02/21/2012 12:38 EST | Updated 04/22/2012 05:12 EDT

Penne With Tomatoes And Capers (RECIPES)

It's time to move mint beyond juleps and mojitos.

Because in North America mint has struggled to land on the dinner table. We tend to associate it with sweets (after all, it does pair nicely with chocolate) and breath mints.

But elsewhere in the world, especially North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, mint is used to lend a crisp, almost peppery contrast to savoury dishes, especially fatty ones (think lamb with mint sauce).

First, the basics.

You'll find fresh mint sold with the other herbs in the produce section, often in large bunches that you'll never manage to entirely use. No worries; it's cheap.

Most of the mint sold at American and Canadian grocers is spearmint or peppermint, just two of the many varieties (that grow like weeds) available. It should have a mix of large and small leaves that are bright green and firm.

When you get the mint home, give it a good wash in cold water, then snip off the bottoms of the stems. You can prolong its life — sometimes by weeks — if you stand the stems upright in a glass of water and refrigerate.

And be prepared for a minty fresh refrigerator. Mint is as aromatic as it is flavourful (handy since we tend to taste with our snouts as much as our tongues). But that also means you'll want to go easy with it to avoid overpowering other flavours in your dish.

Mint loves vegetables, cooked and raw (it's key to the flavour of fresh Vietnamese spring rolls, for example). It also goes well with roasted poultry and pork, and helps cut through assertive cheeses, such as feta.

Ready to move beyond breath mints? Try this recipe for feta-mint penne with tomatoes and capers.

Feta-Mint Penne With Tomatoes and Capers

Start to finish: 15 minutes

500 g (1 lb) penne pasta

15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

500 ml (2 cups) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

15 ml (1 tbsp) capers, drained

125 ml (1/2 cup) crumbled feta

30 ml (2 tbsp) finely chopped fresh mint

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-high, heat olive oil. Add onion and garlic and saute for 4 minutes.

Add tomatoes to skillet and cook until just softened, about 2 minutes. Add capers and cook for another minute.

Remove skillet from heat and stir in feta and mint. Season with salt and pepper. To serve, spoon sauce over pasta.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 520 calories; 80 calories from fat (16 per cent of total calories); 9 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 17 mg cholesterol; 92 g carbohydrate; 19 g protein; 5 g fibre; 284 mg sodium.