November 09, 2006

Pasta With Greens

[No picture because I ate it too fast. Maybe tomorrow!]

The guiding theme behind these recipes is (usually, at least) to find things pretty much anyone can make if they have a minimally-equipped kitchen. This time, that's especially true: this recipe requires no culinary skills whatsoever. If you can boil water and use a timer, you can impress a date with Pasta With Greens. Plus, it's totally vegan.

Pick something long and stringy -- spaghetti, thin spaghetti, or linguine are all good. Angel hair is a bit too sticky for my taste, but it would also work. To make enough for two people, make an O with your thumb and first finger, and fill the O with pasta. (Use a little more for linguine.) Japanese soba or buckwheat noodles would also work; note that buckwheat noodles only cook for about three minutes, so you'll have to fiddle with the precisely order and times given below.

Bagged, precleaned, fresh greens are certainly more convenient than the unwashed sort. Avoid frozen! Spinach, Swiss chard, and turnip greens all work really well in Pasta With Greens. Avoid hard greens, like kale -- as much as I love kale, it doesn't wilt when cooked, and won't mix with the pasta when tossed. For two people, you'll want about 6 cups of roughly chopped greens, which is about 1/3 of a bag.

Olive oil: go for the expensive extra-virgin stuff here. A quarter cup of oil, for two people, will be just a little bit too greasy.

Garlic: 3-6 cloves of garlic, to taste and depending on size.

Seriously, that's all there is to the "sauce". Marinara's actually pretty easy, but remember, we're going for water-boiling level of skill here.

These are all optional. For a little touch of extra colour and flavour, consider roughly chopped sun-dried tomatoes (check the "ethnic" aisle), coriander or sesame seeds (spice aisle), or a little grated lemon or orange zest.

Time: 20-30 minutes, depending on how fast the water heats up.

  1. Fill a large (6 quart or so) pot 2/3rds up with cold tap water. (For those of you keeping track, that's about a gallon of water. Seriously, you want this much water for cooking pasta. And cold tap water because it contains less lead than water that's gone through your water heater, always a good thing.) Put it on your largest burner, and crank the heat up as high as it goes.
  2. While the water is heating, put about an inch of water in the bottom of a medium-sized saucepan with a lid. Put in a steamer basket and the greens. Cover and set on a medium-sized burner. Leave the heat off for now.

    If you don't have a steamer basket, you can either boil and strain the greens (messy but simple; fill the saucepan halfway and wait to add the greens until after the water's boiling, in a couple of steps) or braise (only a little more advanced than boiling water, I promise, and nowhere near as messy as boiling) with half a cup of vegetarian vegetable stock (check the soup aisle) in a non-stick pan (borrow a large lid from a saucepan). Or just go buy a steamer basket. They're cheap, and steaming is a great, fast way to cook all kinds of veggies. (Just don't run out and buy it while the water's heating.)
  3. Put the olive oil in your smallest pan, and let it sit on the smallest burner. Again, leave the heat off for now. Peel the garlic and put it through a press or smash with the side of a chef's knife and finely mince.
  4. Once the pasta water is boiling, add the pasta and several shakes from your salt shaker. Stir the pasta into the water and half-cover; leave the heat on full blast. Turn the heat under the greens to high, and the the heat under the oil to medium. Set a timer for five minutes.
  5. The oil should be hot after 60-90 seconds, depending on your burner. Add the garlic and cook, stirring every few seconds, until the smallest pieces are lightly browned, about 30-60 seconds. Be careful not to burn the garlic! Turn the heat under the oil off completely. Set the table, pour the wine, &c.
  6. When the timer goes off, turn the heat under the greens off completely and pull their lid off halfway. The greens should be wilted and fragrant, but not smell unpleasant. Reset the timer for two minutes.
  7. When the time goes off again, check the pasta. It's done when it's al dente -- that's Italian for "to the tooth", and means the pasta is cooked through, but not mushy. (Linguine will take a bit longer than spaghetti. Ignore the times on the pasta box; they're never remotely accurately.) Drain the pasta.
  8. To avoid a small puddle of oil creepy across the plate, I prefer to serve this in large bowls. Add pasta, then greens, and top with the oil, trying not to let too much of the cooked garlic end up in the bowl. Top with whatever garnish you're using and serve immediately.
  9. Unless you're terribly formal about such things, this goes well with both white and red table wines. (Chianti and merlot are always good choices, in my opinion.) Serve with a slice or two of French or Italian bread (since dinner itself was cheap, non-vegans could even splurge and get some of that heat-and-serve garlic bread at the supermarket), and to avoid garlic breath, I'd recommend a citrus sorbet for dessert.

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