Whole Grain Mini Maccaroni with Tuscan Kale, Potato & Bacon
I love the irony of the fact that it is so chic to eat peasant or farmer-styled dishes, I really do. If it wasn't such a trendy thing to do, there is no way that the wealthier eating guests at restaurants would choose to eat such simple fare... whereas the humble farmer, who probably eats this kind of thing day-in and day-out, down in Southern Italy, would STILL rather eat it, even if he could afford lobster and champagne. Because has enough integrity and smarts to know that he is onto a good thing in doing so!
The bitter, dark green, Tuscan kale, known as Cavolo Nero in Italy, is not some new, trendy ingredient to be used this season... it has always been in style there. people down south love their bitter foods- and so do I... they also know how to make them more palatable- in dishes such as this one for example... which I based on the classic dish of "Pizzoccheri"- rough, hand-made buckwheat noodles with potato, bacon and greens...
The greens were in season and on Nina's market stall yesterday... so they went into the bag... and a few meters further on, at the Italian speciality store, were these tiny little whole grain maccaroni... so cute! And so they had to go into the bad too of course!
I also used some potatoes and onion and a handful of finely chopped bacon... these would all go to season the dish and to bring together all of those good flavors in a nice balance. The sweetness of the onion and the mild, neutral flavor of the potato are the perfect way to counter-balance the kale... and with just one more ingredient before I could start cooking, I was getting very hungry at the thought of it all!
The last, but by no means least important ingredient to make this really delicious was a nice salted ricotta cheese... oh how I love it! And no- I obviously did not need this whole chunk- just a light sprinkle... but its creamy-saltiness is something so sublime that at least for this-here Sicilian guy... it is definitely my preference when it comes to pasta- much more so than Parmesan! But that's just me!
So let's get cooking!
At this point, I need to also point out that no- I also didn't need all of the ingredients you can see in that photo to make one nice bowl of pasta. I did use the whole of that small head of kale, but I only needed half of the onion and just one of those little potatoes. That should be an easy kind-of measure for you to keep in mind.
Also, when it comes to the amount of pasta- fill your dish up with half the amount of pasta you want to eat... it will almost double in size by the time you are finished cooking it and with the other ingredients, yes, it will be the right amount.
As you know... I am not one for weighing things! Especially this kind of thing- lol! But it works for me!
To prepare the kale, snap the leaves off the main stem and then take the stalks in one hand and the leafy part in the other, and simply run your fingers down that tough middle stalk and the leaves easily peel away. Once you have done one or two leaves you will get the hand of it- and it's fun too!
Rinse the leaves well and snap them into shorter lengths- just use your hands- it looks much nicer than if you cut it with a knife- lol!
Next, put your water on to boil and whilst that is happening, give the potato a scrub and then dice it up quite finely. Cut the onion in half and cut that into a fine dice too and then put the potato and onion, into a frying pan together with the finely diced bacon or pancetta. Turn the heat up nice and high and get them all sizzling away together... yum, yum!
Pop the pasta into the water, give it a good, heavy pinch of salt and then let it bubble away for the next 4-5 minutes. In the meantime, the onion should be nice and transparent and the bacon and potatoes beginning to brown. At this point add a little pepper but no salt and the kale, which will soon become a lovely shiny green and begin to soften up and wilt quite swiftly.
Grate generously with nutmeg and stir or toss continually, so that the kale softens up and cooks together with the other ingredients. Add a ladle of the pasta water and let it deglaze the pan and let everything wilt down a touch more... by now it will be smelling lovely and rich!
After 5-6 minutes, add the pasta to the frying pan with enough water to keep it nice and moist, so that it can continue cooking in the pan for another 2-3 minutes or so. Keep on stirring and you will see how everything becomes glossy and smooth... then add a little olive oil to take it that little bit further over the edge- just a touch mind you!
And after just 8-10 minutes of cooking time, depending on your pasta, it will be ready to serve with that nice sprinkle of grated salted ricotta cheese and some coarsely ground black pepper- Delizioso!
The important thing is to not season the potato and onion- let them be sweet in contrast to the bitter greens... the pasta is already seasoned and with the salty bacon and ricotta, the balance will be just right... you'll see! And I hope you will agree that this is a dish that is fit for a king and not just a pauper... those Italians- they know their food and even the poorest eat like royalty... Word!