Thursday, March 07, 2013

in the kitchen with sillymortalmama: PASTA!

THIS is no ordinary pasta. it's technically called Strangozzi con Salsa di Mandorle e Bietole but *i* like to call it 'how to get your family to eat TWO POUNDS OF GREENS WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING IT.' now, i'm not one to *sneak* things into food and trick people into eating them, but when starting to cook with more greens some years ago i had to find clever ways to serve those greens. and by clever i mean in a way THEY WOULD ACTUALLY GET EATEN.

this recipe does just that. this is a wonderful platter of pasta. i make it a LOT. it is so delicious and healthy and completely restaurant worthy. even my most dedicated NON lover of greens will eat it up. it makes quite a bit (the beauty of pasta, no?) looks great on the table and tastes just as good the next day. so it's great for family and leftovers or company with candles and wine. though who says you have to wait for company to enjoy candles and wine?

i will say that the dish takes some time and a few steps. it's not a difficult recipe, but you don't just whip it up. but keep reading and check it out before you click away. you WILL NOT be disappointed. i promise.

this recipe comes directly (with a few adaptions for clarity from me) from the book Lidia Cooks From the Heart of Italy by Lidia Bastianich. this is a GREAT cookbook. i've always enjoyed watching her somewhat homespun and down to earth cooking show (PBS), but i was initially put off by her books because she uses SO MANY ingredients and the recipes seemed so fussy. after i really started reading the recipes i began to appreciate the style in which they were written. she really wants you to be familiar and choosy with your ingredients. appreciate them. she doesn't want you to grab two cloves of garlic, she wants you to grab two cloves of PLUMP garlic. she wants you to mentally picture and place those ingredients in your brain and feel them in your hand and really know what you're going for when you put them in your dish. now i love reading her recipes because it feels familiar, like a beloved auntie or grandma leaning over your shoulder, their voice in your ear talking you through. teaching you the secret of the recipe. those special touches we may forget to think are important. 'The garlic must be plump, the mint leaves fresh.'

and i promise, once you get used to her style, assemble your ingredients, and take the time to follow the steps it's not that daunting AND they are such flavorful and fresh recipes it's well worth it! i've seen all her books available at the library. if you're interested in healthy and flavorful and authentic italian food you should definitely check them out!

Strangozzi with Chard & Almond Sauce
Strangozzi con Salsa di Mandorle e Bietole

serves 6

This is a fresh and extremely flavorful preparation for strangozzi. The dressing has two components, tender cooked Swiss chard and an uncooked pesto of fresh basil and mint leaves and toasted almonds. (Other leafy greens, such as spinach, chicory, and arugula, could be used, and walnuts could replace the almonds, but the recipe here is true to the Umbrian region.) It is best to prepare the greens and pesto shortly before you cook and serve the pasta, but if you follow the recipe steps, the dish is actually quite quick-cooking and simple. It is only the multitude of tastes and textures that are complex and tantalizing!

For the chard and pesto
2 pounds Swiss chard
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
¼ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
4 plump garlic cloves- 2 crushed and peeled, and 2 peeled and thinly sliced
10 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
⅓ cup sliced almonds, toasted
½ tsp. peperoncino flakes, or to taste *(HA! these are just red pepper flakes. ask me sometime about the odyssey of figuring that out)

For Cooking and Finishing the Pasta
12 ounces to 1 pound Strangozzi (or any other wide pasta, fettuccine, etc.)
1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for passing
Extra-virgin olive oil, best-quality for finishing

For the chard and pesto: Bring a large pot of well-salted water (at least 6 quarts with 1 TBS salt) to the boil. As it heats, rinse and drain the chard leaves, and cut off the stems; if the central rib of the leaf is thick and tough, cut it out. (Save the trimmings for stock.) Pile up the leaves, and slice them crosswise into strips about 1 inch wide.

When the water's boiling, heap all the chard into the pot and stir, submerging the strips. Return the water to the boil, and cook the chard until tender to the bite, about 10 minutes. With a spider or other strainer, lift out the chard strips, and drop them into a colander. Turn off the heat, but SAVE the potful of hot water for cooking the strangozzi/pasta.

When the chard has drained and cooled a bit, squeeze the strips by handfuls, pressing out the liquid. Loosen the clumps, and pile the strips in the colander.

To make the herb-and- almond pesto: Put into the food-processor bowl the basil and mint leaves, the CRUSHED garlic cloves, 3 TBS of the olive oil, and 1 tsp. salt. Process to a chunky paste, about 10 seconds, then drop in the toasted almonds and process again for 10 seconds, or until you have a smooth bright-green paste.

Pour the remaining 7 TBS of olive oil into the big skillet, and set it over medium-high heat. Scatter in the SLICED garlic, and cook for a minute or so, until it's sizzling. Drop in the chard strips, season with peperoncino and the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt, and stir the chard around the pan. Ladle in 1/2 cup of hot water from the pot where the chard was blanched, add to the chard, and bring it to a boil. Cook rapidly for a couple of minutes, until the water has reduced by half, then lower the heat so the greens are barely simmering.

For cooking and finishing the pasta: Meanwhile, bring the chard cooking water back to a rolling boil. Drop all the pasta into the pot, stirring and separating the strands. Cook the strangozzi/pasta to package specifications for al dente (but just barely), stirring occasionally.

With a spider and tongs, quickly lift out the strangozzi/pasta, drain for a moment, and drop them into the skillet with the simmering chard. Toss them together quickly, and spread all of the herb-almond pesto on top. Rinse out the food-processor bowl with 1/2 cup or so of hot water from the big pot, and pour that in with the pasta. LOWER THE HEAT, toss the pasta, the chard, and the pesto together for a minute or two, until the strangozzi/pasta is all coated with the dressing and perfectly al dente. If the dressing is soupy, reduce it quickly over high heat; if it's too dense, thin it with more pasta water.

Turn off the heat, sprinkle a cup or so of grated cheese over the strangozzi/pasta, and toss well. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, toss again, and heap the pasta in warm bowls. Serve immediately, with more cheese at the table.


 *she has a separate recipe for homemade strangozzi that she includes with this recipe. i'm not set up for fresh pasta making so i buy mine. if you are interested, check out her book.

*depending on the pasta i use it's between 12 and 16 ounces. both amounts work with the amount of sauce. i like fresh pasta for this recipe, but i have used dried in both regular or whole grain. i find it hard to find good whole grain pasta in a wider noodle (A MUST for even sauce distribution) so i often just use regular because there are many more size options. whatever you choose, just be sure to cook the pasta according to the package for al dente but JUST SHY OF THAT. after it boils the pasta will be tossed over heat and will continue to cook so you don't want it too done before that.

*along those lines, don't overcook your chard. really the 10 minutes is a guideline. 'tender to the bite' means it needs to retain its integrity a bit. don't cook it until it's all mushy. if you're at all worried, taking it off heat and out of the pot TOO EARLY is better than too late.

*DO NOT FORGET to NOT pour out the cooking water for the chard. like don't just drain the chard into a colander and the cooking water into the sink. the cooking water is an important part of the continued recipe and becomes a flavor component to the dish.

*if you think you are tossing a lot to get the sauce all distributed you ARE. but don't worry, just keep tossing. you'll get there. i do a 'toss and spread, toss and spread' kinda groove and it seems to work. and this is where NOT overcooking your greens earlier comes in handy. overcooking you make them clumpy and mushy and hard to toss and distribute.

*i know this seems like a LOT but it really isn't. and is worth it. i promise.



No comments: