serves: 6 servings
This is a fresh and extremely flavorful preparation for strangozzi. The dressing has two components, tender cooked Swiss chard and an uncooked pesto of fresh basil and mint leaves and toasted almonds. Other leafy greens, such as spinach, chicory, and arugula, could be used, and walnuts could replace the almonds, but the recipe here is true to the region.) It is best to prepare the greens and pesto shortly before you cook and serve the pasta, but if you follow the recipe steps, the dish is actually quite quick-cooking and simple. It is only the multitude of tastes and textures that are complex and tantalizing!
For the chard and pesto
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 pounds Swiss chard
1 cup basil leaves, loosely packed
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, loosely packed
2 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
⅓ cup almonds, sliced and toasted
½ teaspoon peperoncino flakes, or to taste
For Cooking and Finishing the Pasta
1 teaspoons batch Homemade Strangozzi, (see recipe for Homemade Strangozzi)
1 cup Grana Padano, freshly grated
extra-virgin olive oil, best-quality for finishing
For the chard and pesto: Bring a large pot of well-salted water (at least 6 quarts with 1 tablespoon salt) to the boil. As it heats, rinse and drain the chard leaves, and cut off the stems; if the central rib of the leaf is thick and tough, cut it out. (Save the trimmings for stock.) Pile up the leaves, and slice them crosswise into strips about 1 inch wide.
When the water's boiling, heap all the chard into the pot and stir, submerging the strips. Return the water to the boil, and cook the chard until tender to the bite, about 10 minutes. With a spider or other strainer, lift out the chard strips, and drop them into a colander. Turn off the heat, but save the potful of hot water for cooking the strangozzi.
When the chard has drained and cooled a bit, squeeze the strips by handfuls, pressing out the liquid. Loosen the clumps, and pile the strips in the colander.
To make the herb-and- almond pesto: Put into the food-processor bowl the basil and mint leaves, the crushed garlic cloves, three tablespoons of olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt. Process to a chunky paste, about 10 seconds, then drop in the toasted almonds and process again for 10 seconds, or until you have a smooth bright-green paste.
Pour the remaining 7 tablespoons of olive oil into the big skillet, and set it over medium-high heat. Scatter in the sliced garlic, and cook for a minute or so, until it's sizzling. Drop in the chard strips, season with peperoncino and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and stir the chard around the pan. Ladle in 1/2 cup of hot water from the pot where the chard was blanched, add to the chard, and bring it to a boil. Cook rapidly for a couple of minutes, until the water has reduced by half, then lower the heat so the greens are barely simmering.
For cooking and finishing the pasta: Meanwhile, bring the chard cooking water back to a rolling boil. Shake the excess flour from the nests of strangozzi, and drop all the pasta into the pot, stirring and separating the strands. Cover the pot, and rapidly return the water to a rolling boil; set the cover ajar, and cook the strangozzi for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until barely al dente.
With a spider and tongs, quickly lift out the strangozzi, drain for a moment, and drop them into the skillet with the simmering chard. Toss them together quickly, and spread all of the herb-almond pesto on top. Rinse out the food-processor bowl with 1/2 cup or so of hot water from the big pot, and pour that in with the pasta. Over low heat, toss the pasta, the chard, and the pesto together for a minute or two, until the strangozzi are all coated with the dressings and perfectly al dente. If the dressing is soupy, reduce it quickly over high heat; if it's too dense, thin it with more pasta water.
Turn off the heat, sprinkle a cup or so of grated cheese over the strangozzi, and toss well. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, toss again, and heap the pasta in warm bowls. Serve immediately, with more cheese at the table.