Higher Education: Feta, Black Olive, and Tomato Pasta

College is a time for experimenting. And lord knows I did enough of it during my time at Bucknell University.

But after three years of hobbling by with a MicroFridge and a rickety electric burner dorm stove, it was time to step up my nascent culinary game and get a proper kitchen.

It was time to move into a real house off campus.

feta black olive and tomato pasta
Photo: Casey Barber

Legally, you could call what we moved into a house. I suppose technically the place was just squeaking by under code.

The entire structure listed slightly to the rear, giving a slight but permanent sensation that you were living in a funhouse ride where the floor might tilt you off balance without warning.

Our landlord was a true gentleman, an elderly camouflage jumpsuit-wearing “jack of all trades, master of none” who replied when we complained about a persistently leaking roof, “well, that only happens when it rains from the East.”

feta black olive and tomato pasta
Photo: Casey Barber

But the kitchen was large enough and the appliances were decent enough.

And until termites literally started crawling out of the woodwork a month before graduation (Landlord: “oh… I was wondering what had happened to them”), everything was livable enough for three independent women just on the admissible side of drinking age.

I basically never left campus after my junior year, moving into the house in June and staying there alone until my housemates joined me in August.

feta black olive and tomato pasta
Photo: Casey Barber

Drunk with the prospect of an entire kitchen to run amok in (no more broiler nachos for me—well, not every night, at least), I cracked open my Better Homes and Gardens and Good Housekeeping cookbooks and got to work.

Fellow Pittsburgher Beth, who was living it up in her own off-campus house for the summer, became my cooking partner in crime.

two girls hugging in a park in Paris
Spring break abroad in Paris

Every Wednesday we’d ride the free campus shuttle van to the Lewisburg farmers market and troll the stalls for potential culinary experimental victims.

Green beans to be steamed and tossed with raw garlic, pepper, and balsamic vinegar. Sourdough bread topped with butter and sour cherry jam for breakfast.

But our pièce de résistance, the dish that really made us feel as if we were adventurous, accomplished adult cooks, was our feta, black olive, and tomato pasta.

Which, I will fully admit, was nothing more than pasta tossed with canned black olives, a plastic pouch of herb-flavored pre-crumbled feta cheese, and cherry tomatoes.

feta black olive and tomato pasta
Photo: Casey Barber

I know. I cringe. I sigh.

At least the tomatoes in this oh-so-cosmopolitan meal came from the three little plants I tended in my backyard, super strivers who worked so hard to succeed that they might as well have been chem majors.

But back then, chopping and slicing and boiling and tossing together this meal, Beth and I thought we were the cooooolest, to borrow the parlance of our comic hero Adam Sandler.

We’d dish up huge bowls of pasta, open up a bottle of Chianti, quote Billy Madison back and forth to each other, and hit the repeat button on the WalMart CD player so we could hear “I Want It That Way” one more time before we headed out to the bar.

girl holding up a beer in a dorm room
dorm life days

Though there’s nothing über-groundbreaking about the feta, black olive, and tomato pasta combination, the recipe ages surprisingly well.

It’s a dish I still turn to in late summer when my backyard cherry tomato plants are cranking out the fruit.

These days, I sub in Kalamata or other cured olives for the canned version, along with soft sheep’s-milk feta—so creamy it doesn’t crumble as much as melts through your fingers when you squeeze it.

See, I do remember a few things I learned in college after all.

feta black olive and tomato pasta
feta black olive and tomato pasta

Feta, Black Olive, and Tomato Pasta

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 17 minutes

Feta, black olive, and tomato pasta is a toss-together meal with bold Mediterranean flavors, perfect for busy weeknights or summer cookouts.


  • kosher salt
  • 1 pound dried pasta, such as fettuccine, linguine, or penne
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 cup sliced black olives, such as Kalamata
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste


  1. Bring a large pot water to a boil. Add a handful of kosher salt, then stir in the pasta.
  2. Cook until al dente, then drain and return to the pot.
  3. Toss the pasta with the olive oil, then stir in the feta, black olives, and tomatoes.
  4. Grind black pepper over the pasta, then serve immediately.
  5. Eat while listening to late '90s pop music or "What the Hell Happened to Me?".
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 291Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 4mgSodium: 311mgCarbohydrates: 48gFiber: 4gSugar: 2gProtein: 9g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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  1. Yum!! This is a darned good combination, and a great quick meal. Thanks for the reminder..I’ll re-make it soon! And didn’t we all have one of those barely-standing off-campus apartments/homes our senior year? How can we have so many fond memories of those (ug) critter-sharing abodes? In our case, it was roaches… I think.. I never looked closely enough before the exterminator came.

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