This is a quick pasta dish that addresses the need to consume healthy greens — kale is often listed at the top — while not sacrificing taste. Slender-leaved black kale (cavalo nero) is great in this dish, but any kind of kale, green or red, or other hearty green will also be good. The dish can be made even tastier and prettier with the addition of tomatoes (sun-dried or cherry tomatoes) and other compatible ingredients. Make sure to add lots of grated parmesan, since there’s no “sauce” in this dish. Of the myriad kinds of pasta available, orechiette (“little ears”) is one of my favorites for its toothy texture and the way it holds ingredients.
This dish is based on a recipe in Seattle chef Jerry Traunfeld’s second cookbook, “The Herbal Kitchen,” which is a terrific book that contains simpler recipes for home cooks. However, his recipe calls for pancetta rather than bacon. Yes, you can use pancetta but I find that it sort of disappears in dishes, not contributing much flavor in gutsy preparations like this, so why add the calories of this Italian cured, not-smoked pork product? Bacon, however, is a different story. I’ve made a few other tweaks to this without ruining Jerry’s basic great idea.
Orechiette with Kale, Bacon and Oregano
Yield: 4-6 Servings
2 bunch kale, stems removed and greens roughly chopped
12 ounces orechiette pasta
4-6 ounces bacon, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped Greek oregano
½+ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Cut up the bacon and cook over low heat until crisp. Remove from pan and blot on paper towels. Leave enough bacon fat in the pan to coat the bottom. If you LOVE bacon, leave all the rendered fat in the pan.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Stir the orechiette into the boiling water and cook according to instructions. While the pasta is cooking, put the garlic and red pepper flakes into the bacon fat and after half a minute or so, add as much of the chopped kale as will fit in the pan. Toss the kale with tongs until it wilts down, and then add the rest of the kale, and the wine. An option is to cover the pan to more quickly wilt the kale. (Do this before adding the wine, which needs to cook off.)
Ladle a little of the pasta cooking liquid into the pan and toss in the oregano, and continue to cook until the kale is no longer tough (it will not be completely tender either), 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and add salt if it needs it (the bacon might contribute enough).
When the pasta is tender but still firm, drain it and add it to the skillet. Sprinkle with the cheese, toss it all together, and serve in warm shallow bowls. Grate more cheese over the pasta at the table.