Off-Script With Sohla

Any Green, Any Bean, Any Pasta—Sohla Turns It Into Dinner

Off-Script With Sohla is back—with a hearty, cozy meal to make tonight.

November  9, 2020

Every month, in Off-Script With Sohla, pro chef and flavor whisperer Sohla El-Waylly will introduce you to a must-know cooking technique—and then teach you how to detour it toward new adventures.


When I've got a pile of greens in front of me, like spinach, escarole, or arugula, I don't usually think of low-and-slow cooking. Most often, I quickly wilt my greens over high heat with some oil and garlic, or massage them with vinaigrette for a salad. Even the so-called hearty greens, like collards and kale, I'll eat raw and crunchy.

But it's getting chilly, and I'm craving foods that feel warm and rich, and I just can't get that cozy feeling from a salad. So I'm flipping the script—simmering the greens low and slow, just like you do for Southern-style collards with ham hocks, or the Egyptian long-simmered Jew's mallow soup, molokhia.

When you cook your greens low and slow, they become tender and silky: the perfect thing to sauce up any pasta. I like to throw in beans too, for some creamy bites, making the whole dish filling and satisfying. This works well with any kind of green— you just have to determine whether it’s hearty or tender.

Oh hi, hello, comfort food. Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. PROP STYLIST: MEGAN HEDGPETH. FOOD STYLIST: LAUREN LAPENNA.

Heartier greens like kale, collards, mature spinach, and carrot tops take much longer to simmer and break down. In contrast, tender greens like baby arugula, young spinach, dill, parsley, and cilantro melt almost instantly. How do you know if your greens are hearty or tender? Taste them raw. Does it feel like you need to chew forever or are left with fibrous bits in your mouth? That's a hearty green! If they are crisp and easy to eat, that's a tender baby!

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Top Comment:
“I started with a sliced bell pepper and onion and let that cook a few minutes, then used a jar of store bought marinara to replace the braising liquid, and used spinach, cannelini beans, and penne pasta. Topped the bowls with fresh parm, a few chopped banana peppers, and some crispy pepperoni slices. The spinach lightens the entire meal up and the beans and pasta soak make it so rich and creamy! Hurriedly eating through the leftovers (which re-heated very well) so I can make another batch with a whole new flavor! ”
— Andrea
Comment

Today, I'm sharing two recipes with you: one for hearty collards, which take longer to cook and require more liquid to accommodate the longer simmer, and another for tender herbs like dill and parsley, which cooks down faster with less liquid.

Once you know the template for both, you can easily play around, using whatever greens, beans, and pasta you've got around. This is just the place for that wilty bunch of chives, those radish tops you never know what to do with, and the last few celery leaves on the stalk. Learn these easy steps, and no green will ever go unloved in your kitchen again.

Time For A Soak

The first thing I do is soak my pasta. This is a really cool trick I learned about in Ideas in Food by Aki Kamozawa and Alexander Talbot. Two things happen when you cook pasta in boiling water: first, the pasta starches hydrate, swelling with water, and second, they gelatinize, becoming tender and chewy. When you soak pasta in a cold liquid, you take care of that initial hydrating step. The dry pasta will swell in the moisture, so all you need to do to finish is add some heat, and it will quickly gelatinize without much time or water.

All of this means we can cook our pasta in the same pot as the greens after they’ve simmered down. If I were to add the pasta and greens simultaneously, the pasta would overcook and get mushy by the time the greens melted. By soaking and staggering, we get al dente pasta without using a second pot.

Another added benefit is that the liquid I soak the pasta in grows super starchy as it sits. Once simmered with the greens, that starchy liquid becomes creamy, adding lots of body to our sauce.

Now, what to soak the pasta in? I like chicken or vegetable stock, which flavors the pasta inside and out. But if all you have is water, that's okay too—there are plenty of other flavor makers in play in this dish. Just be sure to season the pasta soaking water with salt to taste.

