fusili with kale & feta

Being from the arctic, where potatoes are consistently listed on the "vegetable sides" portion of the menu, any dish that's more than 50% green counts as a health food. But in California, where "detoxing" is a medium-strict prescription liquified greens for breakfast and salad/grain bowls for lunch and a lean protein + dark green vegetable combo for dinner, the slightest mention of pasta threatens to blow your self-righteousness off the rails and right into the ocean.

But by Thursday night, exhausted, nerves worn down to nubs, contemplating tequila for dinner, pasta consistently sounds best. To make it feel less like failure, I follow the old Chicago rule: if it's 50% green, you can basically call it a salad. Now that I have a food processor, I've discovered the simplest way to achieve green pasta is also the most efficient at actual bulk greens delivery: by blending down tons of them into nothing with cheese and lemon and using it as pasta sauce.

The template is easy: green of your choice, some lemon juice, garlic clove, olive oil, cheese, blend. Add pepperoncini, aleppo pepper, or cayenne if you like it to be a little angrier. Depending on the green and the cheese, the end products can be grassy and bright, garlicky and funky, or aggressively vegetal — but which you get is decided by whether, and how, you choose to heat them before you blend. Here are some prep tips for making your green(s) work for you: 

  • Raw: herbs (basil, dill, parsley) and delicate greens (like baby arugula)
  • Lightly wilted: mild greens (spinach, wild arugula)
  • Steamed or braised: winter greens (chard, kale, mustard greens)
  • Blanched or roasted: sturdy cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, broccolini) and bitter greens (like escarole)

This one here is an extra-perverse version in that it drops basil entirely for kale, uses more lemon juice than olive oil, and includes soft full-fat sheep's feta cheese instead of pecorino — which made a pretty funky, festive saucebath for the cute lil fusili guys I picked this time. If you're breaking pesto rules like this, you're probably already on your way to jail anyway. You can live a little.

Photo Jun 08, 8 59 28 PM.jpg

RECIPE

Effortful time: 5 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Serves: 2

YOU NEED

  • 5-6 oz. tuscan kale (may sub curly)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and left whole
  • 3 oz feta cheese
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp. chili flakes, optional
  • 6 oz. pasta, your choice — I like lots of nooks for green sauces, so something with ridges is nice
  • 1/2 cup reserved pasta water
  • More feta, for topping
  • Pinch of kosher salt

MAKE IT

  1. Heat a pot (should be deep enough to cook your pasta) to medium heat. Add the kale, salt, and a cupful of water. Stir to begin wilting, then cover immediately. Cook until fully wilted and deep green.

  2. Move all the steamed kale to a food processor. Wipe out pot and boil water for pasta.

  3. Add garlic, lemon, feta, and chili flakes (if using) to the steamed kale. Pulse until combined — it will look chunky still. Process on Low for 2 minutes, adding oil in a thin stream until all the kale is fully pureed but not thin (it helps to use a long-nozzled bottle). 

  4. Save 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water and drain. Add pasta back to the pot and toss with the pesto, adding pasta water only as needed to help the sauce cling. 

  5. Give it a black pepper shower and scoop on a spoonful of crumbled feta for fun.

  6. Depending on the season or how your mood is doing, this pasta goes equally well with spicy, light reds (like Grenache) as it does a crisp, clean white (I like Pinot Grigio here, but Sauvignon Blanc would also be fine). If the latter, maybe do as I do and splash in a little wine right as you re-add the pasta — it'll soak in almost immediately and add a really nice flavor to the green sauce.