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Monday, May 15, 2017

Orecchiete with Spring Greens in 25 Minutes Start to Finish

  
The way it works in our house is that I leave the recipe for whatever I am making for dinner sitting conspicuously on the kitchen counter.  It’s the first thing Andrew sees when he gets home and walks into the kitchen.  The only advance warning he ever has is on days when I know I’ll be serving Chicken. This is due to his undying loyalty to a restaurant near his office called “Chirping Chicken”.  This loyalty comes from his having lost a lot of weight by consuming nothing but Chirping Chicken Caesar Salad for lunch for weeks on end.  The weight is gone but the lure of the salad hasn’t. One night last week he did an eye roll when he spotted today’s recipe. It was only after eating this terrific-tasting dish with its Spring Greens and roasted almonds that he admitted his misgivings.  And he did so while telling me that I absolutely had to wax poetic about how good this is for people who might think ‘meh’.   I didn’t change its name. Instead I’m advertising its second virtue: The whole delicious dish takes no more than 15 minutes to make.
Hand Made Orecchiete in Puglia
If I had to choose a favorite pasta Orecchiette would be close to the top of my list.  I love these “little ears”, which is not only what they’re shaped like but also what their direct translation from Italian is.  The ‘bowls’ of Orecchiette can be counted on to hold sauce while the tiny size of them means they never overwhelm the other ingredients you pair with them. They originated in the Italian province of Puglia, which is the heel of the boot of that country on maps.   There they are almost always homemade and served as fresh pasta.  The dry form, which is what I used here, is not as familiar in Italy.  But De Cecco, my pasta supplier of record, does make them there and exports them to the US. In Puglia, the traditional dish is “Orecchiette alla Cime di Rapa”.
Orecchiette Cima di Rapa
Cime de Rapa in Italy is broccoli rabe in the US.
They’re generally dressed in a tomato based sauce and can include miniature meatballs and topped with a sprinkling of Ricotta Forte, a seasoned version of a sheep’s milk ricotta cheese. The seminal Italian cookbook “Il Cocchiaio d’argento” (The Silver Spoon) suggests Orecchiette are ideal for vegetable sauces of any kind.  In today’s recipe, the sauce is limited to a cup of pasta water.  It’s hard to imagine how much flavor there is here, hence Andrew’s admonishment to really sell hard on this one. Try it next time you’re pressed for time.  I am fairly sure you will cook it again even when you’ve got all the time in the world.  Here is the recipe.

Recipe for Orrecchiette with Spring Greens

1 pound orecchiette

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

8 cups baby spinach

2 garlic cloves, minced

1¼ cups peas (fresh or thawed)

cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for finishing

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes

cup toasted pine nuts (pignoli)





1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the orecchiette and cook according to the package instructions (about 7 to 9 minutes).

2. While the pasta cooks, heat the butter and oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the spinach in batches, cooking until wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and peas, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes more.





 
3. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Add the pasta and the reserved pasta water to the sauté pan and toss well to combine. Add the Parmesan and stir until the mixture is creamy, 1 to 2 minutes more.





 
4. Season the pasta with salt and pepper (and red-pepper flakes, if using). Garnish with almonds and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.




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