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Pasta with a small amount of meat and greens (bitter or otherwise) is a classic southern Italian template, from Abruzzese sausage with broccoli raab to Neapolitan pancetta with turnip greens. I love working with this combination: The fatty pork adds a little richness to the dish, and the bitter greens cuts that richness. They both play off the neutral flavor of the pasta.
I always like to have a stick of pancetta or guanciale in my fridge, so that I can easily throw together a quick, nutritious, and deeply satisfying dish simply by grabbing some greens on my way home from work, and taking out the pasta and olive oil—ubiquitous pantry staples, if I may. Depending on my mood, I add a chili to the pan while I render the meat, and smash a clove of garlic or two. I might slosh a splash of white wine in to help steam the greens, and I generally like to really cook the greens. Italians love their greens falling apart, as that’s when the natural, hidden sugars of the greens come out. (Broccoli raab, mustard or dandelion greens work best, but simple spinach will do just fine.)
Once you understand the pairing, it’s easy to play around with it, using the basic technique of rendering the pork out in a little olive oil and then adding greens, already blanched if you’re using something tough (like broccoli raab and kale). If you’re using something tender, like spinach or chard, skip the blanching and toss them straight into pan. I love adding fried bread crumbs—which, in southern Italy, was traditionally used instead of cheese, until the very recent past, when cheese stopped becoming a luxury product. Of course, because I am not a poor sharecropper eking out a living, I also like a sprinkling of strong pecorino, because it’s pecorino.
Nduja, once obscure—so much so that I was not familiar with it when I was living in Italy—is a spicy, spreadable fermented sausage, available at many grocery stores and online. The pork’s spreadability makes it versatile, and once removed from its casing, it dissolves easily into the pan. Since nduja is already highly seasoned, so I don’t add much else to the pan besides the pasta and greens. (If you can spot the heirloom spigarello broccoli at a farmers market, that’s a bonus—but the beauty of this template is its riff-ability.)
- 1 pound artisanal Italian pasta (rigatoni, penne, ziti, shells)
- 1/4 pound nduja (spicy Calabrian sausage)
- 1 bunch broccoli raab (or other hearty cooking green such as kale)
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated aged pecorino cheese (ideally something strong and hard from the Abruzzi or Sardinia)
- 1/4 cup fried bread crumbs (optional)
What would you make with this pasta-meat-greens template? Shoot!