In the mid-March kitchen garden the winter’s hardy kale, red mustard and arugula are all sending out new growth. Fresh leaves of kale fan out from scars along thick stalks, clusters of young red mustard leaves rise around each old root base, and new arugula emerges from the tangle of still-tasty old leaves.
All of these greens make delicious salads, but last week I discovered that they also add their spring flavors and textures to pasta sauces. The key is to toss them in at the last minute so that they wilt just slightly in the heat of the cooked pasta and other ingredients, taking on a slick of olive oil but staying in the zone between raw and cooked.
I started on this pasta-sauce path while looking for something to do with the last stored bag of the Rose Finn Apple fingerlings. In Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Vegetables (1996) I saw a recipe for Pasta with Potatoes, Rocket, and Rosemary. There was plenty of rosemary and wintered-over arugula, the more familiar name for rocket, in the garden and still potatoes, onions and garlic among the storage vegetables. The combination of these flavors sounded promising and because the arugula was so fresh, I decided to add it at the very end. Since I was serving two instead of four, I more or less halved the original recipe below and kept to these proportions as I experimented the other greens.
1 pound firm boiling potatoes
About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 bunches arugula (about a half pound)
1 small red onion
4 to 6 cloves of garlic
1 sprig rosemary
3/4 pound penne or other tubular pasta
Preheat the oven to 400°. Slice the potatoes about 1/3 inch thick and toss them with a small amount of the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread them in a single layer in an ovenproof dish or on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until they are golden brown and cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, wash the arugula (older, larger leaves are preferable to the tender sprouts), drain, and set aside. Slice the red onion thin. Peel and chop fine the garlic cloves and the rosemary leaves. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
When the potatoes are done, remove them from the oven and put the pasta on to boil. Heat a sauté pan, add some of olive oil, and sauté the sliced onion until it is soft and translucent and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté until soft. (Waters suggests adding the arugula at this point and sautéing it lightly with the garlic but I held back the arugula until the end.) Add the potato slices and rosemary and toss together for a minute or two. When the pasta is done, drain and add it to the potatoes and onion. Finally, add the arugula, drizzle with a little olive oil and toss until the arugula wilts, just a few seconds. Add a little more olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. I also grated some Parmesan to add at the table. Serves 4
Inspired by the delicious results with arugula and roasted fingerlings, I used this technique the next night with red mustard and delicata squash. After peeling, dicing and roasting two of my remaining Honeyboat Delicata squash, I tossed them with the softened red onion, rosemary and garlic and a few leftover flagelot beans and added cooked Orecchiette pasta. Then just before serving I added sliced ribbons of red mustard leaves and tossed them briefly as they wilted. The hot, spicy mustard and the soft, sweet squash were a perfect combination with the pasta and beans. A side of pickled carrots completed the plate.
Following the mustard/squash success, I turned to new growth kale and white runner beans for the next night. After sautéing a red onion and some garlic, I added about a quarter cup each of slivered dried tomatoes and diced roasted red pepper, then a cup and a half of white runner beans and drained fusilli pasta. Finally I piled roughly torn kale leaves onto the hot pasta and beans, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled on a couple pinches of sea salt then tossed the ingredients together. Once again the greens wilted slightly into the pasta and sauce. The nutty beans and earthy kale combined with the sweet pepper and more acid dried tomato to make another tasty meal.
The winter storage vegetables, the potatoes, squash, beans and onions by themselves would have made fine additions to pasta but the greens, fresh from the late winter garden, transformed these dishes into spring. We’ll make them all again soon and maybe make our favorite, the red mustard and squash, even more often as winter gives way to spring.