Orecchiette with Greens and Beans

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about motherhood so far is introducing our daughter to new foods. It’s been so much fun watching her take a tentative bite, have an initial look of shock or horror, suck on her thumb for comfort while she pieces it out whether she likes the taste or not, then signalling that she’s willing to give it another try by popping her little mouth open. We soon know whether it’s met her approval when she smiles broadly and leans forward, eager for another bite. So far, the only thing that she has flat-out, consistently refused is cauliflower, and being a recent but still wary cauliflower convert myself, I can’t blame her.

Being foodies ourselves, I hope that we can continue to cultivate her palate, but I know that in all likelihood, this openness to eating green, leafy vegetables and trying new things is sadly unlikely to last. In the meantime though, I’ve had fun experimenting with some of the techniques and suggestions from What Chefs Feed Their Kids, a cookbook with ideas for meals that both parents and kids at all stages can enjoy together. This dish is inspired by that book’s Wild Greens Puree, a delicious mess of wilted kale, collard greens, spinach, basil and parsley. Our daughter runs hot and cold for that puree, although lately, she eats it more consistently when blended with a white bean dip. On the days when she refuses it, John and I don’t mind, scooping it up with tortilla chips while sipping some pre-dinner martinis as we complete her bedtime routine. Yeah, it’s just that good.

Recently, I found myself with a bunch of leftover greens and an extra can of white beans in our cupboard after we made some purees for her meals. The cookbook suggests thinning the greens puree into a soup for the adults, but I liked the idea of making a heartier meal and using the greens and beans in a pasta dish with some crumbled sausage. The one issue was that I felt like just mixing sautéed greens into the pasta would mean stringy, difficult to eat pieces of vegetables, so I decided to cook down my mix of green vegetables, then puree them into a slick sauce to coat the pasta. I browned some crumbled, spicy Italian sausage then sautéed some shallots and garlic in the rendered fat. I then piled on the green vegetables– kale, mustard greens, and spinach. Once wilted, I added the mix to a blender with a splash of chicken stock and pureed it until I had a bright green sauce. This went back into the pan with the sausage, some cannellini beans, and the pasta, then mixed to coat. A sprinkle of fresh basil added some brightness. This was delicious, and I love the fact that we were eating a combination that our daughter loves to eat too. Next attempt on this front: pureed, roasted eggplant for her; baba ganoush for us!

  • 1 lb dried orecchiette pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb bulk Italian sausage (sweet or hot)
  • 2 large shallots, halved and sliced
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 bunch each: kale, spinach, and mustard greens, leaves removed from stems and roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 15oz can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/4 cup torn basil leaves

Cook pasta about 2 minutes shy of package directions in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta cooking water when ready to drain.

While water for pasta comes to a boil, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned and caramelized, about 7-8 minutes. Remove sausage from pan, leaving rendered fat behind. Add the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes and saute until shallots are softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped mixed greens in 1/3 batches, wilting down one batch before adding another. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. When the leaves have all cooked down, add all the contents of the pan to a blender with the chicken stock and puree until greens are finely chopped and you have a smooth sauce. You might add some of the pasta cooking water to achieve your desired consistency. Adjust seasoning to taste. Add the pasta, the cooked sausage, drained beans, and the puree to the pasta cooking pot and mix until combined. Add more reserved pasta cooking water if mixture gets too dry. Spoon onto plates and garnish with torn basil. Serve with grated cheese if you wish.

Makes 6-8 servings.

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Greens & Cannellini Stew

Italy is this month’s destination over on My Kitchen, My World, and when I think Italy, I think sun, red ripe tomatoes combined with other market fresh ingredients in brightly flavored pasta dishes to go with warm, sunny climes. Too bad it’s one of those windy, rainy, winter in Seattle weeks outside my window right now.

Instead of tomatoes, I have hearty greens like this kale and escarole pictured above. Instead of market fresh ingredients, I have dried cannellini beans. No worries– this is when I have to force myself out of my ideal Italian meal picture and remember that the great thing about Italian cooking is how it moves with the seasons. With the wintery ingredients available to me, I still have the foundation for a beautiful yet hearty Italian meal.

I decided to make a white bean stew with chunks of crisped pancetta, flecks of fennel and celery for sweetness and ribbons of dark, slightly bitter greens for color and balance of flavors. Rosemary and sage were the herbs of choice, adding a woodsy backdrop to the hearty stew. To finish it off, I drizzled heaping bowls of my stew with some white truffle oil and topped them with garlicky, toasted croutons.

I honestly don’t know which was better– the aromas of sage and pancetta cooking (I want to make everything with this combination now!), the comforting heat and soft bubbling sounds while the stew cooked on the stove, or tucking into the stew itself, so soft and creamy, flavorful, and somehow light yet rib-stickisng at the same time. Make this while it’s cold and blustery outside and it’ll feel just like you’re dining at an Italian osteria.

  • 1 lb dried cannellini beans, soaked over night in a pot filled with 4 quarts of water in which you’ve dissolved 3 tablespoons of table salt.
  • 1/4 lb of thick sliced (about 1/4 inch) pancetta, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chiffonade, divided
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium ribs of celery, diced
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, chopped (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock plus 4 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 medium bunch lacinato kale, leaves removed from stems and chopped
  • 1 medium bunch escarole, chopped
  • salt and pepper

Garnish

  • 1/2 loaf day old Italian or ciabatta bread, torn into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 smashed garlic cloves
  • salt and pepper
  • white truffle oil

Heat olive oil in large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pancetta and 1/2 tablespoon of sage and cook until pancetta is crisped, about 15 minutes. Remove pancetta to a paper towel lined plate to drain and set aside. Pour off fat in pot, leaving about 2 tablespoons for cooking.

Add the onion, fennel, celery, and garlic and cook until softened, but not browned, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse beans then add them to the pot along with stock, water, bay leaf, rosemary, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon of sage. Bring to a boil then reduce heat, simmering for 1.5 hours. In the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the kale and escarole. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

After you’ve added the kale and escarole, make the croutons by heating olive oil with the smashed garlic cloves in a medium skillet over medium heat. Toast garlic on both sides until golden brown, being careful not to burn them then remove from the skillet and discard. Add the torn bread, tossing to coat in the hot oil and cook until toasted, about 10-12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Plate stew in bowls, topping with a sprinkle of pancetta, a handful of croutons, and a drizzle of truffle oil if you have it on hand.

CSA Count: 5

Sweet onion, fennel bulb, lacinato kale, escarole, garlic

Garden Count: 3

Rosemary, sage, bay leaf