Here is a formula to write down and put on the fridge door: Pretty pasta plus onions, green vegetables, leafy greens and a sprinkle of frizzled ham, bacon or sausage equals supper.
I was inspired by Mark Bittman who writes for The New York Times and for people who go around buying prosciutto and sexy greens in big cities. But in rural Maine, we are more likely to have ham or bacon, spinach and lettuce, and miscellaneous vegetables from our gardens.
Bittman didn’t say so, but it occurred to me right away that this basic dish could carry you through spring and summer. We could start with asparagus and spinach then progress through peas and lettuce, broccoli and lettuce, zucchini and lettuce, and then into fall with spinach again and kale. If you have arugula, cress, mesclun or Russian kale, then you could use those, too.
This is a hot meal, but it would work at room temperature when the weather gets warmer. Super-flexible, highly variable and good enough that you could enjoy it once a week during fresh vegetable season — what is not to like about this recipe? Let’s start with the pasta. You could use straight spaghetti or linguini broken into shorter lengths or acquire spirals, shells, bow ties, penne, radiatore — any of the shapes you enjoy. Recently I found a selection of these pastas made in a mini size and used those when I tried out this recipe.
The vegetables are really the whole point in this dish. I loaded it up with them so that they severely outnumbered the pasta. If there are teens and others in your household who thrive on pasta, it might be a good strategy to let pasta predominate.
I began by cooking onions and garlic in olive oil until they were golden and tender. Because our garden is between asparagus and pea season, I used some frozen green beans that I added to the onions. While the pasta was cooking, I sauteed the green beans and tore up the lettuce and spinach — about a four- to five-cup pile because they wilt down to practically nothing. This will be a terrific thing to do with lettuce threatening to bolt.
The meat is a garnish, really, and you don’t need much. The original recipe called for prosciutto, a seasoned Italian dried ham product, and if you have some, by all means use it. I had thinly sliced baked ham that I rolled up and shaved strips from, then frizzled. As I did that, I thought about what else might work and fished some thinly sliced salami out of the fridge, which I also cut into thin strips. It was very tasty, salty and spicy, and it crisped nicely. I wouldn’t do bologna or olive loaf, but I should think several sorts of hard sausages, pastrami or similar meats shaved might be nice. Experiment to see what works for you.
The only other thing to pay attention to is whether the mixture needs a little additional oil. I ended up dribbling olive oil over it, salting and peppering, and, as I always do with pasta dishes, making sure there was Parmesan on the table.
Other bonuses: You can make this recipe for one person or 20. For vegetarians or vegans, leave off the meat or put it on the side for people to serve themselves. It doesn’t need accurately measured ingredients because you can adjust them according to taste or supply. Start with the recommended amount of pasta per serving that appears in the nutritional information on the side of the box and go from there.
Pasta and Green Vegetables
Yields a flexible amount
Sufficient pasta for desired number of servings (see package)
One to two onions, chopped
Clove of garlic, minced, or more to taste
Vegetable, olive or canola oil
Seasonal green vegetables such as asparagus, peas, green beans, broccoli
Seasonal leafy green vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, chard, arugula, kale
Bacon or other hard sausages, thinly shaved ham
Put water on to boil for the pasta. Put a little oil into a large saute pan and cook the onions until soft and golden, then add the garlic and cook until you can smell the garlic. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, then drain. Cut the green vegetables to bite size, add to onions and cook until they are just tender. Put the meat into a small fry pan and cook until it begins to crisp up. Take off the heat. Shred the leafy vegetables. Mix the cooked vegetables, leafy greens and pasta in a separate pot if necessary and toss well together. The heat of the pasta and vegetables will wilt the leafy greens. Put into a serving dish, add olive oil if it seems dry, salt and pepper, and then top with the crispy meat. Serve with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese if desired.
Looking for … pot roast secrets. Do any of you have something you do to make a pot roast especially toothsome? I will accept any suggestions. Send them to email@example.com or to Sandy Oliver, 1061 Main Rd., Islesboro, ME 04848.