This article was originally featured in The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter on Thursday, July 28, 2005.

Pasta with ricotta and greens

The happy concurrence of a bumper crop of fresh kale in our garden and a tub of creamy and tangy farmstead ricotta from Quebec in the fridge inspired a delicious variation on a Marcella Hazan classic on our table this week.

Substituting hearty kale for delicate spinach in Marcella's descriptively named Penne con Spinaci e Ricotta ("penne with spinach and ricotta sauce") significantly changed the character of the dish, and as I generally do, I knocked the amount of butter and cheese in her 1978 recipe back to a 21st Century level of sanity.

Even so, with ricotta this creamy, it still made sense to serve the dish as a meatless main course rather than a side dish. Frankly, it's the kind of rich and flavorful item that, for me, at least, fully satisfies without the need for any animals to be harmed in its production.

I thought kale made an excellent base, although it would be good, too, with collards, turnip greens or mustard greens, Swiss chard or the original spinach. Unless you're on a strict diet, though, I wouldn't skimp with low-fat ricotta ... it's the rich and creamy base that makes this dish.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

1 bunch spinach, kale or other greens, enough to make about 1 cup when cooked
4 ounces (120g) penne or other short pasta
2 tablespoons (30g) butter
1/2 cup (120g) whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


1. In a large pot, bring plenty of salted water to the boil. Put in the greens after removing any tough stems. If using spinach, cook just until the leaves wilt; with kale or other bitter greens, simmer gently for 10 minutes or so until they're tender. Lift out the greens with a slotted spoon, allow to drain and cool, and then chop very fine. Save the water to use later for the pasta to add a bit of flavor and delicate color. (This step may be done in advance.)

2. Bring the leftover greens water back to the boil, adding more water if necessary to fill the pot sufficiently for pasta. Put in the pasta and cook as per package directions until it's al dente - typically 12 minutes or so for penne.

3. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a saute pan or skillet over medium heat, and put in the chopped greens with salt and pepper to taste. When the greens are hot, reduce heat to very low and keep warm until the pasta finishes. Measure out and mix together the two cheeses.

4. When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving 2 or 3 tablespoonsful of the cooking liquid. Put the drained pasta in with the hot greens. Stir the reserved cooking liquid in to the cheeses, and add them to the pasta mix. Stir until the cheeses and greens turn into a thick sauce, and serve in warm bowls.

I'd choose a relatively rich white wine to go with the creamy cheese; an offbeat French white from the Burgundy region, Vincent Dureuil-Janthial 2003 Bourgogne Aligoté, worked out very well. Southern Italian or Rhone or Provence whites would be fine, too, and I wouldn't turn down a "grassy" Sauvignon Blanc to play up to the greens. The creamy ricotta might stand up to a fruity-style Chianti, but I don't really see this as a red-wine dish.