When it comes to pasta varieties, this dish is an opportunity to use up whatever is kicking around. Since the soak shortens the cook time, I found that all short pasta shapes, like ditalini, penne, macaroni, and even broken spaghetti, cook up in about the same amount of time (three to five minutes). It’s harder to evenly cook longer pasta shapes, like fettuccini or bucatini, with this method, but if that's all you've got, snap them into one-inch lengths before soaking.

Build Big Flavor

This dish has a lot of greenery, which can taste boring if you don't punch it up.

In Orecchiette With Bacony Collards & Cannellini Beans, I take inspiration from the smoky ham hocks you'll find in Southern-style greens, and I start the dish by rendering some bacon. This leaves me with smoky, salty bacon fat to cook everything in, plus crispy bacon bits to garnish with at the end.

But you don't have to use bacon. Anything bold can create a solid flavor foundation, from anchovies and garlic (the one-two punch in Ditalini With Tender Herbs, Chickpeas & Yogurt) to onion and ginger, and even sliced whole lemon or a spice blend like adobo.

Grab Your Greens & Beans

Now it's time to ready your braising engine. Load up the pot with your hearty or tender greens, drained and rinsed beans, and the cooking liquid of your choice.

Mix and match, using whatever greens you'd like—just be sure to roughly chop them into small pieces that will readily wrap around your pasta shape and comfortably fit in a spoon. Big pieces of greens will be unwieldy to eat and interrupt the silky smooth experience we’re trying to achieve.

10/10 recommend eating while wearing a cozy sweater. Photo by JULIA GARTLAND. PROP STYLIST: MEGAN HEDGPETH. FOOD STYLIST: LAUREN LAPENNA.

As with the pasta-soaking step, I like to cook in chicken or vegetable stock for the extra richness and savory flavor. If all you have is water, you can make up for it by bumping up the fat and salt to taste. If you have bouillon paste or cubes, add them to the cooking liquid to taste, but don’t go crazy because the liquid will cook down, concentrating the salt. You can always add more at the end if needed.

I use canned (or precooked) beans for this recipe because the simmering time isn’t long enough to cook beans from scratch. If all you have are dry beans, soak and cook them in a flavorful base of aromatics or spices with stock or water, then add the greens to the pot of beans and bean liquid, and simmer it all together. You’ll have to reverse the order of operations to ensure everything is cooked for as long as it needs to be.

Blink & You'll Miss It

This is gonna be the fastest you've ever seen pasta cook up. Once the greens have grown hopelessly tender and the cooking liquid has reduced, add the soaked pasta and all the soaking liquid, making sure to scrape in every last bit of starch that has settled at the bottom of the bowl. Now, all it takes is a few minutes of vigorous simmering to cook the pasta to al dente and thicken the sauce with that starchy soaking liquid.

Ta-Da!

Because the greens have been simmering for so long, they can feel heavy or one-note without a final flourish to perk things up.

I finish the collards with finely ground pecorino or Parmesan for a final layer of flavor, which adds salty depth to the dish. Beyond cheese, yogurt, lemon, and/or fresh herbs bring brightness and balance.

A little pat of butter at the end adds richness and body, so our greens feel extra decadent—the perfect way to eat vegetables on a cold night.

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Sohla El-Waylly is a Food52 Resident, sharing new riffable recipes every month that'll help you get creative in the kitchen. Watch her cook on YouTube in her new series, Off-Script With Sohla. Before she started developing fun recipes for home cooks, she worked as a chef in N.Y.C. and L.A., briefly owning a restaurant in Brooklyn with her husband and fellow chef, Ham El-Waylly. She lives in the East Village with Ham, their two dogs, and cat. Find out what else she's up to on Instagram @sohlae

41 Comments

Jennifer A. July 11, 2021
Has anyone tried this with gluten free pasta? I’m curious if it will hold up when soaked...
 
Lori July 11, 2021
Yes. I made it several times with Tinkyada pasta which holds up well. I don't know if it releases as much starch as the regular pasta. So maybe the dish will be a bit less creamy?
 
Annie July 11, 2021
Yes! I’ve tried with all sorts. Some held up, some didn’t - but - no worries! The ones that didn’t hold up were actually the best because it was so creamy!
 
