Saturday, November 1, 2008

Penne with Spinach and Feta

It seems I post quite a few pasta recipes that involve penne. This is a bit odd, since I'm sure I eat far more spaghetti than penne. And besides spaghetti I actually have three favorite types of pasta asciutta - literally "dry pasta" (this is as opposed to pasta fresca, or "fresh pasta" which includes things like fettucine and also stuffed pasta - pasta ripiena - like ravioli and tortellini). Anyways, my three favorite types of pasta asciutta after spaghetti are penne, fusilli, and farfalle, so I'm not sure why only penne have made it up here so far, though I will try to correct this error in the future!

However, this particular recipe comes from a little cookbook I picked up in Italy called "Primi piatti di verdure" (vegetable entrées), and that recipe actually calls for sedanini, which are closer to penne than they are to fusilli or farfalle, so I consider myself justified in posting yet another penne recipe, though of course you can substitute other types of pasta if you prefer. Though I found the cookbook rather disappointing overall, there are a few stand-out recipes hidden in it, and this is definitely one of them. Though feta isn't normally a feature of Italian cooking, it works really well with this pasta dish, and I highly recommend you try it out!

You will need:
Penne - 75-100 g per person
About 250 g spinach
A small block of feta
A handful of hazelnuts
One medium-sized shallot
Olive oil

Though you can also use ricotta instead of feta, I really like the saltier addition of feta, which contrasts nicely with the hazelnut and nutmeg. Please also use real hazelnuts if you can, and not filberts, which I've found don't have anywhere near the same flavor. It's true that hazelnuts are absurdly expensive around here, but in my opinion it's worth it for the taste!

Wash and dry the spinach, removing any hard stem parts, and tear the leaves up, setting them aside in a large bowl. Chop/grind the hazelnuts into little bits and chop up the shallot.

In a large pot, bring some water to a boil. When it's boiling, salt it and add the penne. Heat some olive oil (butter in the original recipe) in a fairly large sauté pan. When the oil is hot add the shallot. After a minute or so, add the ground-up hazelnut. After another minute or so, add the spinach, in parts if necessary so that there's only one layer covering the pan. The recipe also says to add some of the cooking water from the pasta, which I invariably forget to do. I think it just makes everything more sauce-like, but I forgot this time and it was still fine.

Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to the spinach and let cook, stirring frequently. After the spinach is fairly well-cooked, chop or crumble the feta and stir it in. Turn the heat to low and let everything cook another few minutes so that the feta melts, not forgetting to stir.

Drain the penne and add them to the spinach-feta mixture, mixing everything up until the penne are well coated with sauce. Turn off the heat and spoon the penne into your serving bowl. Serve warm!

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