Answer: pretty bad. But I’ve been trying to cook meatless meals one or two nights a week, and when I do cook with meat, I want it to be fresh, flavorful and ethically raised. Hence, why I’m working for EcoFriendly Foods a few weekends a month; all of their animals are raised humanely on small family farms in the Shenandoah Valley.
When it comes to meatless meals, though, I need a dish that can compete — something that doesn’t make me feel like, “Ugh, it’s vegetarian night again” and wish I were grilling sausages instead. That’s where this pasta comes in.
It’s another Lidia Bastianich recipe, which in her book is paired with a type of homemade pasta called strangozzi. I did not have time to make fresh pasta, so I just used pappardelle — a somewhat random choice, but it’s what I had on hand, and it worked.
The almond sauce is basically a pesto — basil, a little mint, some garlic, toasted almonds and olive oil. You whir it together in a food processor and add it to the cooked pasta with some Swiss chard you’ve sauteed in olive oil with garlic and pepperocino.
Now, I’m pretty fussy about mint. For me, it can go either way. But in this dish it totally works. You can barely taste it — basil is still the predominate flavor — but it adds a bright, fresh element to the sauce. And the toasted almonds add a richness that stamps out any notion this meal is some sort of sacrifice. In fact, there are times I crave the light, fresh taste of this dish more than anything else.
Pasta with Chard and Almond Sauce
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich
Note: Though the original recipe calls for strangozzi, the sauce would work with any number of dried pastas. Linguine, spaghetti or rigatoni would be good. You can even use pappardelle, which is what I used, and it was delicious.
You can also use spinach in place of Swiss chard if you prefer.
Chard and Pesto:
2 lbs. Swiss chard
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
4 plump cloves garlic, 2 peeled and crushed, 2 peeled and sliced
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
1 1/2 lbs. pasta
extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing
1 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.
Rinse and drain the chard; cut off the stems. If the central rib is thick and tough, cut it out. Pile up leaves and slice them crosswise into strips about 1-inch wide. When water comes to a boil, dump the chard into the pot and stir, submerging the strips. Return to a boil and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Using a strainer, remove chard and drop it into a colander. Turn off heat and save pot of hot water for cooking the pasta. When chard has drained and cooled a bit, squeeze by handfuls, pressing out the liquid. Loosen the clumps and pile in the colander.
For pesto: Put basil, mint, crushed garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt into food processor. Process to a chunky paste, about 10 seconds. Add almonds and process for 10 seconds until you have a smooth, bright green paste.
Pour remaining 7 teaspoons olive oil into large skillet set over medium-high heat. Scatter in the sliced garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes, until it is sizzling. Drop in the chard, season with peperoncino, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and stir. Ladle in 1/2 cup water from pot and bring to a boil. Cook rapidly for several minutes, until the water has reduced by half. Lower heat to a simmer. Bring chard cooking water back to boil. Add pasta, stirring and separating the strands. Partially cover the pot and rapidly return the water to a boil. Cook until barely al dente.
With strainer or tongs remove pasta from the water, drain a moment, and drop into the skillet with simmering chard. Toss together quickly and spread all the herb-almond pesto on top. Rinse out the food processor bowl with 1/2 cup hot water from the pasta pot and pour that into the pasta. Over low heat, toss pasta, chard, and pesto together for 1-2 minutes until the pasta is coated 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 heat, sprinkle 1 cup or so of grated cheese over pasta and toss well. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil. Toss again. Serve immediately with more cheese for passing.
Yield: 6 servings