thrown together quickly and easily. This resulted in many, many nights of pasta. Spaghetti, ravioli, penne, rotini, tortellini, etc. etc. etc. I got so sick of pasta that year that it earned a place on the same list as spinach, broccoli, canned peas and tofu–things that, like most first-graders, I loathed with a burning passion. Part of the problem was that, for money and time’s sake, we always ate our pasta with canned tomato sauce and powdered parmesan cheese. Nothing wrong with that, but after the umpteenth time it can get a little boring. Actually a lot boring. Which is why it wasn’t until recently that pasta made a reappearance on my food radar.
I didn’t really get into cooking until my sophomore year, but once I did there was no stopping me. Once I started to appreciate the multitude of flavors and ingredients that can be combined to make a great meal, I started seeing pasta in a different way. While before, “pasta” always went along with tomato sauce from a jar and powdered parmesan, now it presented itself with an infinite amount of possibilities. I started seeing pasta not as something to top with red sauce and call dinner but as a vehicle for all kinds of cuisine. Penne with pesto and cherry tomatoes, Thai peanut noodles, and Italian Spaghetti Aglio e Olio, among others, graced our table.
Since it’s summer, I’ve been in the mood for light, fresh, produce-heavy dishes, and the other night I decided to incorporate that into a spaghetti dish. I just kind of went with what sounded good and threw it all together, and the result was a light, summery spaghetti. The combination of hearty whole grain spaghetti, sweetness from the sautéed tomatoes and basil, the bite from fresh garlic, lemon-marinated chicken for protein, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, all coated with a light drizzle of olive oil, made for a quick, simple, and overall delicious dinner. Who said pasta had to be boring?
Summertime Spaghetti with Tomatoes, Basil, and Garlic
8 oz uncooked spaghetti (I used whole grain)
4 tsp olive oil, divided
8 oz grape tomatoes (about 1 1/2 cups)
5-6 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 Tbs water-packed basil*
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (there’s a time and a place for the powdered kind, but this is not it!)
Chicken & Marinade:
1 medium chicken breast
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground oregano
1/8 tsp salt
Butterfly the chicken breast, and slice down the middle to make two thin halves. Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, pepper, and salt in a small bowl or gallon-sized ziplock bag. Add in the chicken breast and allow to marinate for at least 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the chicken breast halves in a shallow baking dish, cover in remaining marinade, and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until cooked through. When cool enough to handle, slice the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add in spaghetti. Cook for 7-8 minutes, depending how firm you like your pasta. While the spaghetti is cooking, heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a large, deep skillet under medium heat and add in grape tomatoes. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, or until tomatoes are starting to blister. Remove from the pan and place in a bowl. Heat another teaspoon of olive oil in the same skillet and add in the minced garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add garlic to the bowl the tomatoes are in.
When the spaghetti is finished cooking, drain it and dump it into the skillet. Add the tomatoes, garlic, basil, remaining 2 tsp of olive oil, sliced chicken, and parmesan cheese and toss to combine. Serve warm. Makes about 4 servings.
*I used jarred, water-packed basil because my grocery store was out of fresh, but if you happen to have fresh basil, then by all means use it! I would substitute the jarred basil for about 1/4 cup loosely packed, chiffonaded fresh basil. (For those of you who don’t know, a chiffonade is where you tightly roll up the basil leaves and chop them to create thin strips).