I decided to make this recipe on a whim at 10:30am the other day. Early for most, I know, but I had been awake since well before five and hadn’t yet had breakfast. I decided that this could be considered a brunch item, so why not? (Ok, I don’t know who I am trying to convince here, you or myself).
The pasta itself is basic. I always cook my spaghetti for 12 minutes, no matter what, so I was happy to see that this recipe called for the same amount of cooking time that I am used to. The only difference with making the pasta itself is the addition of a few handfuls of escarole after 10 minutes of cooking.
I had never cooked with pine nuts before, although I was familiar with their flavor. Untoasted pine nuts are quite flavorless and have an almost gummy texture. Once toasted, the pine nuts develop a nutty (go figure), warm flavor. The toasted pine nut has a lightly crisp exterior, but still maintained its dense, slightly chewy interior.
I did not have a red jalapeño on hand, so I used green. Red jalapeños are the same variety as green jalapeños, but they are just a bit riper. I really wish that I had a red jalapeño for this recipe because the color would have been beautiful against the green escarole. The crispness of the pepper added a nice crunch to the pasta dish. Surprisingly, there was not a lot of heat in this dish. I think that I should have either left the ribs and seeds of the jalapeño attached, or added some crushed red pepper flakes for a little kick.
I opted to finely mince the garlic rather than to slice it. I knew that my daughter Alainna (who was my taste tester) would not appreciate large slivers of garlic flecked throughout the pasta.
I loved the bread crumb topping. I used half seasoned bread crumbs and half panko bread crumbs for added texture and crispiness. The flaky crunch of the bread crumb mixture added a delicious crunch to the pasta dish that is reminiscent of baked pasta dishes – love it!
This recipe does not call for the addition of oil to the pasta and escarole mixture, beyond the fat that is used to sauté the peppers and garlic and to toast the bread crumbs. I thought that the pasta was a bit dry and dare I say, bland, so I added about a tablespoon of herbed oil to the pasta mixture. I assume that the fat from the pancetta would help keep the pasta moist and flavorful, but obviously, I omitted it altogether being a vegetarian and all.
The range of textures in this dish make for an interesting combination and will constantly have your palate anxiously waiting to see which texture it is going to discover next. The blandness of this dish is not something that I can deal with. With a few adjustments to kick up the heat and round out the flavors, this dish has the potential to become a healthy, light, but still substantial, go-to recipe.
- 12 oz spaghetti
- 1 package escarole, chopped and cleaned
- 1 tbsp pine nuts
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin or minced
- 1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced, seeds and ribs removed, if desired
- ¼ c grated parmesan cheese
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Add pasta, cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.
- Add chopped escarole, continue to cook for 2 minutes.
- Drain pasta, reserving about 1 cup of pasta water.
- Meanwhile, in a dry pan, toast pine nuts over medium-high heat for about a minute.
- Add one tablespoon of the olive oil, the breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper to taste. Cook until breadcrumbs are golden, about 2 minutes.
- Transfer breadcrumb mixture to a plate.
- Add one tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Add garlic and jalapeno and cook for 1 -2 minutes, until fragrant and barely golden.
- Add the pasta to the garlic mixture and toss to coat. Add just enough reserved pasta water to moisten the pasta.
- Season with salt and pepper, top with breadcrumb mixture and grated parmesan cheese.