Nancy's Pasta with Greens

I was emotionally scarred by cooked greens. Greasy, mushy mustard and collard greens with overtones of lysol and sweat socks…. any redeeming qualities long since boiled out. To be fair, I shouldn’t even call them greens, as all that remained of their once-vibrant verde was a dingy, dull dirty grey. How anyone expected a child of 8 to endure such a tragedy of food is beyond me, but it seems to be the way of the south. Even my mother, who does appreciate good food, would weekly serve up frozen chopped spinach, wet sludge only seasoned with salt and perhaps a pat of margarine. I had to consume by swallowing, without chewing, as quickly as possible followed by gulps and gulps of milk.

It took me years before I’d even try cooked spinach as an adult… and then only in select dishes, like Saag Paneer, which is really pretty much butter and cream and spices with the spinach more of a color additive. And, you could forget about getting me to try the tougher greens, like Kale or Chard. Until, one day, my friend Nancy made me what’s become one of my favorite pasta dishes of all time. Such a simple, but unusual concotion, pairing soy, noodles, feta, chile flakes and yes, greens. She was kind and started me out with spinach, and I was immediately hooked on the flavors. This spinach didn’t make my mouth feel like I’d been chewing on dirt. It tasted green and really, really good! The next visit, she stepped me up to Kale… and once again, I was stunned. I loved it. I even craved it, and started making the dish regularly. That was many, many years ago and I must have made what I’ve dubbed “Nancy’s Pasta” now hundreds of times. But, always with Kale or Spinach. I’ve still avoided those “other greens.”

That is, until my Pike Place Market basket came this past week, with an enormous bunch of chard… it’s beautifully rumpled green leaves veined with a brilliant red. I hemmed and hawed when I pulled the bunch out trying to figure out what to do with it that I might like. I was intimidated. I knew I needed to step past my emotional damage and give the chard an honest chance. It even deserved a new recipe… but after staring at it for a day or two, I decided one step was enough. I’d make Nancy’s Pasta once again. And of course, it was delicious. I was a convert.

Newly motivated by my success, I was inspired. Inspired to try cooking with chard once again… but this time, a new recipe. I pondered a tart, a stew, a soup, a stir fry. And then settled on a quiche, a perfect summertime lunch. The chard, along with some onion and oregano also from the market basket, and a bit of rosemary and parmesan, and cooked to a golden brown. The scarring is healing.

Now, we’ll see how I deal with the collard greens in next weeks basket…

Nancy’s Pasta
16oz small shaped pasta (penne, wheels, etc.)
2 T olive oil
1 T minced garlic
1 t red chile flakes
1 bunch greens (chard, kale or spinach)
1 T sesame oil
2 T soy sauce
1 t Sri Racha chile sauce (optional)
1/2 cup of feta

Clean and trim the greens, and roughly chop, saving both the leaf and stems.

Cook the pasta, al dente, according to the manufacturers directions.
About 10 minutes before the pasta will be ready, heat the olive oil in a wok or deep frying pan over medium high until hot, and add the garlic, sauteing until it’s golden brown. Add the chile flakes and top with the greens. Let sit for about a minute, and then stir until the greens begin to wilt. Add the sesame oil, soy and sri racha. Stir to coat the greens, and then reduce the heat to simmer.

Strain the pasta well, and add it to the greens mixture. Stir to coat. Transfer to serving dish, and top with the crumpled feta and a bit more red chile flakes.

BTW – this dish also reheats very well.

Spring Chard Quiche
1 pie crust, baked off
1/2 bunch chard
1 T olive oil
1 T minced garlic
1 spring onion, whites only
2 t rosemary
1 T fresh oregano, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
3 or 5 eggs (small or large baking dish)
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 350F.

Start by preparing your pie crust. Elise on Simply Recipes has great instructions for how to prepare the crust, as well as linking off to one of Martha’s pie crust recipes. I used the recipe on the back of the crisco container because I still had some tins I needed to use. Next time though, I’m making it with butter!

Clean and trim the chard, and roughly chop, saving both the stems and leaves. Slice the onion.

Heat the olive oil in a saute pan until hot, and add the garlic and onion. Reduce heat to low and stir the onions until they soften and start to become translucent. Then, increase heat to medium-high and stir until they turn golden. Add the chard, rosemary and oregano and stir until the greens begin to wilt. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

Whisk the eggs and cream until light. Add about a 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Take about half of the egg mixture and stir it into the green mixture. Fold back into the remaining egg mixture. Then, pour the whole mixture into the pre-baked pie crust. Top with parmesan.

Bake at 350F for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a rich golden brown on top. Allow to cool on a rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

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  • Stefanie Noble

    I used to be anti-greens as well, but now I can’t get enough of one of the “local specialities”: Utica Greens. I almost always add a little spaghetti sauce (usually homemade, but my go-to bottled sauce is Rao’s) and some penne or ziti and that, to me, is perfection. I’ve used both escarole and swiss chard, but rapini will work as well.

    This post is definitely giving me new ideas too!

  • Jim

    Your pasta with red chard looks fabulious – I will have to give it a try since i have some left over from this week’s basket. Like you I was a bit nervous about what to do with it since I have had bad experiences in the past. I ultimately turned to my favorite dish – risotto – since it is so versitile. It turned out very well.

    I threw in some mushrooms and orgegano (also from the basket) along with the chard and cooked it in chicken stock with the risotto rice. Some lemon juice and parm was added at the very end. It turned out to be one of the better risotto dishes I have made. Next time I will add some shrimp for added protein :)

  • Bea at La Tartine Gourmande

    This looks absolutely delicious, in all meaning of the word! Who would hate those greens in view of your inviting pictures!

  • Cam

    Love the bottom picture of the quiche!

  • mae

    The spring chard quiche looks so delicious. Did you bake it in the white ceramic deep dish as shown on the photo?

  • L

    Thanks All!

    Stephanie – Thank you! Putting the greens in pasta sauce is a good idea. I was talking with one of my friends about next weeks Collard greens (actually, I was pawning them off on her), and she suggested that too…

    Jim – Thanks! mmm. risotto.

    Bea – Thanks! Although I think if you were as anti-green as I was, you still might… but perhaps be just a little tempted.

    Thanks Cam!

    Mae – Thanks. Yes, the quiche dish is oven safe up to about 450F. It’s my new favorite dish.

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  • mae

    I adore whites… and your dish is a must have!

  • ms.proust

    Hey L,

    I could never look a plate of vegetables in the eye (despite the fact that I was a so-called vegetarian!) until my Lopez Island-raised post-college friend turned me on to her Asian stir fries. Slowly but surely she taught me to crave the crispness of broccoli stalks & tender flavorful greens.

    Years later, I love planting greens in my own garden–they require so little to grow here in the NW & they provide instant dinner satisfaction. Chiffonaded lacinato kale is essential for Caldo Verde, the classic Portuguese potato & greens soup & I love the Greens cookbook recipe for lightly blanched chard sauteed with slivered carrots & garlic. I actually crave the stuff now. And for a variation on Nancy’s pasta, have you every tried Deborah Madison’s recipe for whole wheat pasta with arugula & ricotta salata? Super-healthy & a rustic classic.

    My mom just came out from the east coast for a visit & bless her heart, one night she made us a Cooking Light recipe with chemical-pumped frozen bagged shrimp & broccoli nubs cooked to a gummy mush. Maybe it’s a generational or regional thing?

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