Orecchiette is fast becoming my first stop lazy dinner, one step short of pesto with Trader Joe's dried tortellini, which is the one my kids will always eat under any circumstance. Pesto pasta is what we leave for the babysitter to cook, the one I am teaching my daughter to prepare for her little brother, or perhaps vice versa, as soon as he or she is old enough to operate the stove without needing to call the fire department. I recently taught my four year old how to turn the stove off - so she can quiet the tea kettle while I am indisposed - and consider that a major step toward dinner independence.
But until that time when I can have my children make dinner while I tend the garden, swap the laundry, read the paper or sit on the pot, I need something else to cook. Because I cannot possibly eat pesto pasta four times a week. I cannot even eat it twice a week. Not even when accompanied by salad. After seeing it day after day for five years, I cannot eat it at all. Don't get me wrong - I still adore pesto with other types of pasta - just not tortellini. Or those mini ravioli, tri-color or otherwise.
So now, thanks to the genius of Nigel Slater, I am training my children to eat orecchiette. My Italianophile friend Jill will be the first to point out how clever it is to have one's children eat something called "little ears" in another language, and I am more than willing to take credit for simultaneously expanding their palates while teaching them to speak in a foreign tongue. And eating little ears? That is nearly as exciting as snacking on boogers. So really, I win in three ways.
Except that they haven't quite taken a liking to this meal yet, but I can feel it coming. As long as I let them sit on my lap while I spoon it into their mouths, piece by piece, allowing at least three minutes in between each bite for chewing, eye rolling, gagging and, finally, swallowing, they choke it down.
Quick Orecchiette with Green Things: (adapted from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries)
fava beans in their pods (a bag or so)
spinach leaves (about half a bunch or 4 cups, removed from the stems )
orecchiette for four (about four cups dry or half a pound or 8 oz)
2 cloves young garlic
1 Tablespoon olive oil
four to six sprigs of mint (or a small bunch)
8 oz or so ricotta cheese
Start by putting a large pot of salted water on to boil.
Next, remove the fava beans from their pods and queue them up to go into the pot as soon as the water boils - cook them for five to seven minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon to a bowl full of cold water, leaving the boiling water in the pot.
In a smaller pan, heat the olive oil while you mince or thinly slice the garlic. Don't let the oil get too hot, and when the garlic is ready, put it in the pan to cook gently, not letting it brown. When it starts to color just a tiny bit, remove the pan from the heat and let it wait.
Now wash the spinach. Spinach tends to be sandy or muddy, so it (like lettuce) requires at least two washings. I like to fill my salad spinner with water, drop in the mesh basket and swish the greens in that, then pull out the basket, dump the water, replace the basket (with the greens inside) and fill and swish again. When it is clean (the rinse water won't be muddy anymore) pour it into a really big colander and let it wait in your sink.
After the favas are out of the pot, dump in the pasta and cook it until it is soft but still chewy. It's package should give you some better guidelines for time. When the pasta is done, pour the water and pasta from the pot into the colander in the sink, where the clean spinach is waiting. Give it a good shake or two to remove excess water, then dump it all back into the pot and add the cheese. If you, like me, find that you have waited too long to use your ricotta (it will not smell right and will taste bitter), then throw the ricotta away and substitute with whatever cheese you have hanging around. Soft cheese is best, but cut off the rind because it won't melt nicely. If you need to use hard cheese, grate it over the pot. Pour in the garlic and oil and stir it all up.
Rinse the mint, roll it in a clean kitchen towel and pat it dry, then pull the leaves off the stems and chop them finely. Toss it into the pot after the pasta, greens, garlic and cheese have been added.
Now for the favas - squeeze them from their skins into a bowl, then add them to the pasta pot along with some salt (start with a half teaspoon or so) and stir it all up, tasting to see if it needs more. Add some pepper too.
Once the salt and pepper are right, serve.