Toni Lydecker's Tavola Talk Blog

February 28, 2012

Pici with Tuscan Kale Pesto

Florida happens to grow leafy greens really well and I’m partial to Tuscan kale, also known as lacinato or cavolo nero (“black cabbage”). So, when I spotted a large luxuriant bouquet topped by greenish-black fronds at my farmers market, I snatched it up.

No plan in mind, until I came across a bag of pici, a hard-to-find variety of noodles from Tuscany. (Note to Tampa Bay friends: They’re at Kalamazoo Olive Company, an olive oil-and-vinegar emporium.) Clearly, the fates were signalling me to make pici with Tuscan kale pesto, a hearty pasta dish I’ve grown to love.

I first tasted this combination, swimming in olive oil and garlic, in a Tuscan trattoria. Experimenting over time, I found a more pleasing balance of flavors, with well-browned onions providing a savory base for the greens and walnuts or pecans echoing their earthiness.

With this formula in hand, the iffy availability of the key ingredients isn’t a problem. Fettuccine work just fine in lieu of pici, and any variety of kale will do.

Pici with Tuscan Kale and Walnut Pesto

(adapted from Piatto Unico)

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Kosher salt
1 pound dried pici noodles or fettuccine
Tuscan Kale and Walnut Pesto (recipe follows)

1. Fill a large saucepan about two-thirds full with cold water. Bring to a boil and add a small handful of salt. Cook the pasta until al dente (up to 22 minutes for pici; more like 10 minutes for fettuccine).

2. Meanwhile, heat half of the pesto over low heat in a large skillet. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking liquid, and turn it into the skillet. Mix well, adding more pesto (you may not need it all) and as much cooking water as needed for a saucy consistency; cook for a minute or two to blend the flavors.

Tuscan Kale and Walnut Pesto

Makes 2 ½ cups

1 large onion
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large bunch Tuscan kale
¼ cup walnuts or pecans
2 teaspoons sea salt or kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese

1. Halve the onion, end to end, and cut in thin slices. Roughly chop the garlic. Heat ¼ cup of the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Saute the onion over medium-high heat until it softens and turns golden brown, about 15 minutes; reduce the heat if there seems to be a danger of burning. Stir in half of the garlic during the last few minutes of cooking.

2. Meanwhile, fill a large saucepan about two-thirds full with water and bring to a boil. Strip off the kale leaves, discarding the stems. Shred by cutting crosswise with a large knife (you should have about 8 packed cups). Add the kale to the boiling water and cook until wilted and tender, 3 to 5 minutes (depending on the size and freshness of the kale). Drain and cool.

3.  Combine the kale, onions and garlic, the remaining raw garlic, walnuts, salt, pepper and remaining ¾ cup olive oil in a food processor bowl.  Puree until the mixture is homogeneous but the texture is slightly chunky.

4. Scrape the pesto into a bowl. With a spatula, fold in the cheese. Chill or freeze any of the pesto you don’t use immediately.


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Tue, February 28 2012 » Fruits and Vegetables, Pasta, Tampa Bay

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