Pasta with ham, tomatoes and olives

Give weeknights an easy lift with a fridge-foraged pasta that’s user-friendly for fork, bowl and couch.


Few things make me happier than scratching around in the fridge for bits and pieces and turning them into dinner, which is exactly how this recipe first came into being. Since then it has been twiddled and tweaked, ingredients upped and downed, added and removed. What has stayed constant, however, is its impromptu heart, ready to be whipped up at any time of day or night.

What makes this work – what ties it together, really – are ingredients that aren’t in the title: a smattering of chilli flakes and some lemon zest. Between them, and in concert with everything else, this becomes so much more complex than you’d think possible. A few olives (there's always a tub of brine-packed kalamatas in my fridge) just encourage the intrigue.

The ham of the original was a single, thick ham steak – I can’t remember why it was in the fridge in the first place, although from the date in my notebook it was probably a post-Christmas leftover. It can easily be replaced with bacon or, more adventurously, chorizo, in which case I’d tone down the chilli flakes or omit them altogether, depending on how fiery your chorizo is.

Any short pasta works here to keep it user-friendly for fork, bowl and couch. I love the little cups of orecchiette, tight, fat spirals of fusilli or the can’t-help-but-make-you-smile butterflies of farfalle.

Pasta with ham, tomatoes and olives


For 2.

½ teaspoon olive oil
100g (4 oz) ham steak, cut into forkable batons
200g (7 oz) cherry tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, finely minced
½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
200g (7 oz) short pasta
6 black olives, sliced into rings
Parmesan cheese, to serve

Get the water on for the pasta so that it will be ready when you need it.

Warm the oil over medium-high heat in a pan big enough to take all the pasta later. Fry the ham until nicely browned and transfer to a plate.

Turn the heat down to low and add the tomatoes, garlic, chilli flakes and lemon zest. Cover and let it cook away quietly, stirring occasionally, while you get on with the pasta.

Cook your pasta for a minute or two less than recommended on the packet as it will pick up a few more minutes with the sauce. Reserve a little of the cooking water by dipping in a measuring cup before draining the pasta loosely and adding to the sauce.

Along with the pasta, add the olives and some of the pasta cooking water – just enough to produce a sauce that coats the pasta; a tablespoon or two should do it. The sauce shouldn’t need either salt or pepper, but taste and season if you feel like it does.

Cover the pan, switch the heat off and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.