There’s nothing Domenico likes more than planting our vegetable garden in the spring. He gets so excited about turning over the earth with his rototiller, that some times I have to reign him in, so that plants that have weathered the winter don’t get caught in his over eager blades.
A few weeks ago, as he was doing the guy thing with the incredibly loud machine, I was able to get his attention at the very last minute, by frantically waving my hands and jumping up and down over the roar of the motor. “Stop!!!” I yelled. He gave me that look that assumed I was going to yell at him for operating heavy machinery in his bare feet.
Then I pointed to the corner of the patch he was working on, to bring his attention to the little bunch of Swiss chard left over from last October’s planting.
I quickly chopped it down, put it in my basket, and headed back to the house as Domenico restarted the tiller to finish the job.
Back in the kitchen I decided to adjust the pasta alla gricia that I had already planned on making. Gricia is one of those Roman classics that make due with few simple ingredients. Pasta, pecorino , bacon and black pepper. The one other ingredient that is essential to pull the dish together is the pasta cooking water. And this is where my chard would come in.
I decided to chop the Swiss chard into ribbons, and cook it along side the pasta. This not only added a lightness to an otherwise pretty heavy dish, the chard would also flavor the water that I used at the end, giving the entire dish a more complex flavor.
With all the talk lately about the difficulty of getting in your five portions of vegetables a day, I think this is a pretty easy, painless and delicious way to do that. While also managing to get in your daily dose of pancetta and pecorino of course.
- ½ kilo / 1 pound of pasta
- 1 cup grated sheeps milk cheese
- ⅓ cup cubed pancetta or guanciale
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 6 cups chopped Swiss chard
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta.
- In the meantime heat the olive oil in a small frying pan and add the pancetta. Let cook until crisp and browned. Turn off heat.
- When the pasta is about 3 minutes away from being done, add the chopped Swiss chard to the pot. Let it return to a boil and finish cooking
- Using a heat proof cup, scoop up about 2 cups of the pasta liquid and set aside. Drain the rest of the pasta and place it in a heated serving bowl.
- Immediately toss with the pancetta and oil.
- Now comes the tricky part: Add a handful of cheese, some pepper and some of the cooking water and toss. Keep repeating this process until all the cheese is finished. You probably won’t need all the cooking water, but you should use up all the cheese and pepper. The trick is not to over stir, to avoid the cheese clumping up. This is a bit difficult with the Swiss chard, which acts like a cheese magnate, so be careful.
- Serve immediately.