Whether one is secretly hoping to get a glimpse into a noted chef’s diary while sitting right outside his Tuscan kitchen, clanking the silverware against melon-colored plates with handpainted vine motifs coiling along their rims, in anticipation of the perfect wine and bread to keep one going until the actual meal makes its appearance with a flourish..or acquiring packaged pasta pantry ingredients from the world market section in a local produce store, the core feeling is the same. Love for the perfect pasta dish is a little like a quest for the music of the spheres, a little like a slowdance that takes one by the hand, swaying delicately and tenderly, with a twirl at touchdown that takes one by surprise, or a twist in the middle, alerting one to the possibility of boldness just when one was getting used to the lazy pace. In the Tadka kitchen, we believe that looking farther than a soulful Lanza or a hearty Pavarotti would only prove to be futile while planning an Italian meal. After tuning in to one of those, we get into the slowdance with a heady passion, cooking up the spaghetti to its al dente precision..then, whisking up a creamy sauce, giving it that curious Tadka edge with a lick of red chilli, allowing the honey-nutty flavor of Fontina to freely accentuate its milkiness. Working a punctiliously cooked down batch of chard cut into a dainty chiffonade, and topping it all off with a Panko and pecan paired crumble, buttered up just right and infused with a pinch of salt and pepper. Of course we pour our the best Pinot Grigio in the house to complement this part-earthy, part-nutty creation with its sprightliness..the way that chef in Tuscany might do himself, slicing the air with fan-handed arcs, telling you that no acidic Brunello or fruity Sicilian reds would do this lovely, luscious meal any justice.
Spaghetti with Creamed Greens
¾ Box Spaghetti (whole-wheat works great too)
1 Bunch Swiss Chard or Spinach, washed
For the Sauce –
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ Teaspoon red chilli powder
- ½ Teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 Cups hot milk
- 1 Cup grated cheese – Fontina or any other cheese that melts well
- ¼ Cup Parmesan cheese
For the Topping -
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- ½ Cup Panko or regular breadcrumbs
- ¼ Cup coarsely chopped walnuts/pecans
- Pinch of salt
- Fresh cracked black pepper
Remove and discard the thick stems of the greens, and slice the leaves into thin ribbons. Place in a large pot, cover and cook briefly on low heat until wilted and tender. Transfer to a strainer and allow it to drain, reserving the juices for another use.
Using the same pot, cook the pasta in boiling salted water, as per the package directions. Drain and place in a large serving dish. Toss with olive oil to avoid any sticking.
For the topping - Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the pecans and breadcrumbs and allow them to toast on low heat until the breadcrumbs turn brown. Add the salt and pepper. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
For the sauce - Mince the onion and garlic. Wipe clean the saucepan used for the topping and melt the butter and olive oil in it. Add the onion and garlic, cook on low heat until soft. Stir in the chilli powder and thyme and then toss in the flour. Cook the roux, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Switch to a wire whisk and slowly add the hot milk, whisking in each addition before pouring in the next bit. Allow the sauce to come to a gentle simmer, and cook for 2 minutes, continuing to stir. Take it off the heat, add the cheeses and let them melt in.
Gently fold the greens into the sauce, using a fork to separate any clumps, if needed. Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta. Scatter the topping over the dish and serve immediately.