Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pasta with Onions and Arugula

There are plenty of things to get excited about when spring settles in. Warmer air, longer days, flowers. Mostly what I look forward to, however, are green things. Specifically edible green things. Since arugula is the first of those green things I can grow myself that’s the first thing I get excited about. Well, that and the rhubarb growing by the shed, but today I’m talking about pasta.

This dish is about more than the arugula, though. Most of the flavor and substance of this pasta sauce (for lack of a better word for it) comes from sweet and aromatic caramelized onions and leeks. Taking the time to let a pan of onions brown, or in the case of leeks, practically melt down to a creamy consistency, takes this dish a bit beyond the usual toss-some-fresh-stuff-together-with-noodles dish. And it’s worth that time. I’m a sucker for caramelized onions anyway, and in this dish their flavor and creamy texture, enhanced by, well, cream, was even more delightful than I expected.

The arugula, which is pretty sharply bitter and a little spicy, was a delicious counter-point to the creamy onions. When this dish was ready to serve it didn’t look like it had enough arugula in it. I thought I was going to have to try it again with a double dose, but a few bites revealed that such was not the case. The arugula can carry itself through a dish like this even if the rest of the ingredients aren’t covered with it. Of course, if you’re not a fan of arugula’s strong flavor, you’re not going to be able to hide it in this dish. You could probably replace it with spinach or chard and still get something pretty tasty.

The original recipe for this dish included some additional flavors, such as currants, and some additional gooiness in the form of fresh mozzarella. I left out the currants because they didn’t suit my taste and I left out the mozzarella because my most recent attempt to make some, something I’ve done several times before, went disastrously wrong. But I don’t know where the mozzarella would have fit in this dish. The melty leeks and bit of cream made it rich and luscious enough without it. Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Arugula looks deceptively simple in a bowl, but the deep flavors of the caramelized onions, the creamy texture of the resulting sauce, and the contrast from the peppery arugula are complex and satisfying.

Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Arugula
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts (well-washed)
2 cups thinly sliced yellow onion
¾ teaspoon coarse salt, divided
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 cup chicken broth (I used reduced sodium), divided
8 ounces uncooked linguine
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
¼ cup heavy cream
2 cups arugula, coarsely chopped if the leaves are large
about 1/8 teaspoon (several grinds from a pepper mill) black pepper

1. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet that has a lid. Add the leeks, onions and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions begin to brown, about 5-8 minutes.

2. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute more. Add ½ cup chicken broth. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Cook 20-30 minutes or until the leeks and onions are very soft and golden brown, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat if it seems that the onions are getting too dark before they soften.

3. Meanwhile, cook the linguine in boiling salted water until just a bit underdone. (The pasta will cook a little more with the sauce later.)

4. Uncover the onion mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes more, or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated.  Stir in the red wine vinegar, heavy cream and remaining salt. Reduce the heat to low and add the cooked linguine, arugula and pepper. Toss to coat the pasta. Keep cooking and stirring until the arugula has wilted.

Makes about 4 servings.

One year ago: Ham and Onion Tart with Rye Crust

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