Monday, May 3, 2010

Seasonal Leaves

Spring has come to Southeastern Minnesota. That’s a dangerous statement to make, since there’s always a chance that as soon as you do, you’ll find yourself with several inches of snow on your head. But the trees are in full leaf and the lilacs are in full bloom (and scent…aaaahhhh), so I’m going to go out on a limb and declare that spring is here.

That limb became even less precarious when I found these beautiful, beautiful locally grown greens at the local co-op. These were so pretty, I wanted to plunge my arms in them up to the elbows. I wanted to run my fingers through them right there in the store. I managed to restrain myself. In fact, the first time I saw them, I didn’t even buy them. I just didn’t have a plan for them, and I was terrified that they would just sit in the refrigerator while I tried to figure out something nice to do with them. They would go bad, which would amount to a mortal sin on my part and give me terrible nightmares.

The bad dreams were averted when a recipe caused itself to surface while I was attempting to organize part of my stash. It was in The Splendid Table e-mail newsletter by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, and since it is a fairly simple pasta toss, it was pretty straightforward to adapt it for slightly more seasonal and convenient ingredients. It contains shrimp and chickpeas along with the greens and, while I just swapped out bell peppers, which aren’t so great in the stores right now, with sun-dried tomatoes, you could also use cooked chicken or more chickpeas instead of the shrimp

The next time I went shopping, I bought those greens, just enough to use up in this recipe. (I waited to get home before running my hands through them.) They’re so young and tender and delicate, I almost felt guilty eating them. Almost. Some of them were peppery, some were earthy, some kind of sweet, some kind of bitter. All of them were great, just wilted a little bit in this pasta dish. Their earthiness went well with the shrimp and they all held up just enough against the more assertive flavors of the olives, sun-dried tomatoes and pepperoncini peppers.

I felt like there was really a lot of noodle to this dish when I made it with 8 ounces of dried pasta, and would have liked a greater ratio of the other, more flavorful stuff. The range of 6-8 ounces that I put in the recipe below reflects that opinion. If you like lots of pasta, eat lots of pasta. Next time I make it, I’ll put in less, and perhaps even more of those lovely spring leaves.

Pasta with Chickpeas, Shrimp and Spring Greens
Adapted from recipes by Lynne Rossetto Kasper

I don’t specify what size shrimp to buy, because I think you should get the best that you can no matter what size they are. Living in a shrimp-less part of the world has made me less picky about such things. Just cut them to the size you want them.

6-8 ounces uncooked twisty or curly short-cut pasta (I used cellentani, aka cavatappi)
2 tablespoons olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
½ cup finely chopped red onion
1 cup cooked or canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt, divided
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup pitted and chopped kalamata olives
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
3-4 pickled pepperoncini peppers, sliced into rings
2 large handfuls young mixed salad greens
finely chopped parsley for garnish, optional

1. In a large pot, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente (cooked through but still firm). Reserve ¼ cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and set aside. Rinse the pot and return to the stove.

2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt. Saute 3-5 minutes or until beginning to brown. Add the chickpeas and shrimp. Saute about 3 minutes or just until the shrimp turns pink.

3. Stir in the garlic, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and pepperoncini and cook about 1 minute. Add the pasta, greens, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and reserved pasta water. Toss to combine and cook until the greens wilt. Taste for salt and add more if desired.

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