Sunday, January 06, 2008

Whole Wheat Pasta with Greens, Beans, Pancetta, and Garlic Bread Crumbs

This classic recipe from the Italian countryside deserves a place on the American table. Could we streamline it without forfeiting flavor?

Published: November 1, 2005
Serves 4 to 6

Prosciutto di Parma can be substituted for pancetta. If you can't find a 13.25-ounce package of Ronzoni, the winner of our tasting, use 3/4 pound of a whole wheat spaghetti of your choice.

2 large slices white sandwich bread (about 3 ounces), torn into quarters
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
Table salt
3 ounces pancetta , cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium onion , diced small (about 1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
**14 cups kale (loosely packed) or collard greens (1 to 1 1/2 pounds), thick stems trimmed, leaves chopped into 1-inch pieces and rinsed, water still clinging to leaves
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans , drained and rinsed
*13 1/4 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
4 ounces fontina cheese , coarsely grated (about 1 cup)
Ground black pepper

1. Pulse bread in food processor until coarsely ground. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add bread crumbs and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant and bread crumbs are dark golden brown, about 1 minute. Season bread crumbs with salt, transfer to small serving bowl, and set aside. Wipe out pan with paper towels.

2. Heat remaining tablespoon oil in now-empty pan over medium-high heat, add pancetta, and cook until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to small bowl.

3. Add onion to pan; cook until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add remaining tablespoon garlic and red pepper flakes; cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

4. Add half of greens to pan; using tongs, toss occasionally, until starting to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add remaining greens, broth, and 3/4 teaspoon salt; cover (pan will be very full); increase heat to high and bring to strong simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, tossing occasionally, until greens are tender, about 15 minutes (mixture will be somewhat soupy). Stir in beans and pancetta.

5. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in Dutch oven over high heat. Add spaghetti and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is just shy of al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add greens mixture to pasta, set over medium-high heat, and toss to combine. Cook until pasta absorbs most of liquid, about 2 minutes. Add fontina; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, passing garlic bread crumbs separately.

*Drain the pasta before it reaches al dente texture, then cook until tender in the brothy sauce. This technique allows the pasta to absorb the flavors of the sauce and to release its residual starch, which helps to thicken the sauce slightly.

**Collard greens and kale have tough, thick stems that must be trimmed before they can be used in recipes. Hold each leaf at the base of the stem over a large bowl filled with water. With a chef's knife, slash the leafy portion from each side of the stem. Discard the stem.


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