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A few weeks ago I made Bonnie Slotnick’s spinach and goat cheese pasta from Colu Henry’s Back Pocket Pasta, a recipe I bookmarked in February. Bonnie, a lifetime New Yorker, owns an eponymous Greenwich Village cookbook shop, and relies on this no-fuss, one-pot recipe time and time again. Her only requirement? That you buy the freshest ingredients available, preferably at the farmers’ market.
With only five ingredients in the recipe, this advice is worth heeding and not hard to do either at this time of year. While we are far from peak produce season, dark, leafy greens are among the few vegetables currently abounding at the farmers market (at least in upstate New York), and they are incredibly tender to boot. Two Sundays in a row I’ve returned from my greenmarket with bags of spinach, kale, and chard, all of which work well here, though I favor spinach for its minimal prep: It requires nothing more than a cold water soak to allow the dirt to settle. There’s no chopping or stemming. The stems, in fact, are so sweet right now, that I munch on them raw while the pasta boils.
I’ve made this dish several times, but in true Back Pocket fashion, I riffed on it to accommodate a few toddlers who haven’t quite developed a taste for goat cheese. Like their mother, though, they love linguini with clams and the garlicky white wine sauce with which it pairs so beautifully. While this recipe lacks clams, the spinach, lemon, and toasted walnuts provide ample flavor. Here, a little crème fraîche, which lends a subtle creaminess, binds with butter and a fair amount of the reserved pasta cooking liquid to create a light sauce that coats each noodle. While the addition of toasted walnuts makes this a two-pan wonder, the spirit of the dish—big flavor, minimal fuss—is worth that extra pan.
To serve, take another page out of Bonnie’s book and keep your pasta plates locked in your cupboard—there’s no shame in dishing right from the pot.
Salt the pasta water heavily and reserve a ton of it. Colu recommends 2 tablespoons of kosher salt per large stockpot of water. This not only seasons the pasta well but also creates a flavorful sauce. For this dish, you may end up using as much as 2 cups of the pasta cooking liquid. Extra pasta cooking liquid is also so handy to have on hand for reheating leftovers.
Use more greens than you think you need. A pound of spinach will look like a lot when heaped in a bowl on your counter, but it will shrink considerably once cooked.
Cook your greens briefly with the pasta. By submerging the greens into the pot of boiling water with the pasta just until they shrink, they’ll incorporate more easily into the pasta and sauce.
- kosher salt
- 12 ounces pasta, see note above
- 1 pound spinach, cleaned, see notes above or tender kale or chard
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup white wine or sparkling wine (Prosecco, Champagne, Cava, etc.)
- 1/4 cup crème fraîche
- zest of one lemon
- 1 cup toasted walnuts, see notes above, or pine nuts plus more to taste
- freshly cracked pepper to taste