Penne with Creamed Greens and Pancetta

By • October 3, 2011 18 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 irresistable. 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

Serves 4

  • Salt
  • 1/4 pound pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice (optional)
  • 1 pound bunch 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.

More Great Recipes: Broccoli|Pasta|Entrees|Kale

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Comments (18) Questions (2)


about 3 years ago BubbleChild

Beautiful! This reminds me of a flax cream (dairy-free) broccoli basil coulis I prepared the other day. Thank you for sharing!


over 3 years ago pvanhagenlcsw

I picked the last of the kale from my garden today and made this for dinner substituting chard for the rabe since that had gone to seed. This is a terrific dish, full of flavor and I will definitely make this again. I think one of the best final touches on a dish like this is to dress the plate with extra olive oil after plating it.


over 3 years ago EmilyC

Made this for dinner tonight and we all loved it, including my 2 year old who scarfed it down. I used curly kale and spinach, and greek yogurt instead of creme fraiche, and it turned out great. It's going into the weeknight rotation.


over 3 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Please give your 2 year old thumbs up from me for eating this. Glad you all liked it!


almost 4 years ago Leeann

Surprisingly delicious! Kale is a staple of winter veggies here in Germany (but not one of my favourites), but we found this to be a delightfully different take on it and it was much enjoyed.


almost 4 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Glad you enjoyed it!


almost 4 years ago vivanat

Have made this twice now and it will definitely be a staple through winter greens season in my CSA box.


almost 4 years ago GrowCookEat

This looks amazing tasty and simple. I just picked up a huge bunch of swiss chard and was looking for a different way to prepare- thanks!


almost 4 years ago luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

Made this for dinner with kale, mustard and arugula. It was a big hit!


almost 4 years ago Emily

I made this on Friday night for a small dinner party and it was a huge hit!


almost 4 years ago foodsurf

Amanda - do you have the nutritional information for this?


almost 4 years ago Amanda Hesser

Amanda is a co-founder of Food52.

Hi foodsurf -- sorry but we don't provide nutritional info. But there are a number of nutritional info counters online where you can plug in the ingredients and find this out.


almost 4 years ago foodsurf

Amanda - is it possible to share the nutritional information? Fat, fibre, etc.


almost 4 years ago TheWimpyVegetarian

I made this for dinner last night too - and it was really wonderful. Perfect dinner for a cozy evening with it raining outside.


almost 4 years ago melissav

We had this for dinner last night and it was delicious. I couldn't find any broccoli rabe so I used spinach and kale and a whole grain pasta and it turned out great.


almost 4 years ago flavoristabarr

I made this last night with just the broccoli rab, Greek Sour Cream (or Lebaneh from the Greek Gods, just lemon zest and added some garbanzos (after pulsing the greens -which is a great step - and once I put them back in the pan to heat up again) and of course BACON as the garnish.

It was really delicious. Thanks for a new idea for easy dinner! It served 2 of us perfectly. We also used the Barrilla Plus pasta which isn't quite as hearty as the whole grain kinds.


almost 4 years ago sexyLAMBCHOPx

sexyLAMBCHOPx is a trusted home cook.

this looks great and love the veggies creamed. i agree miche, perfect for whole grain.


almost 4 years ago Miche

This sounds like it would even hold up to one of the more edible whole grain pastas