Cookbook #43: Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites

Adapted from Cookbook #43:  Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites (1996)

Recipe:  Pasta with Beans and Greens

Do you have bushels of kale, chard, turnip greens, beet greens, arugula, endive?  Do you not know what to do with all of it because each week your CSA box comes chock full of leafy green vegetables that you know are good for you, but you have just plain run out of recipes for them?  Do you walk around the farmers market in the autumn bemoaning the loss of tomatoes and the upswing of all those healthy greens?  Well, do not fear.  Moosewood to the rescue.  This recipe will take care of a full pound of them.

This cookbook is one in a long line of publications (11 so far) from the Moosewood Restaurant.  A 19-person collective working together since 1973 (with some rotation of staff), the restaurant is situated in downtown Ithaca, New York.  It's most famous member was Mollie Katzen, who has since left the collective to pen her own cookbooks.

I bought this cookbook in 1997, and in the ensuing 13 years, I have made many, if not most, of the recipes in this book.   I used to write in my cookbooks the dates of all of my attempts--a practice I want to get back into, but for some reason have not.  I apparently made this dish on 6/16/98 and wrote "very plain but good."

Summer 1998:  By June 16, I must have just completed my graduate program in Utah and I had no prospects for gainful employment.  I wanted to stay in the West.  I loved the mountains.  I believed buying books was more essential than buying food.  I was sending around resumes and was beginning to worry about paying my rent.  I worked 40 hours a week at a bookstore, but even that wasn't really enough to live on.  I was looking for inexpensive food that would fill me up for the day.  This recipe does the trick.

Tucked inside this cookbook is also a lovely artifact: a post-it note with my cousin's handwriting.  She had written the address of a place she saw for rent in Denver--where I moved in August of 1998 because I found my first teaching job.  This address ended up being my very first apartment without any roommates.  Four hundred square feet and $450.  My kitchen was little more than a stove, a refrigerator, and a sink.  But gloriously, I had a walk in closet.  I tucked books in any space, and I bought a chair and a half (which were all the rage then) because that was the extent of the wall in my living room.  I needed things that were practical without breaking the bank.*

I love that this cookbook is one I come back to anytime I am looking for healthy cooking.  High fiber, low fat, quirky:  the recipes here will help right your diet if you have gone astray.  This dish boasts a complete source of protein by pairing beans with pasta.  An incomplete protein is just one that does not have all  of the essential amino acids for a protein.  Pair legumes with grains and you get all of them.  A vegetarian dream come true.  In all, I love this recipe.  It's simply a take on pasta e fagioli dish (sometimes called pasta fazool in the more Sicilian or Neopolatin slang)--an Italian soup--without any broth or tomatoes.  [Here's the best part about Pasta Fazool:  there's even a song about it.  This 1927 ditty chronicles the feats of famous people who ate the dish.  Thank you wikipedia for once again making my life more enjoyable.]  Anyway, Pasta e fagioli began as a peasant dish, chiefly because of the cheaply available beans and pasta.  It's filling, autumnal, and inexpensive.  And yet another weapon in my arsenal for combating the sheer number of greens the CSA sends my way.

*There is a second lovely artifact: a printed email from November of 1998 from a friend on how to make vichyssoise.  I am sure this friend has long forgotten that she had made vichyssoise with her mother and then emailed me immediately to tell me that I would love it.  Even more so, the potato and leek soup in this cookbook is also divine.  To cut down on fat, the cookbook recommends using fat free yogurt instead of cream.  Regardless of your own concerns about fat, I recommend this trick because the tang of the yogurt is fantastic.  I have have not made potato and leek soup with cream or milk since this discovery. 

4-6 servings

1 cup chopped onions
5-6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound fresh greens, such as chicory, endive, or escarole, rinsed and chopped
3 cups cooked Roman, pinto, borlotti, kidney, or pink beans  (two 15-ounce cans drained or 1 cup of dried beans, soaked, drained, and then cooked in fresh water for 1-2 hours)
1/2 cup finely chopped basil
1 pound short, chunky pasta, such as ditalini, penne, tubetti, or orecchiette
salt and ground black pepper to taste
juice of 1 lemon
Parmesan cheese

1.  Bring a large covered pot of water to a boil for cooking the pasta.

2.  Meanwhile, in a skillet or nonstick saucepan, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil over low heat until golden, about 10 minutes.  Add the greens and 1 cup of water.  Increase the heat to medium, cover, and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the beans and basil and continue to cook for 5 minutes.  Using a potato masher (or the back of a fork) mash some of the beans right in the pan.  Add more water if the sauce is too thick.

3.  When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta, stir and cover the pot until the water returns to a boil.  Stir the pasta and cook, uncovered, until al dente.  Drain the pasta and toss it with the beans and greens.  Add salt and pepper to taste and squeeze on some lemon juice.

4.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.


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