Friday, March 04, 2011

Pantry Pasta

I was talking to my roommate the other day about how I manage to cook so often. He likes preparing food and likes the idea of cooking for himself, but seems to lack the follow through. While there are basic recipes and methods you can learn to make cooking easier, I realized over the course of our conversation that I really like the process of cooking. I like that it's methodical and creative (and delicious). I even- increasingly- like the process of organizing and cleaning up after myself. I often recline on the sofa after a meal and survey the sparkling kitchen* from my position of satiated repose. But assuming you have that drive to cook and merely lack the will to go to the grocery store (this winter has brought about four day stretches during which I don't leave my apartment), this is a good recipe building on scraps.

The base of the dish was a bundle of chard stems I saved from Saturday. I had eaten braised chard stems before and it seemed they would cook down nicely to accompany pasta. I had a can of chickpeas, a shallot, some garlic and a bit of roasted red pepper (about half a pepper). As you remember (perhaps) I had lemon and parsley from a fish dish earlier in the week and I always have parmesean cheese on hand. I also always have wine around (a professional hazard) but broth or water would work fine.

I started out chopping everything up. I put on some water to boil and heated up a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a pan. I sauteed the shallot and garlic for a minute and then added the chard stems. After they were bright green on the edges I added the chickpeas and red pepper. I think that chopped canned tomatoes would have been even better in this and had a similar aesthetic affect, but I used what I had.

I added salt and black and red pepper (I love my little red pepper mill!), about a quarter cup of white wine and a squeeze of tomato paste. Then I covered the pan and turned down the heat. While the stems were braising themselves into an edible softness, I grated lots of cheese and a bit of lemon zest. I also chopped up some parsley pretty fine.

The trick at this point is to make sure that the veggies cook enough. Really, over cooking is not going to happen. The stems are very tough and have a sort of grassy bitterness to them. The chickpeas will also get softer and break apart a bit as cooking continues. I put (about 3/4 cup dried?) pasta into the salted water once the greens were pretty soft. When it was tender I drained it (saving a bit of the water) and put it right into the pan with the stems and chickpeas. Then I added the grated and chopped things and a bit of the pasta water and mixed it all together. That's all.

This dish made enough for two hungry people (or one hungry person who is happy not to have to make lunch plans for tomorrow). I grated more cheese on at the end, because it's technically a good idea when consuming that much fiber (whole wheat pasta, chickpeas and chard stems? try to contain your colon envy). I was very happy to have the brightness of the lemon zest and the freshness of the parsley to balance the richer braised flavor of the other vegetables. It took about an hour, start to finish, but there was nothing especially complicated. It's a balanced, satisfying (and vegetarian!) meal.

*This is poetic license. I live with three other people. The kitchen is never that clean.

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