When we get halfway through Hanukkah, we realize once again there are only so many latkes and sufganiyot we can fry.
Despite endless scrubbing, kitchen surfaces feel tacky from oil, and we get to feeling a little fried and tacky, too, after overindulging in many of the wrong foods. We need real food that’s easy, healthy and quick. I’ve got one word for you — pasta.
My husband is a big pasta fan, but I’d had it on low rotation until attending the recent World Pasta Congress. Twenty scientists, academics, physicians, nutritionists and sustainability experts gathered in Milan to deliver one compelling message: Pasta is good for you, good for the planet.
It’s all about durum wheat — the wheat used for pasta. It produces high yield in limited space. Much of it is grown organically, too.
Our bodies metabolize durum wheat more efficiently than other wheat varieties. It’s easily digestible, keeps your stomach satisfied longer and offers a clean burn and surprisingly low glycemic index. That’s why athletes pile on the pasta before a competition.
Pasta’s often trotted out at Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays in the form of kasha varnishkas, an old-world dish of farfalle and kasha, or toasted buckwheat groats.
If you’re looking for healthy, buckwheat is it. Despite its name, there’s no wheat in buckwheat. It looks like a grain but it’s a fruit related to rhubarb and sorrel.
It’s gloriously gluten-free and also used in Japanese soba noodles and Russian blini. Like durum wheat, it’s sustainable for the planet and low glycemic for you.
The kasha in classic kasha varnishkas is toasted then cooked in water or broth like you’d cook rice. The farfalle adds fluff. Oil — or rendered chicken fat, aka schmaltz — makes it moist. It’s hefty enough to see you through a Russian winter. Don’t go there.
Instead, toss farfalle with greens for goodness, lemon and capers for pow and use pasta water not (brrr) schmaltz to create a silky sauce.
And the kasha? Take a page from age-old Italian cookery, subbing them for toasted breadcrumbs, called poor man’s parmesan, to add cheeseless cheer and crunch.
It’s a good thing especially with naughty holiday eating and weird winterish weather taking a whack at our immunity. This is not your bubbe’s kasha, but don’t call the kasha cops. I promise not to touch your latke recipe.
Ellen Kanner: @edgyveggie1
Farfalle with Greens and Buckwheat Crunch
Recipe by Ellen Kanner. This recipe offers a different spin on kasha, but doesn’t break with tradition entirely. It relies on the old Italian trick of saving some of the water used for cooking the pasta and adding it to the sauce. The water retains some of the starch from the pasta and makes everything silky.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes or 2 teaspoons fresh jalapeño or peperoncino, minced
1/2 cup kasha
1 13-ounce box farfalle or other small pasta shape
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 to 2 lemons)
1 tablespoon lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
4 cups fresh tender greens, such as arugula and spinach, loosely packed
1 cup pasta cooking liquid, reserved
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic and dried pepper flakes or fresh minced chile and stir for a minute or two until vegetables become softened and fragrant. Pour in the kasha and give a stir for a minute or two until toasty-smelling, glossy and fragrant. Add a pinch of sea salt. Remove from heat and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the pasta pot over medium-high heat. Add the cooked pasta, lemon juice and zest and capers. Add greens by the handful and pour in 3/4 cups of the pasta cooking liquid. Mix together lightly, letting the heat from the pasta and pasta water wilt — not boil — the greens. Pour in the remaining pasta water, season with sea salt and fresh pepper and give a final mix.
Sprinkle the toasted kasha on the pasta and serve.
Yield: 6 servings