A Bite Inspired by… Laura (1944 film):
A classic film noir and a seductive dish of spaghetti with red wine, tomato sauce and briny olives? Sounds like the perfect October evening (or any month of the year, really) to me! Create a beautifully complex pasta dish with a few simple ingredients and techniques inspired by the 1944 mystery film “Laura”. This dish is extremely versatile and great for a romantic date night, dinner with the kids, or, of course, streaming movies at home. No matter what the occasion, I promise that this dish will be the perfect accompaniment to your evening.
It was a dark and stormy October night… so spooky and gross that there was no way I was setting foot outside. So, obviously, my friend and I decided that it was the perfect weather for a scary movie. We scoured through the wide range of horror and thriller movies available on Netflix streaming and stumbled on Laura, a film noir from the 1940s. We were sold.
And. Oh. WOW. If you enjoy old school mystery films and you haven’t seen Laura yet, add it to your queue immediately. I promise, you won’t be disappointed. The movie is basically about a detective trying to solve the case of a gorgeous, young woman who was murdered in her home. Obviously, there’s a lot more that goes into it, but I don’t want to give too much away. This beautifully filmed and expertly written mystery garners its strength from a slow buildup and a devastating ending that leaves the viewer utterly disturbed. Needless to say, this movie was the perfect inspiration for my next recipe.
I love film noir (aka mystery films produced in the 1940s and 1950s) because they have such an air of elegance and sexiness to them. Their power to frighten the viewer doesn’t come from graphic violence or blood like many movies of today, but, rather, from subtleties in the characters and script that build up in layers throughout the film. Nothing is ever what it seems and very few things are said outright. The viewer buys into the simplicity and, often, leisureliness of the film, only to find out later how deep the mystery really goes. I created my Spaghetti with Grape Tomato and 3 Olive Sauce dish with the same idea in mind—layers of subtle flavors that add complexity to an otherwise simple dish.
The dish starts with a beautifully simple “burst” grape tomato, garlic, onion, and olive oil sauce. Like a classic film noir though, nothing is what is seems. Enter, olives. Yes, olives. This dish builds its incredible flavor from not one, not two, but THREE different kinds of olives. Olives are one of the most underrated foods in the culinary world, in my opinion. Have you ever tasted an olive? Like, reaaaaally, tasted one? Olives have an astoundingly briny, salty, unctuous flavor that’s almost sensual. Yes, Laura is a sexy film and olives are a sexy food. If you don’t believe me, then maybe the splash of red wine in the sauce will convince you. Trust me, the depth of flavor in this dish will blow you away.
I have such a strong affinity for the 1940s and 50s. Women in long dresses, men in fedoras, and people at glamorous, but understated parties who speak in double meanings (wait, don’t people do that now still?) This spaghetti dish with the olives and red wine makes me think of all that sophisticated sexiness and more. Other inspiration for this dish came from the fact that Laura is, in fact, a murder mystery and this pasta has a red sauce so… you get the picture. And the slightly spicy finish from crushed red pepper (optional, of course) is a little surprising, in a good way, like the twist at the end of the mystery. There’s also a great scene in the film where the detective and a suspect are discussing the victim in an intimate, little Italian restaurant, which is where I got the idea for pasta. The overall flavors of the pasta though come from the complexity, sensuality, and elegance that the movie invokes. A myriad of subtle flavors creates depth, just like a myriad of nuances creates a good mystery story. That’s the real inspiration behind the dish.
And yes, you can omit the olives. And yes, you can have just one kind of olive. But if you really want that flavorgasm (yes, it’s a word) that I promised you, you have to spring for all three. I made this dish the other night for a friend who is not a fan of olives and she loved it, so, even if you think you don’t want the olives, I urge you to give it a try. But if not, the sauce is delicious on its own.
This recipe is vegan and nut-free. It can also be made gluten-free by using gluten-free pasta; however, if you do use gluten-free pasta, don’t finish the pasta in the sauce as many gluten-free pastas (especially those made with brown rice) break apart easily. In addition, while this movie is NOT for kids (PG-13 for sure), this dish is absolutely one that they can enjoy too (omit the crushed red pepper in this case). If your child doesn’t like olives yet, this is a great way to get them to try it! Enjoy!
- 1 lb. grape or cherry tomatoes, washed and dried
- 12 oz. uncooked spaghetti
- ½ yellow onion, sliced thinly
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon, plus 2 teaspoons of olive oil, divided
- ¼ cup red wine
- 3 tablespoons black olives, sliced
- 3 tablespoons Kalamata olives, sliced
- 3 tablespoons Castelvetrano olives, sliced (if you can’t find these, any green olive is fine, but these have the best flavor for this dish)
- 1 teaspoon honey
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Put tomatoes in a large bowl. Add 2 teaspoons olive oil and salt. Toss to coat.
- Rim a baking sheet with foil and arrange tomatoes on top.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes or until “burst” (tomatoes are soft and skin is slightly charred). Set aside to cool.
- Fill a large pot with water. Heat to boiling then add pasta and a generous pinch of salt. Cook 9-10 minutes until al dente or according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup starchy pasta water then drain thoroughly and set aside.
- While pasta is cooking, make the sauce. Add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to a medium skillet. Heat on medium high heat.
- When oil is hot, add garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add onion. Cook for 4-6 minutes until softened. Season with salt and pepper.
- While water is boiling, add “burst” tomatoes and their juices to the skillet. Stir and break up with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add red wine and stir until reduced.
- Add olives to sauce. Stir to combine.
- Add honey. Stir to combine.
- If using, add the crushed red chili flakes. Stir to combine.
- Add ½ cup of the reserved pasta water to the sauce. Stir. If the sauce still looks dry, add another ½ cup of water. Reduce heat to low. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Finish the spaghetti in the sauce for 1 minute. Serve immediately.
This dish was designed to be vegan, but if you’d like, you can top the pasta with parmesan cheese. The brininess of the olives goes great with the nuttiness of a hard cheese like parmesan.