Inspired by Bonnie Slotnick's one-pan pasta with spinach and goat cheese from Colu Henry's Back Pocket Pasta, this one omits the goat cheese to accommodate toddlers not yet enlightened by the tangy and chalky cheese. Here instead, white wine, crème fraîche, and reserved pasta cooking liquid make a light sauce that nicely coats the noodles. This white wine-crème fraîche-pasta water sauce can be used in countless other combinations and is particularly good with seafood—this is what I use when I make linguini with clams—so feel free to adapt the vegetables/other add-ins to taste.
To clean spinach: Fill a large bowl with cold water. Add spinach, submerging it below the surface. Let sit while water boils. Dirt will settle to bottom of bowl. Left spinach out with a spider, slotted spoon, or your hands and drop directly into the pot with the pasta when directed — no need to dry it, and it’s preferable not to drain it, which would cause the dirt that has settled to the bottom of the bowl to re-coat the spinach.
To toast and clean the walnuts: In a large skillet, toast the nuts over low heat keeping a close eye. Once they begin to turn brown, transfer them to a tea towel, rub their skins and squeeze them to bread them up. Transfer them to a sieve and shake to remove some of the papery skin. Transfer cleaned walnuts to a bowl and set aside, leaving any papery skin behind. This sounds kind of fussy, and you don’t have to do it if you don’t feel like it.
Pasta: Any pasta you like is fine, though the long shapes, for whatever reason, are nice here. I like bucatini and fettuccine—I may even prefer fettuccine (not sure why?). —Alexandra Stafford
pasta, see note above
spinach, cleaned, see notes above or tender kale or chard
cloves garlic, thinly sliced
white wine or sparkling wine (Prosecco, Champagne, Cava, etc.)
zest of one lemon
toasted walnuts, see notes above, or pine nuts plus more to taste
Fill a large (wide if possible) pot with water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt. (Only add this much salt if you indeed are using a large pot—I use an 8-qt pot.) Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Ladle 2 cups of the pasta cooking liquid into a liquid measure or small bowl and set aside. Add the spinach (lifting it directly from its bowl of cold water, see notes above) to the pot and press it down with a spoon, so that it is completely submerged. Drain the pasta and spinach into a colander.
Add butter and garlic to the now-empty pot and cook over medium-high heat until the garlic begins to soften, 2 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Add the crème fraiche and whisk to incorporate. Add ½ cup of the reserved cooking liquid and bring to a simmer.
Add the pasta and spinach back to the pot. Use tongs to lift the noodles and spinach up, separating them if clumping together.
Add lemon zest and walnuts and toss further. Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss again. Add more of the reserved cooking liquid by the 1/4 cup as needed to ensure the noodles are coated in a light sauce—I typically add at least another 1/2 cup of the reserved cooking liquid but add more as needed. The longer it's simmering on the stovetop, the more liquid will be absorbed and so the more reserved cooking liquid will be needed. Serve immediately.