Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Eating the lawn: pasta with white beans and chicory

It's the season in between when the root veggies from the winter farm share run out and the summer share (or even the Farmer's Market) begins, when there's just not a lot of local produce to be had. However, the lawn is starting to green up, which means dandelions, chicory and my latest discovery, garlic mustard, are there for the picking. The chicory especially calls out, as it is still tender and relatively mild, and has not yet begun to grow its big spiky stems:

So for dinner last night, I cooked it with pasta and white beans, topped with delicious crunchy fried breadcrumbs:

Pasta with White Beans and Chicory

1/2 lb. whole-wheat pasta
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
a couple of pinches of red pepper flakes
several bunches of chicory (or other bitter green, chopped if large leaves), washed
1 can cannelini beans, drained and rinsed (or about 1 1/2 cups home cooked)
about 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
extra-virgin olive oil, plus light olive oil for sautéing if desired
salt & pepper

1. Heavily salt some water, and put it on to boil for the pasta.

2. While water is heating, saut&ecaute; the onions in some oil (I generally use light olive oil for sautéing, saving the extra-virgin stuff for finishing and places where you'll really taste it) over medium-high heat until soft.

3. Add the red pepper flakes and the garlic, cook for 20-30 seconds until garlic blooms.

4. Add the chicory leaves, without drying too much so they have some liquid to braise in (since I tend to wash greens, especially from my lawn, by immersing in a bowl of water, I just left them in the water until it was time to add them to the skillet). Turn down the heat a bit.

5. Once the greens have cooked down, add the beans.

6. Add pasta to water once it boils; as pasta is cooking, add small amounts (1/4 c.) of pasta water to sauce and reduce - kind of like making a risotto.

7. Once pasta is cooking, heat several glugs of extra-virgin olive oil in a small skillet and toast the breadcrumbs until they become golden-brown, oil soaked morsels of delicious crunchiness.

8. Drain pasta when al dante, reserving about a cup of the pasta water in case you need to thin out the sauce. Add pasta to skillet with sauce, toss to combine, add a little more pasta water if dry, then drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.

9. Serve in pasta bowls topped with the breadcrumbs.

In addition to the chicory, I learned this past weekend that one of the invasive species we've had in the backyard for the last few years is in fact garlic mustard, and edible:

Turns out it makes a very tasty pesto, with a kind of lemony-mustardy bite, which is good, because we've got a big field of it surrounding our blueberry bushes in the back corner of the yard and, apparently, releasing a mild herbicide from its root system:

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