This is the single most popular dish I have ever put on a menu. It can be served either hot or cold. The pasta is sautéed in clarified butter until golden brown and crispy, and is then tossed with the greens, lemon juice, pine nuts, red pepper flakes, and feta. The cheese is tossed in the pan so it softens and melts a bit. This is a delicious vegetarian dish, but pan-seared shrimp are an elegant addition.
1 pound penne pasta
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 4 tablespoons clarified butter (see Note below)
Salt and cracked pepper to taste
(not too much salt, because the feta is salty)
8 shallots, minced
4 cups (packed) stemmed and torn kale leaves
1/2 head Savoy or green cabbage, cored and sliced
1 to 2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup crumbled good-quality feta cheese,
plus additional for garnish
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 pound spinach, stems removed, washed, and dried
2 lemons, cut into wedges
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Red pepper flakes
3 to 6 peeled and deveined shrimp per person,
browned in olive oil (optional)
For the Pasta:
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the penne and cook until it is edible but still quite firm. Drain the pasta in a colander. Immediately pour the olive oil over the penne and toss so that the pasta does not stick together. Cool under cold running water to completely stop the cooking. (The pasta will be cooked again, so at this stage it must be left underdone.)
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, pour in some of the clarified butter; don't allow the butter to turn brown or smoke. Drop in some penne and add a little salt and pepper. Shake the pan around until at least one side of the penne is golden brown. If you go too far, the pasta will either burn or become hard and dried out. When the pasta is almost done, add some shallots. Let them cook the rest of the way with the penne. Depending on the size of your pan, this process may have to be repeated a few times until all the penne and shallots have been seared.
For the Greens:
In another large sauté pan over high heat, sauté the kale and cabbage in the olive oil until soft and slightly browned but not mushy. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or two. Add the feta, basil, and parsley. Toss the greens with the penne and, lastly, toss in the spinach. The spinach only needs to be wilted.
Divide the penne and greens among 4 plates. Squeeze a lemon wedge over each plate. Crumble more feta on top and sprinkle with pine nuts and red pepper flakes. Place the shrimp, if using, and lemon wedges on the very top of each dish.
Note: To make clarified butter, simply melt 3 to 5 tablespoons butter. Let stand. When the butter has separated, pour the "oil" off the top. This is clarified butter. Discard the cloudy, milky part at the bottom.
The Café Pongo Cookbook
More Than 220 Recipes from the Hudson Valley
by Valerie Nehez
Simon & Schuster
Recipe reprinted by permission.
This page created September 2002
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