We’re far from peak produce season, but we do have fabulous local greens in our markets and co-ops. Innovative growers are harvesting fresh arugula, spinach and kale using hydroponic or oxygen methods. Future Farm of Baldwin, Wis., Living Greens of Faribault, Minn., River Root Farm of Decorah, Iowa, and Urban Organics of St. Paul are only a few regional growers delivering dark greens to our stores, even as the temperatures plunge. I use them in salads, omelets and stir-fries, as well as this simple pasta, a go-to dish after a busy day.
Pasta with garlic and oil — aglio e oio, in Italian — sounds as delicious and elegant as it truly is. Adding greens brightens the plate with the earthy freshness I crave this time of year and helps round it into a full, healthful meal.
The key is in building a flavor base with the two primary ingredients: good quality extra-virgin olive oil and cloves of plump garlic. The garlic is cooked slowly, over low heat, in enough oil to coat until it turns a soft, deep gold (watch that it doesn’t become too brown or it will taste acrid).
Next add only a pinch of red chile flakes, not too much, and then the greens, cooking until they wilt and become tender. Wide ribbons of pasta — fettuccine or pappardelle — tangle nicely with the greens. With pasta shapes that are too thin or too small, it’s difficult to integrate the greens with the pasta, though a pair of tongs helps.
Don’t forget to salt the pasta water before it boils. Taste it; it should taste like the ocean. Without salting the water, the pasta’s flavor is flat, and you’ll find yourself dumping salt on top once it’s cooked. That nicely salted water, slightly thickened from the pasta’s starch, becomes the stock to finish the dish and give it a little body.
The dish hardly needs a recipe and is open to any whim. Toss in sliced red pepper for crunch and color; chopped black or green olives; drained capers; sun-dried tomatoes. Chopped toasted walnuts are a nice addition. Try prosciutto, salami, cooked ham, turkey or chicken. Sprinkle on a handful of shredded aged cheese — Parmesan, Asiago, pecorino or Gouda — before serving. Reliable and easy, it’s still different every time.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.