Pasta with Fennel and Baby Collard Greens

posted in: Recipes, vegetarian | 5

It might seem a bit more challenging to whip up a simple pasta dish when all the choicest, go-to ingredients are out for the season. Until only recently, eggplants and tomatoes were still around in NYC Greenmarkets, thanks to a fair-weathered fall. But now — and especially felt by this weekend’s gusty winds — it’s clear that the party is over. Coarse, rubbery greens reign supreme in this season, and ecru-colored heads of cauliflower, like snow-capped mountains, foretell of colder days yet to come. I’m still making pasta, however, monochrome the colors in it may be.

It turns out that now is the best time to find much more delicate versions of less-dainty and delicate greens. Heads of cabbage are especially sweet when fresh, and you can find young, new bunches of winter’s hardiest greens, like collards. Or at least, I did, and it was a breathtakingly different plant than the rolls of green leather I’d seen before.

a head of young collard greens

More tender and undoubtedly more sweet, these baby collard greens were a less intense version of their more mature brethren. Watered down by crisper, leafier goodness and having a bit less fibers (that call for serious stewing), these collards were perfect for sauteeing quickly in garlic and olive oil, and tossing with pasta. They also seemed to me a dead ringer for leaves of broccoli, cauliflower and other similar brassica, should you decide to eat some of these stragglers from your head instead.

The beginning of winter also brings me cravings for spice and everything nice. Stuff that would seem to toxic for a light summer dish are now much more welcome at my table. That spice list includes anise, which I’ve always had an iffy tastebud for. I like fennel because it’s anise with a vegetal, grassy-green flavor to boot, and the stalks are perhaps one of the best places to find this wonderful combination. However, they’re all too often left for the scrap bin (hopefully making it into a soup stock), once the bulb has been shredded for a salad. Well, I had my fennel bulb salad recently and decided to put the stalks to a more immediate use.

fennel stalks and fronds

Fennel also comes with plentiful fronds, too many it seems before they can be used up. I ripped off the brightest, freshest-looking piles of them to set aside for a last-minute toss as garnish. The stalks were finely chopped up (since their fibrous veins are thicker than celery’s) to sautee along with the chopped collard greens for a pasta.

the greens and stems sautee, while fronds wait for a final toss

The fennel perfumed the room with a wonderful anise aroma the minute they hit the pan of sputtering garlic and olive oil. The usual trick for accompanying a serious green like collards in pasta is to butter it up with plenty of that, along with cheese and fresh lemon. I gave this pasta dish a good pat of butter and a squeeze of lemon, but let the gentle herbal flavor of fennel stand strong. With a splash of the starchy cooking water from the pasta, the clear, brothy liquid that drools from the bottom of this pasta dish is light, refreshing and generously anise-y tasting. Whoever said light pasta dishes were only for summer, anyway?

Pasta with Fennel and Baby Collard Greens
(makes 2 servings)

1/2 lb pasta (any kind, but I used campanelle in the photos)
6-8 leaves baby collard greens, chopped
2-3 stalks of fennel, finely chopped
handful of fennel fronds, picked from the small stalks
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and drop in the pasta. In a wide saute or chef’s pan, add the olive oil and garlic and heat until fragrant over medium-high. Add the collard greens and a pinch of salt and pepper and sautee a couple minutes. Add the fennel stalks and cook, stirring, until fragrant and translucent, another couple minutes.

When pasta is nearly cooked al dente, add it to the pan of sauteeing vegetables along with a splash of the cooking water. Stir to combine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add the butter, lemon juice and fennel fronds and give one more good toss to combine. Serve immediately.

Cost Calculator
(for 2 servings)

1/2 lb dry pasta: $1.50
about 1/2 head baby collard greens: $1.25
stalks and fronds from 1 bulb fennel: $1.00
2 cloves garlic: $0.05
1 Tb lemon juice: $0.20
2 Tb extra-virgin olive oil, 1 Tb butter, salt and pepper: $0.50

Total: $4.50

Health Factor

Three brownie points: This dish is so healthy it only needs some whole grains in it to contend for a perfect score. Anyway, it’s no mystery that collard greens are eaten for their plentiful vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin K galore, and antioxidants to help out your immune system in winter. But it’s also one of the most effective cholesterol-fighting greens out there, so load up if you’re planning to have some Christmas goose next week. Fennel stalks are also a good source of fiber and Vitamin C, and I do declare that they just smell and feel so refreshing while they’re cooking. A good way to kick the winter blues.

Green Factor

Seven maple leaves: Once again, the fresh produce is seasonal and local, but seasonings are often far from that. No local points here either for the dry pasta, which comes in small cardboard boxes from some centralized facility in the States.

5 Responses

  1. kitchenvoyage

    Love fennel in pasta and mash.

  2. FoodFeud

    I love fennel! I have never seen it with pasta, though, but it does make sense. Very cool.

  3. Ana_IloveTdP

    Hola! I have never tried fennel, and I love to, so maybe I can use your recipe as an excuse for cooking it 😉

  4. […] greens  can be sauteed quickly and ready to eat in no time. I am going to use those greens for a Pasta with Fennel & Baby Collard Greens. I will be using the baby beet greens in place of the baby collard greens and this recipe allows […]

  5. […] greens can can be sauteed quickly and ready to eat in no time. I am going to use those greens for a Pasta with Fennel & Baby Collard Greens. This recipe allows you to use both fronds and stalks from your […]

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