Penne with Creamed Greens and Pancetta

By • October 3, 2011 20 Comments

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Author Notes: Greens like kale, chard, and mustard are like a troublesome boyfriend. At the market, they look so appealing, so lush and irresistible. But as soon as I get them home, I find myself stressed out by how much room they take up in the fridge, and how quickly they begin to lose their lustre.

Cooking is the only way to tame them. On a recent market trip, I picked up dinosaur kale and a gorgeous bunch of broccoli rabe. By evening, when I'd grown tired of their ways at home, I tossed them both into a big pot and cooked them down with olive oil, cream, and red pepper flakes. They would have made a very fine side of creamed greens (and if that's what you want, you may stop after step 2 of the recipe). These, however, had a longer journey ahead. Next I coarsely pureed the greens in a food processor, tossing in some creme fraiche for good measure. Lastly, I tossed them with penne, pancetta, and the ultimate mediator, grated pecorino cheese. This dish is big on the mineral and bitter flavors of the greens, and I liked this ruggedness. If you want to soften it up a bit, add some toasted pine nuts.

It wasn't until days after I'd made this dish that I realized its unconscious inspiration—clearly apartmentcooker's winning recipe in the greens contest: Kale with Pancetta Cream and Toasted Rosemary Walnuts. Man, how I love creamed greens!
Amanda Hesser

Food52 Review: WHO: Amanda Hesser is our fearless leader and co-founder.
WHAT: A harmonious marriage between penne, pecorino, and market finds.
HOW: Process wilted and creamed broccoli rabe and chard into a pesto, adding some lemon and creme fraiche along the way. Fold it into penne with crisped pieces of pancetta, with a sprinkling of pecorino on top.
WHY WE LOVE IT: If winter greens are like a troublesome boyfriend (per Amanda's apt headnote description), then this pasta is a healthy marriage between opposites. The bitterness of the rabe is tamed by the cream and pecorino, with the pancetta serving as the subtle mediator.
The Editors

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Serves 4

  • Salt
  • 1/4 pound pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice (optional)
  • 1 pound broccoli rabe, rinsed and trimmed
  • 1 medium bunch dinosaur kale, rinsed and stems trimmed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/3 cup creme fraiche
  • 1 pound penne rigate
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano
  1. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, spread the diced pancetta in a saute pan and place over medium heat. Cook the pancetta until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is crisp; you may need to turn the heat lower as you go. Remove the pancetta to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.
  2. Pile the still-wet-from-rinsing greens into a large pot. Pour the oil over the greens. Season with salt. Turn the heat to high and begin wilting the greens, moving the greens from the bottom of the pot to the top using tongs. When they are fully wilted and most of the liquid has cooked off (if it hasn't, pour off all but 1/4 cup), add the cream and a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute.
  3. Move the greens into a food processor, adding about half the creamy liquid in the pot. Puree, adding more liquid as needed; reserve any extra. Add a squeeze of lemon and the creme fraiche and puree once more. Adjust seasoning.
  4. When the water boils, add the penne and cook until al dente; reserve about 1/2 cup pasta water. Drain and add back to the pot. Plop the creamed greens on top of the pasta. Add the pancetta, and fold everything together. Add a handful of cheese, and fold again. Add some reserved creamed greens liquid (or pasta water), if needed. Serve in shallow bowls, sprinkling a little more cheese on top of each plate.
  • This recipe is a Wildcard Contest Winner!
  • This recipe is a Community Pick!

More Great Recipes: Pesto|Pasta|Entrees|Broccoli|Kale

Topics: Weeknight Cooking, Pasta