Pasta with Fresh Green Veggies and Goat Cheese Sauce

Andreae Prozesky has no fear of fall.

Like many food lovers, I’m crazy about fall. Gardener types might love spring, when they can drive their hands into the wormy earth and watch the brown dirt give way to its carpet of sprouts and spears. Plenty of folks love summer, especially here, where the long, luxurious days are gone before you’ve even gotten used to them. And even winter has its fans among the skiing and snowboarding set.

Fall is the time for me though. Finally, after much anticipation, farmers’ market stalls fill up, roadside trucks appear, and the kind of vegetables we usually have to beg from California or Mexico prove that they do just fine in Newfoundland soil, thank you very much. If you see me in the street, there’s a good chance I’ll have a tote bag full of greens slung over my shoulder, or be weighed down by local corn or zucchini.

It’s not the easiest time on my bank account, I’ll admit, as I tend to get so excited at the sight of local produce that I’ll hand my money over to just about anyone who has the strength of will to tend a vegetable garden or small farm to the point that it actually produces enough veggies for them to sell a few. I’m not sure my credit advisor would consider fifty bucks’ worth of local organic garlic to be a wise investment, but I’ll show him when I plant a bunch of it before the snow flies and get a valuable return next fall.

Oh, who am I kidding? There’s nothing I could do to impress my credit advisor.

The only problem with a vegetable glut is that the average person can only gorge on so much kale or broccoli in the course of a day before she or he runs out of ideas about how to cook it. Not that there’s anything wrong with just steaming or sautéing a big pile of vegetables (especially when one has pounds and pounds of garlic laid out on the dining room table). Or with blanching and freezing what you can (my freezer is loaded with winter-ready broccoli and beet tops right now), or with pickling what’s pickle-able (which is just about everything). But in a world where so little produce is actually available to be eaten fresh, it’s nice to have a standby recipe that’s flexible enough to use up whatever’s in stock, and simple enough that you’ll actually do it instead of having a crisper of local vegetables turn slowly to mush.

And so, friends, I share with you my favourite using-up-loads-of-vegetables recipe. I make this pasta dish all through the year, using frozen vegetables in the winter, and early veggies like asparagus, nettles, garlic scapes (curly garlic flower stems) and chard as soon as they appear in the spring and summer.

But fall’s the best time for it, when there are so many different vegetables just waiting for you to cook them up and devour them.

Zucchini melts into itself, and green beans, just lightly cooked, offer a nice bit of resistance to the creamy sauce. I like to use red-stemmed Swiss chard, or, even better, beet tops, with their deeply wine-coloured stems bleeding pink onto the noodles.

The recipe comes together quickly enough for a weeknight, but it’s pretty enough to serve for dinner guests. I usually make it with just veggies, but from time to time I sauté some chicken to go along with it.

If my measurements and instructions are a little vague, it’s because I tend to throw things in a handful at a time, and because the vegetable combination has never been exactly the same twice. Just trust that it will turn out fine, and it will. Be careful not to overcook your vegetables, and put plenty of salt in your pasta water.

The flavour of clean local dirt, filtered through green veggie goodness, will take care of the rest.

Pasta with fresh green veggies and goat cheese sauce
(serves 4)

400 g uncooked pasta (I use gemelli, fusili, or penne)
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 cups sturdy green vegetables (zucchini or other summer squash, broccoli, beet stems, Swiss chard stems, green beans, etc), chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 cups leafy green vegetables (Swiss chard leaves, spinach, kale, etc), chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 cup white wine
about 70 g soft goat cheese (1/2 a small package), or more at achieve desired creaminess
3 tablespoons grainy mustard (“old-fashioned”)
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Put on pasta water to boil, and cook pasta according to package instructions while you prepare vegetables and sauce.

In a small, dry pan, toast pine nuts over medium-low heat until golden and fragrant. Keep an eye on them: they scorch easily. Set aside.

In a large sauté pan over medium heat, cook onions in olive oil until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add sturdy vegetables and turn heat to medium-low. Cover and let the vegetables cook for about 5-7 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add leafy vegetables and cover again until leaves have wilted, about 2-3 minutes (more depending on toughness of leaves). Pour wine over vegetables. Add raisins and toasted pine nuts, then goat cheese and mustard. Stir to dissolve the goat cheese with the wine and vegetable juices. Let simmer on medium until the sauce has thickened enough to cling to the vegetables.

Drain pasta and combine cooked vegetables with noodles. Add salt and pepper and dig in.

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