This dish is a lesson in brilliant frugality taught to me by my mother. One afternoon many years ago, I had come home from a farm stand and my mother was visiting. I had bought a huge bundle of spinach, much like I had yesterday. She asked if I wanted help washing it, but I didn’t want her working in the kitchen, so I asked her to just keep me company. She silently watched as I separated all the light green lower stems from the dark green leaves. I washed the leaves in three changes of water, and was about to slide the stems into the garbage disposal. Unable to contain herself, she abruptly interrupted, “you’re not going to throw those away, are you?!”
She then donned an apron and into my boiling salted water went the stems. She boiled those stems for about 8 – 10 minutes, then drained them. She said she was going to make something special for me after I finished boiling the leaves.
After draining the stems (no squeezing necessary–just drain in a colander), she sauteed some garlic and chili flakes and some cubes of stale bread in olive oil with the spinach stems. The stems were was sublime–bright green and much more delicate than the leaves–with none of the irony aftertaste on the palette.
Yesterday as I was cleaning spinach, I remembered my mother’s admonishment and I kept the stems and made this pasta. I must say, it was as sublime as my mother’s sauteed bread cubes, and a little quicker–no boiling of the stems is necessary.
Into a skillet with some browned sliced garlic throw the raw stems and saute while the pasta is boiling. I’m using whole wheat spaghetti because I love it with any garlic-and-olive oil preparation. It’s earthy flavor is the perfect complement to the bright green flavor of the spinach and the earthiness of the garlic and chili flakes. Topped with a little ricotta salata for milkiness, this dish is fine enough to serve to guests.
Whole Wheat Pasta with Spinach Stems
1 lb whole wheat spaghetti
Stems from about 3 lbs of fresh spinach, washed and cut into 2″ lengths
4 cloves garlic, sliced
10 mint leaves (optional)
6 tbls extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling
1/2 tsp chili flakes
salt and black pepper to taste
ricotta salata for grating (optional)
grated pecorino romano for sprinkling at the table
Slowly brown the garlic while the spaghetti is boiling. When there are 5 minutes left on the spaghetti, turn up the heat under the skillet with the garlic and add the spinach stems. Saute for a few minutes, add in chili flakes and saute for another few seconds.
Taste for salt and toss in mint leaves. When pasta is done, toss into the skillet with the garlic, spinach stems and mint.
Grate ricotta salata over the top and toss. Drizzle additional oil and serve with grated pecorino romano.