Conchiglie with Anchovies, Garlic, and Chard (or Broccoli Rabe or Cavolo Nero or Cauliflower)
This is easily our favorite go-to pasta dish on those nights when the question of “What shall we have for dinner?” raises its head and we don’t feel like fussing. It’s comfort food–hearty enough for a wintry night, and also a cinch to make. A saute of olive oil, garlic and hot pepper flakes to which you add a single vegetable. What could be simpler? Because we always have the basic ingredients on hand, it’s just a matter of acquiring a bunch of chard (or broccoli rabe or cavolo nero or a cauliflower) to complete the sauce – not too difficult to manage. If you’re not fond of anchovies you could leave them out, but I guarantee you won’t even notice their hairy consistency or distinctive flavor in the finished sauce, and it certainly gives a lift to the flavor. If you’re using chard, a whole rainbow of colors is now available. Having just bought a bunch of beautiful young red, yellow and orange chard, I decided it would be criminal to throw out the beautiful stems so I cut them into 1″ pieces and cooked them briefly before adding the leaves. Success! The extra bite they give is just perfect. I like to use a pasta such as conchiglie, fusilli, penne, or perciatelli – sturdy enough for the robust sauce.
Two Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped parsley (optional)
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (or more, if you like it hotter)
6 canned anchovy filets
A large clove garlic, finely chopped
A bunch of large chard, stems and tough ribs removed or
A bunch of young rainbow chard, stems separated and cut into 1″ pieces
Heat the oil over low heat in a sturdy pot for a minute of two. Add the optional parsley, pepper flakes and anchovies and cook until the anchovies have melted, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook a few minutes longer until the flavors have melded. I add the garlic last because burnt garlic can ruin any dish and burning can happen easily if you start with garlic in too-hot oil. In the meantime blanch the chard in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes. (If you are using young rainbow chard, cook the stems for 4 minutes before adding the leaves and continuing to cook for a further 4 minutes.) Drain well and chop it coarsely. Add to the oil/garlic mixture and let it continue to cook over low heat for a minute or two.
In the meantime cook the pasta al dente according to the package directions and add it, drained, to the chard mixture. A little of the cooking water will loosen the mixture. Stir it around, adding a bit of extra olive oil if desired. Check for salt and serve with lots of freshly grated parmesan.
Variations: Use broccoli rabe instead. Blanch it in the same way as the chard for 3-4 minutes, chop into about 1 inch pieces and proceed as above.
If you can find cavolo nero (also called Tuscan kale, dinosaur kale, and lacinato kale–see picture below), you’re in for a real treat. It’s very common in soups and sauces in Tuscany and is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S. Look for it at your farmer’s market or local produce store. Tear out the tough central stem and discard it, as with the chard. You will need to cook it for about 10 minutes before draining it, chopping it coarsely and adding it to the oil/garlic mixture.
If you’re using cauliflower, a nice addition is a tablespoon or two of toasted breadcrumbs, preferably homemade, as well as a tablespoon of parsley. Cut the cauliflower into flowerets, discarding the core, and toss them in a tablespoon of olive oil. Roast them in a 350-degree over for about 20 minutes until a little brown and crisp around the edges and l still a little bitey (or you can steam or boil them until barely cooked.) Mix into the oil/garlic base, add the pasta and serve sprinkled with the toasted breadcrumbs, parsley and parmesan.
I know I’ve complicated things by suggesting four different vegetables, but each is so delicious that I’m not going to apologize.