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.”
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. 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. Every Wednesday we’d ride the free campus shuttle van to the Lewisburg farmer’s 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 nothing more than pasta tossed with canned black olives, a plastic pouch of herb-flavored pre-crumbled feta cheese, and cherry tomatoes.
I know. I cringe. I sigh. At least the tomatoes in this oh-so-cosmopolitan meal came from the three little plants, super strivers who worked so hard to succeed that they might as well have been chem majors, that I’d planted by the back porch. 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 at each other, and hit the repeat button on the Wal-Mart CD player so we could hear “I Want It That Way” one more time before we headed out to the bar.
Though there’s nothing über-groundbreaking about this combination of flavors, it ages surprisingly well. It’s a dish I still turn to in late summer when my cherry tomato plants (now in the front yard) are cranking out the fruit. These days, I sub in wrinkly Kalamata or other cured olives for the bloated 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—for the generic stuff.
See, I do remember a few things I learned in college after all.
Pasta with Feta, Black Olives and Tomatoes
Prep time:5 minutes
Total time:20 minutes
Makes 4 servings
- 1 pound dried pasta (spaghetti, linguine, penne—take your pick
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 cup chopped oil-cured black olives
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add the pasta. Cook until al dente, then drain and return to the pot.
Toss the pasta with a healthy glug of olive oil, then add the tomatoes, black olives, feta cheese, and pepper. Eat while listening to late ’90s pop music or “What the Hell Happened to Me?”.