Cooking with Winter Greens
When fall and winter roll around, we must resort to a heartier lot—collards, kale, beet greens, kohlrabi, Swiss chard—the kind of vegetable that comes to mind when you hear the word “roughage.” They look like overgrown weeds, often drawing the reaction: “do I really want to bite down into that?” The answer is no—caveat—unless they’re properly prepared.
When you pick up one of these unwieldy bundles of bushy fiber, it can be difficult to imagine how to tame and finesse it into something tender and appetizing. Such a metamorphosis ostensibly seems like a lot of work to achieve. Here we offer a simple solution that will transform any tough green into a guilty pleasure. It is a full meal in and of itself, combining protein, vegetable, and starch in such a way that even children will enjoy it.
The sauce is basically an Amatriciana, to which sautéed greens are added and then tossed with pasta and sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
¾ cup thickly sliced pancetta, diced
1 large or 2 small onions, thinly sliced
1 32-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch of greens, such as dino kale, Swiss chard, or beet greens
12 ounces spaghetti or penne
Salt and pepper
Chili flakes (optional)
Brush a large cast-iron casserole with olive oil, add the pancetta and cook over low heat until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is golden brown. Add the onion and cook until slightly brown (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally. Reserving the juice, add the seeded and diced tomatoes to the pancetta and onions. Add a pinch or two of chili flakes if you want a little heat, and cover and cook on low for 40 minutes, periodically adding a little of the reserved tomato juice if the sauce begins to stick to the pan or gets too dry. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
If using Swiss chard, cut off only the end of the stalk. If using kale or greens with a similarly tough stalk, remove the stalk and use only the leafy portion. Lay the greens across a cutting board horizontally. Cut the stalk (if retained) into ½-inch pieces and the leafy part into 1-inch pieces. Wash and spin the cut greens in a salad spinner. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan and cook the garlic over medium heat until lightly golden, about 30 seconds. Add the greens, toss them with the garlic and olive oil, and raise the heat to medium-high. Season with salt and pepper and sauté the greens until tender, adjusting the heat as necessary.
In a large pot of salted, boiling water, add one tablespoon of olive oil, then add the pasta. Cook until al dente and then drain and set aside. Add the greens to the casserole and mix them into the sauce. Then add the pasta and toss over low heat so that the flavors combine and sauce congeals to the pasta.
Transfer to a serving bowl. Grate fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over the pasta and serve, with extra fresh grated Parm on the side. Buon appetito!
Some pancetta is saltier and more peppery than others. When preparing the sauce, if your pancetta is very well seasoned, you probably will not need to add any salt or pepper at any stage. Make sure you wait until your sauce has cooked for the full 40 minutes before adjusting the seasoning. The greens will still need to be seasoned during their sauté since they are not cooked in the sauce.