Kale Pasta with Walnuts and Parmesan
Despite my occasional fantasies about selling our house and moving into a condo (all of which coincide with afternoons dedicated to yardwork), due to Ben’s greatest vice, we’ll never actually be able to leave. At the same time I mourn the loss of my hypothetical yardwork-free life, however, I owe his habit a debt of gratitude for bringing today’s Kale Pasta with Walnuts and Parmesan into my life.
Ben has a serious and thus-far incurable book-buying addiction. I realize that it sounds ridiculous to deem the purchase of literature a “vice,” but the six full-sized bookshelves—all of which are packed to the brim with books both stacked upright and crammed horizontally on top of existing rows—would suggest otherwise.
While I support Ben’s love of learning and admire the fact that he wants to read a biography on Benjamin Franklin in his free time, the idea of attempting to transport these books to a new location makes my lower back quiver in fear. I’ve gently (and not so gently) suggested that he purchase a Kindle to save shelf space, to which he insists, “it’s not the same,” and, “I’d miss the feel of a book in my hands.” To that I say, “we’re hiring movers.”
I know that I have my habits too—I can’t pass a cheese counter or wine rack without tossing a few finds into my cart—but in my defense, my impulse buys have a shelf life. Allow Ben within a square mile of Half Price Books, and he’s guaranteed to come home with an armful, which is exactly what happened a few weeks ago when we “happened upon” a Half Price Books while taking a new route home. Ben left with four books; I treated myself to one: Giada’s Family Dinners.
Used bookstores are cookbook treasure troves. While Ben pours over the biography and economics sections, I scour the top shelves for prized copies at rock-bottom prices. From America’s Test Kitchen to my favorite celebrity chefs, I’ve scored some serious bargains, and my most recent purchase from Giada was no exception. It set me back $5.99 and is where I found the inspiration for today’s kale pasta.
I don’t know that I’d reach for this book for a quick weeknight dinner the way I do Mark Bittman, but for occasions when I want something more decadent or am seeking new ideas for pasta combinations, it’s perfect. In the “Family Style Pasta” section, I happened upon an enticing-looking recipe for Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Swiss Chard and Pecorino, so I decided to give it a go.
Giada’s original recipe called for chard, pine nuts, and Pecorino Romano cheese, but I swapped the beautiful kale I found at the farmer’s market, wallet-friendly walnuts, and the block of Parmesan I already had on hand. I also tend to prefer a higher veggie-to-noodle ratio in my pasta dishes than Giada uses, so I played around with the other ingredients to ensure I had a little bite of greens, nuts, and cheese with every twirl of spaghetti. The original recipe also called for olives, but I opted to leave them out to allow the flavor of the walnuts and Parmesan to truly shine.
The resulting dish was exceptionally pleasing. I loved the rich toastiness and crunch the walnuts added, the light acidity of the wine, and the sweetness of the caramelized onions. Ben, who is usually a red sauce-only pasta purist, quickly inhaled his first helping and went back for seconds.
Maybe we should stop into Half Price Books more often. After all, when you already have six bookshelves, what’s one more?
Kale Pasta with Walnuts and Parmesan
- 1/2 cup walnut halves, — roughly chopped
- 8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti — or other long pasta
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, — plus additional for tossing with the pasta
- 2 large red onions — thinly sliced
- 2-3 large bunches kale — about 2 pounds, stems removed and chopped
- 4 cloves garlic — minced
- 1 can diced tomatoes in their juices — (14 ounces)
- 2/3 cup dry white wine — such as Pinot Grigio
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes — reduce to 1/4 teaspoon if sensitive to spice
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt — plus additional to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Heat a small, dry skillet with a thick bottom over medium low. Once hot, add the walnuts, and toast them, stirring often, until golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes (alternatively, you can toast them in a 300 degree F oven or toaster oven for 10 minutes, stirring twice through out). Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente according to package directions. Drain, toss with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking, then set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil a large deep skillet over medium high. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add the sliced onions and sauté until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the kale and sauté 4-5 minutes until it wilts. If it does not fit in the pot all at once, add by gradual handfuls, stir and allow it to wilt down, then add more. Once all of the kale is added and has softed a bit, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes in their juices, the wine, and the red pepper flakes. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low. Cover the pan and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the kale is soft and the tomatoes break down, about 3-5 minutes. Remove lid and let any excess liquid cook off a bit so that the pasta isn’t too watery.
Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and stir to coat. Serve warm, topped with toasted walnuts and Parmesan.
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