This has been the year of kale, with recipes for kale chips and kale salads everywhere. It seems that any food-related get-together, especially potlucks and picnics, featured a kale Caesar. No complaints. These dishes are beautiful departures from the cooked green. But all that kale has made me forget other greens.
Like escarole. In recent weeks I’ve rediscovered its slightly jagged leaves and mildly bitter flavor. It works well in salads, especially when balanced with milder, sweeter greens, such as leaf lettuce (although I gladly eat an escarole-only preparation showered with pomegranate seeds and Parmesan shavings).
Just slightly wilted, escarole makes a fine condiment to pasta. Here it gets backup from savory pancetta and sweet sauteed onions. The chopped greens are stirred in at the end so the pasta’s heat wilts the leaves without turning them into mush. Wash the dish down with a crisp white wine or medium-bodied red.
Penne Pasta with Wilted Escarole
1 pound penne pasta
6 ounces pancetta, in ¼-inch cubes
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, sliced in half-moons
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 large head leafy escarole, sliced in wide ribbons
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Heat a large stockpot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta; cook according to package directions until al dente.
Meanwhile, heat the pancetta in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat; cook until fat is rendered. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons oil, if needed. Add the onions; season with ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until completely soft, 12 minutes. Add garlic; cook, 1 minute. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water. Return pasta to the pot; stir in the onion mixture and the escarole. If the dish seems dry, stir in some of the reserved pasta water. Toss with the Romano cheese.
Per serving: 600 calories, 16g fat, 7g saturated fat, 35mg cholesterol, 93g carbohydrates, 31g protein, 787mg sodium, 14g fiber.