Life, at least digestively, is returning to normal here Chez O, which is relief to us all. To celebrate, I decided to cook a proper meal for the first time in almost a week, but the pickings in the pantry and refrigerator were slim. This is what I came up with, adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe, with inspiration from one by Mark Bittman (sorry, Louisa, if you're reading this, but I like him) and a couple of touches all mine. The H pronounced it delicious, about sixteen times, but that might just be because he's been eating take out for too long.
Penne with Swiss Chard and Walnuts
1 lb. dried penne
3-4 T EV olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 yellow onion (medium), cut in half and thinly sliced
2 bunches swiss chard (I used one each red and gold), ends trimmed, leaves cut from stems and sliced crosswise into 1/2 inch wide ribbons; stems chopped into 1/2 inch long pieces.
1/3 c. dry white wine (I am sad to say I used Cinzano vermouth, because nothing else was open)
1 t Maldon salt
1/2 t dried hot pepper flakes
1/4 t lemon oil
1/2 c walnuts, coarsely chopped and toasted in a saucepan over medium-high heat until fragrant--maybe five minutes?
3/4 c panko bread crumbs
freshly grated parmesan
high quality EV olive oil
Cook the pasta according to package directions, but be prepared to undercook it slightly--no more than two minutes under the recommended time (it will finish cooking in the sauce.)
While the pasta is cooking, heat 1-2 T olive oil in a small saute pan. When it's hot but not smoking, add the panko and stir to brown over medium high heat. You want the crumbs toasted to a nice brown, and if the oil's hot, it happens fast, so watch them and stir frequently. Remove from heat and keep them in reserve.
Heat another 2 T olive oil in a large dutch oven for a minute or two. Add the garlic and onion, and saute over medium-high heat (you want it sizzling but not browning) until the onion begins to go clear. Add the swiss chard, the salt, the dried peppers, the lemon oil and the white wine, and cook until the chard gets tender, around five more minutes.
By this point, your pasta is likely done. If not, pull the chard off the heat and wait for the pasta. If the pasta finished early, you can just leave it in the colander--don't overcook it because the chard's not ready, but reserve a cup or so of the cooking water. When the chard is tender and the pasta is just undercooked, put the chard mixture back onto medium heat and add the pasta along with a half cup or so of pasta cooking water--enough so there's liquid in the pan to help form a sauce--just enough to make everything moist, but not soupy.
Cook together for 2-3 more minutes until the chard is tender but still bright and the pasta is heated through. Toss gently with the walnuts and breadcrumbs. Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of best quality olive oil.
I served a salad of radishes, cut into batons and dressed with lemon juice, aforementioned extremely good olive oil, a grind of grains de paradis and a sprinkle of fleur de sel. Pretentious, but yummy.
This was a fast, super elegant dinner. You could add some bacon with no doubt sensational result--you could cook it first, after the walnuts and before the panko, or cheat, and do it in the microwave, like Hugh over at GastroKid taught me (how did I not know this trick before? How?) And a word about the lemon oil--this stuff is your best friend. It saves having to grate lemon zest (a task I loathe beyond any common sense) and makes things taste better, and special. It's the secret ingredient in my vinaigrette, which drives people to distraction (both my mother and mother in law ask me to make them jars of it, and trust me, every other ingredient is cheapo from Trader Joe's. It's the lemon oil. Do yourself a favor.)