Summer pasta with purslane and sfatit cheese

This pasta is made for the Israeli summer. There are some things I eat only at this time of year. Sfatit cheese, for instance. Smooth, mild and cool, I certainly could buy it year-round but it’s the type of thing I want to eat when it’s too hot to cook, and on market days when I couldn’t imagine making (or eating) a bean stew, I find myself drawn to my favorite cheese stand.

And purslane. It’s a summer herb. You simply can’t find it at other times of the year. In the summer, you’ll find it growing between the cracks in the pavement, sucking up the water from dripping air conditioners above the street. But I prefer to buy it from my greengrocer. I presume it’s cleaner that way.

So when I had a craving for pasta, and I couldn’t bear the idea of standing over the stove to make sauce out of summer’s luscious tomatoes (or eating a hot pasta sauce, for that matter), my first thought was to turn to those seasonal ingredients that occupy my fridge for a few short months.

Sfatit is an Israeli cheese originally from Safed (a.k.a. Sfat). For the cheesemakers among you, it’s basically unaged Camembert. For the others, it’s an exceptionally mild, unsalty cheese with a high water content, which makes it very soft — it has a texture similar to tofu, but the flavor is creamier. And purslane is a plant with fat, juicy stems and meaty leaves, with a light lemony, earthy flavor. Its Hebrew name is regla, which translates into something like “leggy” — one way to describe the sprawling, low-lying plant.

Together, they make an easy, refreshing salad, and they also make an easy, refreshing topping for pasta.

For one half-kilo (1 pound) bag of pasta:

  • 1 bunch purslane (400 grams, or 3 cups chopped)
  • 1 chunk sfatit cheese or another soft, mild cheese (400 grams, or 2-3 cups)
  • 1/2 small garlic clove
  • zest of 2 lemons (about 1 tablespoon, or a bit more; use the lemons for lemonade or salad)
  • 1/2 cup nice olive oil (you could use less, but it adds good flavor)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Prep time: 5 minutes. Cook time: 10 minutes.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions. Run under cold water to cool.

Rinse the purslane well — it tends to be sandy. If it’s been sitting in the fridge for a few days, it will start losing leaves when you touch it, so you might want to rinse it in a strainer. Discard any large, tough stems, and roughly chop the rest.

Chop the sfatit into little cubes.

Crush the garlic — we’re using a small amount to add a hint of spiciness, but not too much. Mix with the lemon zest, olive oil and salt.

Toss all the ingredients with the pasta. The flavors will start to blend after the dish has been sitting for a few minutes.

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