More Pasta, More Local: Penne Verdante

Even though there was a snowstorm last week, spring marches forward, washing Appalachian Ohio in an ever-brightening wave of green dotted with yellow, violet, pink, white and rose as trees, flowers and grasses burst from the slowly warming earth.

The gardens, solar greenhouses and farms surrounding Athens are fertile with early spring delights: scallions, sweet radishes, rhubarb, lettuces, kale, chard, collards, tatsoi, bok choy and cilantro are all piled at tables in the farmer’s market among the still-delicious winter storage vegetables and fruits: garlic, potatoes, apples, parsnips, beets, turnips and pears. Cultivated oyster and shiitake mushrooms are plentiful, as are fresh eggs, milk and cream, chevre and feta cheese, and various meats. Even this early in the season, it is possible to make many delicious meals from mostly local ingredients here in Athens.

One spring delicacy I look forward to every year is green garlic–new shoots of garlic which look for all the world like flat-leaved scallions. Sold in bundles like scallions, green garlic is wholly edible, barring the little root cluster at the bottom. Slice that away and then wash the stalk and leaves carefully, and you can slice, chop or mince the whole plant and use it in any way you would use scallions or garlic–you can saute green garlic, use it in salads, to top pizza, or you can do as I did–use it as one of the main ingredients in a pasta sauce along with other local ingredients such as kale, spinach, mushrooms, feta, cream and sweet Italian sausage.

This sauce, which I named for the glorious plethora of green vegetables used in it, can be made vegetarian quite easily and deliciously–leave out the sausage, and add more mushrooms, and instead of chicken broth or stock, use vegetable broth or stock, or even better–mushroom broth! I cheated and used a double handful of non-local fresh basil, but any fresh herb could be used–I nearly used the fresh local cilantro I bought along with all the other ingredients at the market this Saturday, but instead, I saved that to make Cilantro Chicken later in the week. The next time I make it, in fact, I intend to make it vegetarian–and I will probably change it enough to post the vegetarian version as a separate recipe–because, surprisingly, Zak and Morganna, both meat-lovers, said it would taste just as lovely without sausage as it did with it.

I’d say that this particular pasta dish is more than halfway local–which is really good for April in southeastern Ohio. The list of local ingredients used in this dish is long: spinach, kale, green garlic, Italian sausage, cream, chicken broth, goat feta, fresh shiitake mushrooms. The non-local ingredients are: penne, sherry, balsamic vinegar. Aleppo pepper, salt, olive oil, onions and fresh basil. You notice that most of the non-local ingredients are flavorings–sherry, vinegar, pepper, salt and basil.

Oh, and it tastes REALLY, REALLY good, too. The green garlic is where it’s at–and I used three whole bunches of it in the sauce. The white stalks, I sliced thinly and sauteed after the onions were halfway caramelized. I let the garlic get nice and golden, then added the mushrooms and sausage, and cooked everything all together. This way the garlic and caramelized onion flavor permeated the mushrooms and meat. The green tops–which are the bulk of green garlic, by the way, I added right after the meat was finished cooking in two stages–half right after the meat was cooked, but before I added the cream and other greens, and the other half after the cream was added and reduced. At that point I added the green garlic along with the kale and spinach. This wilted the greens nicely, and put three layers of garlic flavor in place which really makes the sauce pop.

At the end, I add the feta and a tiny splash of balsamic vinegar, just to give a little ting of acidity. It cuts the richness of the cream and sausage a bit, and it also really goes nicely with all the greens in the sauce. The feta is just amazing–it barely melts into the sauce, forming little chunks of salty, goaty goodness that really goes perfectly with the green garlic and the other springtime leafy vegetables.

I will be making this one again, though this time without the sausage, just as Zak and Morganna requested, though I might well add some rapini to it as well, just because I can and I think it would taste really, really good that way.

And some ramps, too. Because green garlic isn’t enough–I need wild garlic, too.

Penne Verdante

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced white parts of green garlic
1/2 tablespoon Aleppo pepper flakes (or black pepper to taste)
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2-1 cup thinly sliced fresh shiitake mushroom caps
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings and crumbled (optional)
1/2 cup chicken broth or stock
2 1/2 cups green garlic tops (the light and dark green parts) sliced thinly, divided
3/4 cup cream
3 cups kale leaves, tough veins removed and sliced thinly
2 cups spinach leaves, tough veins removed and sliced thinly
2 cups fresh basil leaves roughly chopped
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt to taste
1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente and drained


Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed, deep skillet. Add the onions, sprinkle with salt and cook, stirring constantly, until the onions are a deep golden color. Add the white green garlic stalks, and Aleppo pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the garlic turns golden and the onions are browned. Deglaze the pan with sherry, and allow the alcohol to boil off.

Add the mushrooms and sausage if you are using it, and cook, stirring, until the sausage is cooked through and the onions are brown.

Add the chicken broth, deglaze the pan and add 2/3 of the green garlic tops. Cook until the chicken broth is reduced, then add the cream and bring it to a simmer. Add the kale and spinach, and let the cream reduce until it coats the back of a spoon. Add the basil and feta cheese, stir well until the basil is wilted and the feta is partially melted. Add balsamic vinegar, stir to combine, taste for salt and adjust seasoning.

Toss with penne, and serve immediately in warmed bowls.

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    Comment by Kate Crawford — April 17, 2009 #

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