Fig, Date, & Rainbow Chard Pasta with Crushed Red Pepper & Garlic
by Tori Pintar
When it was almost spring in Montana (read: when I so desperately wanted it to be spring) I went to our winter farmer’s market and discovered the most delicious rainbow chard I had ever eaten. It was green house grown and lacking exposure to the elements. It was delicate, melted in the pan, and lacked the earthiness that might keep many from filling their bags with chard. I made this pasta then and I’ve made it many times since, especially with the California-grown stuff that has thick, stringy stems, and tastes almost of dirt - but good dirt! Last weekend, I found more baby rainbow chard at the market and decided it was time I share this incredibly easy weeknight meal that packs a punch of greens and some unexpected sweetness from the dried fruit.
2 dried figs, preferably Calimynra, roughly chopped
2 dates, Medjool or Deglet, roughly chopped
Apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (less if sensitive to spice)
1 bunch of chard, stems separated and chopped, large leaves roughly chopped*
2 tablespoons toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
Place chopped figs and dates in a small dish. Barely cover with apple cider vinegar and set aside to soak.
Bring a pot of water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions.
Heat olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add garlic and stir to coat. Cook until it begins to brown and starts to crisp up, about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from pan once it has begun to brown and reserve. Roughly chop garlic once it has cooled enough to touch.
Add crushed red pepper to the warm oil and sauté until it becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds to one minute. Add chard stems and sauté until beginning to soften. If using baby chard this will happen quickly in a little over a minute. If using the big traditional grocery store chard this may take a couple of minutes. Once the stems have softened add the leaves and salt to taste and stir to begin wilting.
Check your pasta and drain. If it not ready yet, remove chard pan from the heat until pasta has reached al dente. Add drained pasta and soaked fruit including soaking liquid to the chard mixture. Make sure your chard leaves have wilted but still have some substance.
Serve immediately in bowls topped with walnuts and crispy garlic.
*Note: If you’re using later season rainbow chard or large scale grown chard with thick stems, this recipe is still delicious. Be sure when cutting out the stems to remove any thick ribs from the center of the leaf and sauté that with the rest of the stems first.