Andrea March 30, 2021
I love this so much. Last night I turned my favorite pasta dish into this! I started with a sliced bell pepper and onion and let that cook a few minutes, then used a jar of store bought marinara to replace the braising liquid, and used spinach, cannelini beans, and penne pasta. Topped the bowls with fresh parm, a few chopped banana peppers, and some crispy pepperoni slices. The spinach lightens the entire meal up and the beans and pasta soak make it so rich and creamy! Hurriedly eating through the leftovers (which re-heated very well) so I can make another batch with a whole new flavor!
 
Jeff S. March 5, 2021
We tried a modified version with ramen (after a few solid by the book versions) and it's amazing. Cannot recommend it enough.
 
[email protected] February 20, 2021
Sohla. Thanks so much. Saw first on YouTube and made it tonight. Will now be part of the regular repertoire. Lots of good shortcuts and tips.

Simple to make, perfect cold weather dinner. Creamy, yummy.
 
Karen A. February 18, 2021
Thanks Sohla. Made this off script during the winter storm in Texas. Mine was lemony and rich and creamy. It was perfect for the cold weather. Love your lessons. Wish we could share food pictures.
 
Sallyann T. February 1, 2021
So good! Spinach, ditalini, dill, chickpeas with compound butter and instead of yogurt I used a little cheese spread. No anchovies, so added a very little fish sauce. Love the concept!
 
Jane January 31, 2021
Sohla is delightful!!
 
Laceymay129 December 18, 2020
Made with kale and kidney beans. Intense flavor, so yummy! Thanks for the recipe!
 
RobertCollins December 3, 2020
Wish I could get sound. Looks like I would have enjoyed tehis.
 
Pkim December 12, 2020
Did you try unmuting the volume? The video was automatically on mute when I first viewed it.
 
Mika November 25, 2020
Love Sohla and love her recipes. Made this recipe earlier this week (kale, cannellini & ditalini) and hubby raved about it and asked for seconds. Can’t wait for more recipes and videos!
 
trina November 24, 2020
Wow. Lucky me to have been listening to "Hear To Slay:The Fried Chicken Philosophy” episode with this lovely lady being interviewed. This recipe will be my new fav as soon as Thanksgiving Day is done.
 
Jacquie C. November 22, 2020
I love her videos! I cook very similarly where I have created recipes, but don't even follow my own because I think of other things people can add, change or do differently to their liking... but that's the magic of cooking and she captures it so well!
 
sheyam November 20, 2020
So glad to see Sohla! I'm always excited to see her recipes and ideas. I hope you have found a regular internet home here.
 
hannahjones November 19, 2020
This green veggies plus pasta will definitely make my day extra special, yup! veggie lover here! Thank you for sharing this simple but great recipe.
 
cyndi November 18, 2020
I love these videos with Sohla! Greens and Beans will definitely be part of my meal rotation. Thanks for the recipe ideas and thanks for showing us the many ways to cook a healthy and hearty meal!
 
g4nn3b November 17, 2020
I went off script using chard, a small fusilli, and pinto beans, and it was great. Sauteed onion, garlic, jalapeno, chard stems, and a bell pepper before adding the greens and liquid.
 
ErinC November 16, 2020
Just watched the video and going to try this weekend! I over-ordered beans from Rancho Gordo, so this is PERFECT!!!
 
ErinC November 21, 2020
Update: made it, and it was SO DELICIOUS! Definitely will make again!
 
Michelle P. November 16, 2020
I am in a food coma bliss after eating and making this.so many flavors still lingering in my mouth and on my tongue. I feel like I ate at a 5 * restaurant.

Wow Girl. I wasn’t expecting this in one dish👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻
 
TinaI November 15, 2020
I love Sohla!! Such a friendly, easy manner. Makes you feel like you could make anything, very doable. She is delightful to watch. And the food looks amazing!
 
Annie November 15, 2020
A perfect way to use the unruly carrot tips that have been agressing me in my fridge drawer for a while. Absolutely love Sohla! The music change while she talked about her thumb incident almost made me spit out my coffee because I laughed so hard!