I was amazed to discover recently that in the month or so since I started blogging, I had yet to try out any pasta recipes. Pasta is, after all, one of my very favorite foods and one which has been eaten with inordinate frequency through much of my life. I love fresh pasta, but I’m also quite happy with dried. Homemade tomato sauces are terrific, but I can also be placated with the jarred stuff (well, at least some brands). Spaghetti, gemelli, linguini, cellentani, I’ll eat them all with gusto.
So why hadn’t I blogged any pasta dishes yet? In our household, like many, I think, pasta is a go-to dish when we’re too tired or unmotivated to actually cook. Or when we have no fresh ingredients. Or we just don’t want to have to think about what we’re putting in our mouths that night. Rarely is pasta (at least the dried variety) a plan. Which is really unfortunate since it means that we don’t have dishes like this creamy, nutty pasta nearly enough.
This recipe, adapted from the wonderful Entertaining for a Veggie Planet was originally intended to be made with broccoli rabe (or rapini) rather than mustard greens. But a rapidly aging bunch of mustard greens, a dearth of broccoli rabe at the closest supermarkets, and a quick google search on substituting greens for one another gave this recipe its new incarnation. Mustard greens are from a weedy family of cabbage derivatives that includes arugula and watercress as well. There are several varieties of mustard greens with differing levels of pepperiness and pungence, and cooking the greens can reduce their bitterness. As for the relationship between mustard greens and mustard seed, they’re from related species that have been bred for their foliage and the taste of their seeds, respectively. (For these and other interesting, intelligent, and scientifically-minded tidbits on what we put in our bodies, check out the venerable Harold McGee’s classic On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen.)
For those who have hated mustard greens in the past, this recipe may change your mind. The greens soften and mellow out with a quick blanching followed by a very brief saute. We tossed in a bit of fresh spinach along with the greens, and I think the dish would work equally well with just spinach or chard or broccoli rabe (as it was intended), should you be entirely, unrelentingly mustard green averse. The feta, added to the piping hot pasta right before tossing, melts into a light creamy coating and the pecans provide an unexpectedly delicious crunch. This dish is very quick to make and good enough to serve at a dinner party…my only complaint was that I had to use three pots and pans. But I suppose that’s a small price to pay for this delicious and nutritious dinner.
Linguine with mustard greens, pecans, and feta (serves 4-6)
1 bunch mustard greens (or other greens), trimmed and cut into 1-inch ribbons
kosher salt to taste
1 pound dried linguine
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced crosswise and washed well
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 tsp grated fresh lemon rind
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice (about 1 juicy lemon)
1 cup chopped toasted pecans
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup crumbled feta cheese (or less, 1 cup is generous)
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to boil. Blanch the mustard greens just until they turn bright green, about 2 minutes. Drain immediately, and rinse under cold water, and drain well. Set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of salter water to boil. Add the linguine and return to a boil, stirring occasionally. Boil 8-10 minutes or until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water, then return the pasta and the reserved cooking water to the pot.
3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, hear the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leek and saute until translucent, 7-9 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the greens and red pepper flakes and heat through. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon rind, juice, and almost all of the pecans, reserving 2 tbsp for garnish. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Add the sauce and the feta to the hot pasta and toss to coat well. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if necessary. Serve immediately, garnished with the reserved pecans.