Weeknight Cooking

Penne with Creamed Greens and Pancetta

October  3, 2011
2 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Serves 4
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

Test Kitchen Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 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
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
  • 1/3 cup crème fraîche
  • 1 pound penne rigate
  • 3 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano, plus more to finish
  1. Add the salt to a large pot of water. Bring 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 crème fraîche 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 the 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • BubbleChild
  • EmilyC
  • GrowCookEat
  • luvcookbooks
  • Emily
Amanda Hesser

Recipe by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.

23 Reviews

Amanda November 25, 2017
This is a great recipe to use with any sort of greens - we will definitely use the idea again - my kids (7 & 4), gobbled it down without any complaints. I did find that the greens left no liquid once wilted, as another commented as well, so I suggest adding more cream and definitely at least 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water. I will definitely add the pine nuts, as suggested, double the amount of pancetta and add a couple cloves of minced garlic prior to wilting the greens next time.
Marni G. February 13, 2017
FAR from vegan... So MANY in this section called vegan are not. Most disappointing!! "Alternative facts"??
Amanda H. February 13, 2017
No need to get bent out of shape about a recipe being accidentally mis-categorized. Thank you for letting us know; we'll look into why this happened and correct it! If you remember any others that you noticed were also incorrectly tagged, let me know and we'll take care of them as well.
Marni G. February 23, 2017
"Bent out of shape"?? That seems a bit strong. It has been brought to your attention so I hope it is repaired.
maggiepcs November 16, 2015
We gobbled this up tonight. Used a bunch of broccoli rabe and a bunch of curly kale. I don't know if my greens didn't have enough water clinging to them in the beginning, but I needed to add more cream to get the puree right. Also used labne instead of creme fraiche. I just have to praise this dish b/c my toddler ate it! And it's hard to convey how impossible it is to get him to eat anything like a vegetable; this is going in the rotation, despite the large number of dishes it requires.
BubbleChild July 18, 2012
Beautiful! This reminds me of a flax cream (dairy-free) broccoli basil coulis I prepared the other day. Thank you for sharing!
pvanhagenlcsw March 5, 2012
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.
EmilyC December 9, 2011
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.
Amanda H. December 9, 2011
Please give your 2 year old thumbs up from me for eating this. Glad you all liked it!
Leeann November 7, 2011
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.
Amanda H. November 8, 2011
Glad you enjoyed it!
vivanat October 26, 2011
Have made this twice now and it will definitely be a staple through winter greens season in my CSA box.
GrowCookEat October 23, 2011
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!
luvcookbooks October 13, 2011
Made this for dinner with kale, mustard and arugula. It was a big hit!
Emily October 11, 2011
I made this on Friday night for a small dinner party and it was a huge hit!
foodsurf October 9, 2011
Amanda - do you have the nutritional information for this?
Amanda H. October 9, 2011
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.
foodsurf October 9, 2011
Amanda - is it possible to share the nutritional information? Fat, fibre, etc.
TheWimpyVegetarian October 5, 2011
I made this for dinner last night too - and it was really wonderful. Perfect dinner for a cozy evening with it raining outside.
melissav October 5, 2011
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.
barr October 5, 2011
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.
sexyLAMBCHOPx October 4, 2011
this looks great and love the veggies creamed. i agree miche, perfect for whole grain.
Miche October 4, 2011
This sounds like it would even hold up to one of the more edible whole grain pastas