If it has been awhile since a variety of tasty vegetables has passed your lips, or if you are just looking for a way to enjoy some fresh produce from your garden or market, try my favorite vegetable pasta dish. It is the one we fall back on when we want to eat something really delicious that we know won’t weight us down, so to speak. This often gets made to balance out another meal that is rather lacking in vegetable and fiber content. Take this Saturday. For a relaxing lunch while watching some college football, Mike and I made a quick run to one of South Florida’s beloved barbecue dives. In the interest of research, we are pitting some of the best-known BBQ pits against one another to determine which, in our opinion, serves the best barbecue in town. More on that in the future.
Since the ribs, cornbread and pork sandwich were not exactly high on the nutritional scale, we decided to make up for it at dinner with this pasta. Don’t start thinking that this is the sort of diet meal that will leave you feeling like you are missing something. The sautéed red onions together with the mushrooms, tomatoes and parmigiano reggiano (Do not skip the cheese!) are so full of sweet, rich flavor, you’ll keep trying to figure out exactly what it is that tastes so good. The swiss chard, a green with a bit more bitterness than spinach, as well as a firmer bite, balances the sweetness. There is plenty of healthy fat from the cheese, olive oil, olives and pine nuts. A small amount of each of these strongly-flavored additions goes a long way.
There are two things that I think you must do to make this dish the best it can be: toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet (not nonstick) until lightly browned, and use whole wheat spaghetti. Toasting the pine nuts does wonders to bring out their flavor. I like to use Whole Foods 365 brand of whole wheat pasta because it has a strong, yet pleasantly nutty taste that complements this earthy-sweet blend of vegetables beautifully. Some of the other whole wheat brands that I like, such as Barilla, taste just like regular spaghetti, so I reserve them for dishes when I do not want a strong wheat flavor, like carbonara. If you did not start your day with a rack of ribs like us, serve this pasta with crisp, buttery garlic bread or your favorite fresh loaf dipped in extra virgin olive oil. One thing that helps make this recipe so nutritious is that the proportion of vegetables to pasta is nearly equal. Since eating well and enjoying food is all about balance, it helps to have a veggie-centric dish like this in your arsenal.
I like to cut the chard leaves in half while removing the stems. I then stack the leaf halves on top of each other and chop them.
The veggies have just finished cooking. It is good for some liquid to remain in the skillet. The pasta will soak it up when you combine them.
Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Swiss Chard, Red Onions and Pine Nuts
I am calling for one large bunch of swiss chard here, but you can never have too much. Like spinach, it cooks down considerably. I adapted this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis' Show, Everyday Italian.
3-4 tblsp. pine nuts
8-10 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tblsp. olive oil
1 large red onion, sliced into half moons
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 large bunch swiss chard, thick stems and spines removed and chopped
Pinch of nutmeg
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 can diced tomatoes with their juice (I used the kind with Italian seasonings added)
1/3 c. pitted and chopped olives (I used mixed Mediterranean ones)
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Heat a large stainless steel or cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts and toast, tossing occasionally, until lightly browned. Remove from skillet and set aside. Add the oil to the skillet and turn the heat up to medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until beginning to soften, 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and continue to cook until mushrooms are soft and just beginning to brown. Add the swiss chard, in batches if necessary, and cook until the greens are reduced in volume and incorporated with the other vegetables, about 4 minutes. If the skillet is too dry, add a small amount of hot water. Add the nutmeg (it is a wonderful compliment to greens). Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add the tomatoes. Simmer for about 4 minutes to allow some of the liquid to evaporate. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt and cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain in a colander and return pasta to the pot, off of the heat. Add the vegetable mixture to the pasta along with the olives and combine. Divide evenly among 3 or 4 bowls. Top with toasted pine nuts and grated parmigiano.