Pasta with Spinach, Pesto and Peas

As I mentioned in my last post, large, curly spinach leaves with fat stems are in local markets, and they are the best and tastiest kind of spinach.

We’ve all gotten a bit used to the varieties of spinach that come pre-washed, such as baby spinach, or even the larger spinach leaves that are packaged and triple-washed.

These pre-washed varieties pale in comparison to the large curly-leafed variety of spinach with stems and even some tiny roots (and lots of soil) attached.  The light green stems are part of the reason–they are the sweetest, most delicate part of the spinach plant.  I’m always perplexed when I see spinach recipes that direct you to strip the leaves from the stems and discard the stems–it’s nothing short of a gastronomic crime.

In addition, many spinach recipes direct the cook to place the raw leaves in a skillet and saute in hot oil or butter.  Although this results in a nice bright green vegetable, I feel it’s better to boil the spinach first, then squeeze thoroughly in small bunches to remove the bitter iron flavor.  This is admittedly much more time-consuming than simply sauteing the raw leaves, but produces a much more elegant dish.

This time of year when spinach and peas are coming into season, I celebrate them in a pasta dish that’s as much vegetable as pasta.  The spinach is first boiled, squeezed, chopped, then sauteed with a bit of butter and broth, then combined with pasta and blanched peas.  A touch of pesto is added for herbal flavor, but not so much as to overpower the star of the dish–spinach.

Tonight, as a second course, I made breaded chicken cutlets, topped with a salad of baby greens and grape tomatoes–crispy, salty and lemony.

Pasta with Spinach, Pesto and Peas

serves 4

1 lb dried fettucine

1 lb fresh spinach (about 2 bundles of large curly leaves with stems)

1/4 c basil pesto (see Pasta with Shrimp and Pesto)

4 tbls butter

1 c peas, fresh or frozen

1/2 c chicken broth

salt and pepper to taste

plenty of grated parmigiano for sprinkling

Wash spinach in 3 or 4 changes of water in a deep bowl, large enough to allow the leaves to float on the surface of the water while the soil falls to the bottom.  The number of washes is determined by whether there is still soil remaining on the bottom of the bowl when you empty the water after each successive wash.  My spinach took 5 full washes until there was no soil left in the bottom of the bowl.

Drop into boiling salted water only long enough for the water to return to the boil.

Drain, refresh in cold water, then squeeze in small bundles until there is no more liquid left.

Spread the bundles with fingers, so that the leaves are free, loose, and no longer in clumps.  Then give it a rough chop in both directions, to break down any extra-large leaves or stems.

While pasta boils, Melt butter in large skillet and add spinach.  Saute for 2 or 3 minutes on high heat.

Add broth and reduce heat until pasta is cooked.

30 seconds before pasta is cooked, add peas to the boiling water.  Remove pasta and peas from boiling water and place in the skillet with spinach.

Turn off heat and add pesto.

Mix and place in heated pasta bowls.  Sprinkle with plenty of grated parmigiano.

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